Twilight's Edge Act II [MultiFormat]
Click on image to enlarge.
eBook by Jo Atkinson
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: Actress Veronica Evans won the role of a lifetime as heroine Daphne St. Claire in a web-based remake of Twilight's Edge, daytime TV's celebrated gothic soap from the '70s--only to lose her life when the murderer who's been sabotaging the production strikes again. Roni, who has fallen in love with handsome leading man Ryan Flanigan, wakes in the New York City of the past on the set of the original production and, at first, thinks she's seeing double when she encounters Ryan's dad, the late, lamented Rex Flanigan, whose ghost in the present warned her about the curse hanging over both versions of the supernatural soap. It's 1977 and, like her TV counterpart Daphne, Roni finds herself in a terrifying time and setting, surrounded by strangers. Faces, the familiar and the infamous, parade past as the events following Twilight's Edge's cancellation play out precisely as expected. If she's ever to make it back to the man she loves and her own time, Roni must gain the brooding star's trust--and unmask the identity of a killer poised to claim its next victim as the stage lights go dark, and Twilight's sinister shadows engulf her.
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/Ravenous Romance, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2010
* * * * * * * *
1 Reader Ratings:
"My name is Daphne St. Claire.
"Mysterious forces at a seance held in the great estate of Hindenwood House have sent me back in time, from 1977 to the distant past and the events leading up to the Hindenwood Masque. In this band of time, the sinister warlock Gunther Wagner has set in motion terrifying events that will ultimately lead to a curse being placed upon my adoptive family...and the man I love with all my heart, Byron Hindenwood, will suffer worst of all. Unless I am able to change the course of history, tragedy will befall him and all who love him throughout the centuries.
"But I am determined to stop Gunther and save Byron from the vampire's curse, and to return to my own time and century with the knowledge of all I have learned in the past. I love Byron; I will make this right, no matter what horrors I face as the Hindenwood Masque draws closer..."
Opening of "Twilight's Edge" series finale
"The Hindenwood, Unmasqued"
Chapter One: Take Two
It wasn't like in the TV show.
On Twilight's Edge, whenever long-suffering heroine Daphne St. Claire traveled through time, she vanished in a tabernacle of clinking wind chimes, clanking chains, and the croak of ancient sepulcher doors being forced open. The man operating the camera intentionally blurred the scene, dabbed a swab of petroleum jelly over the lens for added detail, or a filter of color, sparkly around the edges, creating a vibrant kaleidoscope of reds and blues, purples and golds.
Real time travel was both grander in the sense that you apparently had to be murdered in order to pull it off--and blander, because there were no wind chimes or filtered light, only a numbing silence and lack of color.
Veronica Evans floated in a dark, silent void. Fire and ice licked at different parts of her body. The former burned in her stomach while the latter nibbled at her throat and toes. Her mind drifted in and out of clarity for a while. How long, she could not tell. She imagined herself floating atop dark waves, only they didn't make a sound and she had no trouble breathing when one crashed over her.
In this state, she tried to make sense of what had happened to her. Twilight's Edge. Roni had been cast in the role of Daphne St. Claire, lead heroine on a Web-based remake of one of daytime television's most beloved--and most infamous--soap operas. A show rumored to sit under the shadow of a curse that had claimed the life of its star, Rex Flanigan. That curse, it seemed, had followed Rex's son, Ryan, to the set of the remake.
Somebody had poisoned her tea.
In the confusion of what had happened after she opened her eyes, Roni almost forgot this all-important latest chapter. She had died, only to be reborn in Rex Flanigan's dressing room. In New York City. At the first Twilight's Edge. Was it any wonder she'd blacked out?
This isn't real, Roni thought. It couldn't be.
But it was.
"She's wearing the dress," said a woman's voice. The woman followed the statement with a frustrated tsk. "One second, it was on the dress form. The next, it was gone, and you found her running through the studio wearing it! What's Phil going to think? Worse, Lynn when she finds out somebody other than her is wearing Daphne's clothes? You know how she gets."
Roni opened her eyes. The grayness in the room had taken on a slightly yellow tint from the sunlight working through the window. The purple of the dress still wasn't the royal shade she knew it to be, but some of its color had worked back into the duchesse satin, transforming it from sepia to a bleached lilac.
"She's waking up," the woman said.
Roni focused on the voice. The woman's face solidified over her and, like that of Boyd Hyte, she recognized Wendy Gower, even though the other woman looked so much younger than when Roni had last seen her in the Arboretum, dressed as the matriarch of the Hindenwood family. Wendy's hair was a shade of muddy sepia, just starting to show an askew zigzag of gray, to the right, all of it pulled into a severe bun. She wore glasses and a heavy turtleneck and blazer.
