A Night in the Prince's Bed

By: Chantelle Shaw

CHAPTER ONE

HE WAS HERE. Again.

Mina had told herself that she would not look for him, but as she stepped out from the wings her eyes darted to the audience thronged in the standing area in front of the stage, and her heart gave a jolt when she saw him.

The unique design of Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s South Bank meant that the actors on stage could see the individual faces of the audience. The theatre was a modern reconstruction of the famous Elizabethan playhouse, an amphitheatre with an open roof, above which the sky was now turning to indigo as dusk gathered. To try to recreate the atmosphere of the original theatre, minimal lighting was used, and without the glare of footlights Mina could clearly see the man’s chiselled features; his razor-edged cheekbones and resolute jaw shaded with stubble that exacerbated his raw masculinity.

His mouth was unsmiling, almost stern, yet his lips held a sensual promise that Mina found intriguing. From the stage she could not make out the colour of his eyes, but she noted the lighter streaks in his dark blond hair. He was wearing the same black leather jacket he had worn on the three previous evenings, and he was so devastatingly sexy that Mina could not tear her eyes from him.

She was curious about why he was in the audience again. It was true that Joshua Hart’s directorial debut of William Shakespeare’s iconic love story Romeo and Juliet had received rave reviews, but why would anyone choose to stand for two and a half hours to watch the same play for three evenings in a row? Maybe he couldn’t afford a seat in one of the galleries, she mused. Tickets for the standing area—known as the yard—were inexpensive and popular, providing the best view of the stage and offering a unique sense of intimacy between the audience and the actors.

Mina tried to look away from him, but her head turned in his direction of its own accord, as if she were a puppet and he had pulled one of her strings. He was staring at her, and the intensity of his gaze stole her breath. Everything faded—the audience and the members of the cast on stage with her—and she was only aware of him.

On the periphery of her consciousness Mina became aware of the lengthening silence. She sensed the growing tension of the actors around her and realised that they were waiting for her to speak. Her mind went blank. She stared at the audience and sickening fear churned in her stomach as she registered the hundreds of pairs of eyes staring back at her.

Oh, God! Stage-fright was an actor’s worst nightmare. Her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth and sweat beaded on her brow. Instinctively she raised her hands to her ears to check that her hearing aids were in place.

‘Focus, Mina!’ A fierce whisper from one of the other actors dragged her from the brink of panic. Her brain clicked into gear and, snatching a breath, she delivered her first line.

‘“How now, who calls?”’

Kat Nichols, who was playing the role of Nurse, let out an audible sigh of relief.

‘“Your mother.”’

‘“Madam, I am here. What is your will?”’

The actress playing Lady Capulet stepped forward to speak her lines, and the conversation between Lady Capulet and the Nurse allowed Mina a few seconds to compose herself. Her hesitation had been brief and she prayed that the audience had been unaware of her lapse in concentration. But Joshua would not have missed it. The play’s director was standing in the wings and even without glancing at him Mina sensed his irritation. Joshua Hart demanded perfection from every member of the cast, but especially from his daughter.

Mina knew she had ignored one of acting’s golden rules when she had broken the ‘fourth wall’—the imaginary wall between the actors on stage and the audience. For a few moments she had stepped out of character of the teenage Juliet and given the audience a glimpse of her true self—Mina Hart, a twenty-five year-old partially deaf actress.

It was unlikely that anyone in the audience was aware of her hearing impairment. Few people outside the circle of