"Wendy?" Roni asked.
The eyes behind Wendy's glasses widened before darting toward the man. "How does she know my name? I've never seen her before in my life."
"Perhaps you should ask her." This came from the other presence in the room, the one that had caused Roni to collapse in the first place.
Roni forced her eyes toward the sound of his voice. Rex Flanigan knelt beside the sofa, a look of genuine concern deepening the worry lines around his eyes. The resemblance was shocking--he and Ryan could have been twin brothers instead of father and son. Rex Flanigan's hair was a length longer and a degree messier than Ryan's, and the original Byron Hindenwood's sideburns were a wild tangle of coarse hair, whereas the second incarnation's were trim and neat. Still, being this close to him sent a chill through Roni's blood. While so many others had seen the ghost of Rex Flanigan in Ryan throughout the weekend of the webisode shoot, she was seeing the opposite, a face so like the man she loved, only belonging to another.
"You're Rex Flanigan?' Roni managed.
A smile broke on his lips, but the gesture seemed more sad than happy. "Guilty."
Roni moved to sit. Rex helped her get the rest of the way up.
"And you are?"
"Yeah, that's what we'd all like to know. Who you are--and how you got your hands on the new dress for Daphne's scene at the Hindenwood Masque.'
Roni's throat burned. Though nowhere near as bad as it had been, the ache in her stomach persisted. She choked down a heavy swallow and began to cough.
"Wendy, would you get our guest a glass of water from the bubbler?"
Roni tipped a glance from Rex Flanigan to the other woman and saw her anger instantly melt at the man's request. "Sure, Rex. Back in a flash."
When Wendy exited the dressing room, Rex asked, "Are you the new governess?"
"Governess?" Roni parroted around coughs to clear her throat.
Rex pinched his eyes and shook his head. "Sorry, my mind is still trapped in the past. Governess." He chuckled. "I meant to say 'nanny.' Out in the hall, you said you were looking for Ryan."
"Yes, I was," Roni said. She reined in her panic and confusion, though her next breath hitched with a sob.
"So why didn't the agency tell me you were on your way over? And what are you doing dressed in one of Daphne's costumes?"
Rex rose up from his haunches to tower over her. The movement stirred his scent, a masculine cologne that was pleasant but too heavy, especially after getting used to the intoxicating natural smell of Ryan's skin. The look on his face hardened. Suddenly, Roni feared him.
"This isn't what you think," she said.
"What I think is there's a good chance that you're an overzealous fan who broke into the studio to get a look around at the end of Twilight's Edge. Or worse, that you're really a reporter."
"No, that's not it," Roni said, standing. The room did a lesser spin this time, blurring only around the edges. She wobbled and Rex reached out to steady her. "I swear, I'm here for..."
"For Ryan," she said before she could censor the words.
A knock sounded on the dressing room door. Rex invited the caller to enter. It was Wendy, holding a glass of water in one hand. A tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans hung over her other arm.
"I had these in wardrobe," she said. "They ought to fit. I suggest you get out of Daphne's ball gown before Lynn Manning sees you and pitches a fit."
Roni accepted the water first, then the clothes. "Thank you."
"I'll give you some privacy," Rex said, guiding Wendy to the door. "But when you're done changing, we're going to continue our talk. It's been hard enough on people around here this last month, since we got the news."
"What news?" Roni asked.
"The show--it's been canceled. This is our last week on Twilight's Edge," Rex said. He closed the door, leaving Roni alone in the dressing room.
Removing the gown and replacing it with the borrowed tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans drove home the reality of what had happened.
It's 1977, Roni thought. Reluctantly, she draped Daphne's gown--her gown--across the vinyl sofa, along with the white gloves. Somehow I've traveled back through time to the set of the original Twilight's Edge. This is Madison Ave., the old studio where they used to tape the show.
Dry, painful tears stung at her eyes. Several times, Roni caught herself struggling for breaths that refused to come easily. What had happened back in the Arboretum to lead her to this time, this place? The strange, off-putting taste of the tea--had someone intentionally poisoned her? Was her body lying comatose--or worse, dead--at the center of the set?
Throughout the weekend, she had caught glimpses of the past, and the ghost of a man she had never met had twice contacted her. Now those visitations didn't feel so random. Rex Flanigan was on the other side of the dressing room door, expecting answers to questions she didn't have. The only thing for certain was that she had to find her way back to Ryan.
And to accomplish that, she would need Rex Flanigan's help.
The irony struck Roni as she reached for the doorknob. Twice at Rose Cottage, he had asked the same from her. His ghost had, she mentally corrected.
Rex, Wendy, and a man she didn't recognize huddled together in the corridor outside. A haze of acrid smoke drifted around them. Both Wendy and the newcomer, a middle-aged man with shoulder-length hair and the makings of a paunch, sucked on cigarettes.
"This must be our guest," the man mouthed around his cancer stick.
"And you would be?" Roni asked, extending her hand.
The man eyeballed her offer, but didn't accept the shake. "I would be the man who runs this show. At least for the next week. Mind telling me who you are?"
"Veronica. Roni Evans."
"Well, Veronica-Roni-Evans, would you mind enlightening me as to how you got past security so's you could have your pleasant little wander through the Twilight's Edge dressing room area?"
Roni focused on Rex Flanigan. Through the sepia-gray distortion--probably a side effect of her travel through time, proclaimed her inner voice--she detected a hint of green color in his eyes. "I'm the new governess," she said.
Rex's hard expression softened a degree. He blinked, and the green in his eyes grew more pronounced. Not quite emeralds, but a promising sign that Rex Flanigan, the show's star, might intervene on her behalf.
"I'm here for Ryan," Roni continued. She handed the gown and gloves to Wendy. "You forgot these."
The producer, whom Wendy had referred to as Phil--Phil Lupatkin, she remembered from the closing credits on the original show--narrowed his gaze on Rex. "Is this true?"
Rex hesitated to answer, and Roni feared he might deny her explanation. After a sum of seconds that seemed far longer, he nodded. "Yeah, Roni will be working for my family."
Wendy cast a suspicious look at her. "I've got costumes to sew. And probably repair."
She vanished down the corridor. The producer, apparently satisfied with Rex's explanation, clapped a meaty hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry. The network may have declared us dead, but I'm not ready to order a gravestone just yet. Something tells me we haven't yet written the last chapter of Twilight's Edge."
Lupatkin continued on his way. When they were again alone, Rex took Roni's arm and marched her back to the dressing room. Loosening his tie, he said, "I don't know what game you're playing--"
"No game, trust me."
"Who are you?"
"I told you. My name's Roni Evans, and why I'm here...I don't really know. I think..." Roni sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she exhaled and opened them again, she was still standing in the dressing room, wearing tie-dye and blue jeans with flared bottoms. "I think you brought me here."
"You are the new nanny, aren't you?"
Roni shook her head. "I need to be honest with you, Mr. Flanigan. I'm not the nanny. I'm an actress. I was on the set, passed out, and then woke up in your dressing room--and I'm not sure how I got here."
"On set? At another soap?"
"You could say that."
"Which one? The Privilege of Passion or Love Never Lies?" Roni shrugged. "So what you're saying is, you somehow got lost, or had a hell of a trip?"
"You don't know the half of that trip." She chuckled humorlessly. "Yes, I got lost."
She hadn't been here long, but as a few more actual colors appeared around the room, Ryan and Rose Cottage seemed even farther away.
"It's too bad," he said.
Roni tipped her gaze toward him to see the weight of unknown, untold scores of millstones hanging around his neck, dragging down on the worry lines framing his eyes. Eyes the color of pale emeralds. "Why's that?"
Rex didn't answer straight away. Drawing in a deep breath, he straddled the chair and for just a moment, she thought he might break down and cry. No, not cry--howl, to the limit of his lungs. The storm bottled inside Rex Flanigan's broodingly handsome exterior was as powerful as the secret one at work in Roni's blood.
He blinked himself out of the trance. "I haven't had much luck securing the services of a decent nanny. As you can probably imagine, most of the young women who've applied for the job are only interested in getting close to Byron Hindenwood, not the welfare of a little boy who's been through a lot since the day he was born."
Fresh pain clawed at Roni's insides. "Your boy, Ryan, I bet he's a great kid."
Rex smiled. "Yeah, of everything I've done with my life, all that I've created..." He swept a large, strong hand around the room. "Of all the storylines, twists, turns, and adventures, Ryan Flanigan's my best work and proudest achievement."
"You do fine work. I'm sure he's a very special boy."
"He is." Rex reached around and pulled his wallet out of the back pocket of his period trousers. He fumbled through the plastic photograph sleeves, then handed the wallet over. "That's him."
The photograph, drifting in and out of clarity in the room's murky near-absence of color, showed Rex Flanigan and a cherubic little boy.
"He's beautiful, truly," she said.
"I'm real proud of him."
"Have you told him that?"
Rex shrugged. "Maybe not as much as I should. But I'll have the chance to later this week, after..."
"After the show ends?"
Rex stood abruptly. "I have to be on set soon, and you're probably due back at yours. Come on," he said, motioning her toward the dressing room door. "I'll get you back to the elevator."
Roni opened her mouth, intending to speak, but the words refused to emerge quickly enough. She needed to tell him the truth. About the past. About the future. About their strange connection, which linked both extremes of time together. All of it. Rex plodded to the door, opened it, and waved her through. She exited Rex Flanigan's dressing room mute, and didn't say a word for what felt like a very long time. * * * * * * * *
Chapter Two: Blocking
The elevator appeared, a liquid silver phantom shimmering against the drab white walls.
"There you go," Rex said. "You can find your way back from here."
He offered her a weak smile, turned, and began to walk away. Roni panicked as the distance between them widened. Whatever explanation was behind her being here in this time and place, Rex Flanigan was the cause, she was sure of it. And, in her heart, she sensed he was her only ticket back to the Arboretum at Rose Cottage. To her life.
Roni faced the wall of his retreating back, which now seemed a hundred yards ahead of her in the studio corridor's gloomy landscape. She needed to stay close to him, to tell him--
Rex turned toward the right and a sound-insulated door sitting beneath a light bulb encased in a shade, pale red in color. A sign warned: Do Not Enter When Lit! It was the soundstage. The original Twilight's Edge set.
Rex passed through the door. Roni followed before it closed fully behind him. Darkness engulfed her.
The vague glow of a distant light appeared. Roni blinked several times. The light strengthened. The cavernous room stabilized, shrinking as she established its boundaries. The stage, directly ahead of her, hadn't yet been fully lit, but enough of it pulled free of the shadows to unleash a shiver down her spine. That particular part of the set, more than hauntingly familiar, was the original tower room at Hindenwood House. A coffin sat propped at its center. Waxy pale blue candles filled sconces on either side, waiting to be lit.
Roni's steps slowed. She dragged her foot forward and nearly tripped over what felt like a tree root. It was an enormous cable, snaking across the floor and connected to a TV camera, one of those giant relics perched atop rolling casters.
Various bodies moved about the shadowy set, in front of the stage. There were two more cameras and apparitions Roni assumed were the cameramen. The ashy stink of cigarette smoke hung powerfully in the air; a tiny constellation of stars glowed, then dulled in the darkness around her.
Covering her nose and mouth, Roni shuffled toward a half-circle of folding metal chairs at the outermost orbit of the stage. She took one. The seat was hard and uncomfortable.
Rex Flanigan moved onto the stage, flanked by a tall bald man dressed in period clothes. For an instant, she thought the man was Dave Fromer, and fresh hope surged through Roni's insides. But then she heard the man speak. His voice was crisp and polished, with proper British inflections. It was Stanley Haskell, the first Gunther Wagner.
Haskell gripped several pages in one hand, no doubt that day's script. "I thought perhaps it would have greater impact if when I raised the wolf's head cane, you punched it out of my hand, as opposed to grabbing hold of my wrist."
Rex folded his arms. "I don't know."
"Given the scenario, that Gunther and Rex are rapidly spiraling toward their final confrontation..."
"Final," Rex huffed. "I'm really starting to hate that word."
The outer door opened and the murky glow from the corridor spilled across the stage. Roni was too focused on the conversation taking place between Rex and the first dastardly warlock of Twilight's Edge to take notice of the new arrival--until a hint of her perfume drifted past, stirred by the woman's hasty steps. A ghost walked over Roni's grave. Lily of the valley.
"Sorry I'm so late," the woman said, also clutching at pages. "I've given more interviews in the last week than the last year."
Even before the woman glided onto the set and beneath the stage lights, Roni recognized her voice. It was Lynne Manning, the original Daphne St. Claire.
Slowly, Roni stood and her eyes, wide and forgetting to blink even when they began to burn, locked on the familiar iconic ball gown the other woman wore.
"Okay, places, everyone," commanded one of the apparitions, a man with a pair of bulky headphones draped around his neck--the stage manager, Roni assumed. "Just so you now know, Lynne, the guys have switched things around just a bit. When Gunther raises his cane to strike at Daphne, Byron will instead punch it out of his hand."
Unable to blink or breathe, Roni watched the scene unfold the exact same way it had on her television that summer that now lay trapped in an inexplicable paradox, both far behind her and far ahead in her future.
"Gunther," Byron bellowed.
He moved protectively in front of a bewitched Daphne St. Claire who, until the tragic hero's arrival, had been sleepwalking toward the warlock, her gloved hands outstretched. In the guise of Lynne Manning, Daphne startled awake. Oblivious to the danger, she faced Byron and smiled.
"I've had the strangest..."
"Dream," Roni whispered, speaking the lines from memory.
"Because of this nightmare," Byron growled, indicating Gunther.
At the image of their despised enemy, Daphne gasped, "It's--"
"--him," Roni sighed, recited the other woman's lines perfectly. "Oh, Byron, Gunther's the one who's been attacking women in the village all along. He's the one who really terrorized Cousin Millicent, not you!"
"His days of terror are over."
"You only think that, Byron!"
Gunther charged, swiping the silver cane at Byron. Byron surged forward and threw a punch. The wolf's head cane went flying from the warlock's grasp, spun through the air, and clattered to the floor in the shadows near Roni's feet.
"Cut!" the Headphones shouted. While crossing the space to retrieve it, he noticed the presence of a stranger who shouldn't have been there. "Who the hell are you?"
Unable to answer, Roni shook her head and realized every eye on the set was upon her.
She stood outside the studio at a distance from the entrance, rocking in place on the curb. What Roni now felt transcended simple panic; she was numb in places, as though her throat and limbs and lungs had fallen asleep. The last of the storm's drizzle fell gray across Madison Avenue, and she barely felt the humidity.
The dress. Wendy had said that one instant it was upon the dress form. The next, it was gone--because it had reappeared on Roni.
Her mind turned over this all-important fact.
The dresses were one and the same. But the future version had traveled back in time and had canceled out the version in the past. There would be no picking up the phone and calling her mother for help or just showing up on her old doorstep, because if she did, the adult version of Veronica Evans might cancel out the earlier one. Hadn't she once read that in a story or in some article about time travel theories? That alternate forms of the same person couldn't exist in close proximity to one another without catastrophic results? If that happened to Roni as a girl, it would also destroy her future.
Her only connection to Ryan, and the future, was Rex Flanigan.
A gaggle of voices trilled behind her.
"Oh my God, it's Gunther!" shrieked a girl who sounded on the verge of fainting.
Roni turned to see Stanley Haskell exiting the studio's security doors. Several young women danced excitedly in place and waved autograph books.
"Oh, I love hating you, Gunther!"
"You can cast your wicked spells on me any day you want, dreamboat!"
"Can I get a picture?"
Wearing street clothes that included a gaudy green ascot, plaid pants, and white leather shoes with brass buckles, Haskell graciously signed autographs and posed for photographs. Before the love-fest for Gunther Wagner fully subsided, the small crowd's collective voice doubled in intensity.
"It's Byron!" exclaimed a high-pitched voice. "Oh, Byron, I love you!"
Roni gazed through the sea of bodies and, beyond the audience of brace-filled smiles and sunglasses, Rex Flanigan joined the friendly chaos. He added his scribble to autograph books and posed with fans for photographs. Screams as bloodcurdling as anything heard in the make-believe world of the Hindenwood family ricocheted across Madison Avenue.
Roni's paralysis broke. Steeling herself, she marched across the sidewalk and cut through the crowd, excusing herself to the frenzied fans until she was directly beside him. "Rex--"
He ceased scrawling and their eyes met. "Yes? Oh, hello."
"A word in private, if you don't mind."
Rex drew in a deep breath, nodded, and pulled her aside. "What can I help you with, Roni?"
Roni faced him. Out of his Byron Hindenwood wardrobe, he had ceased being a creature of the night, a hero and a legend. He was only a man now and, on that term, she could face him.
"Is that nanny job still available?"
Rex's eyes narrowed. He tipped his chin and hesitated from answering. The cacophony of voices again whipped into a frenzy as Boyd Hyte exited the studio.
"I'm not a stalker," she said.
Rex smiled. "Night Stalker, did you say? I did an episode of that, too, with Darren McGavin, back in '75."
"No, what I meant was," she said, her voice rising to compete with the shouts, "I'm not one of those crazies who stalk celebrities. I am an actress, like I told you. In fact, I was up for a part on Twilight's Edge. But I'm at a very loose end. I don't have a job, money, or a place to stay. Even so, I have it on good authority from other actors on the show that you're a solid guy, Rex. So how about it?"
"The nanny job?" Rex shrugged. "How do I know you'll be good for my boy?"
"Oh, trust me," she said. "But if you have any doubts, you can ask Ryan."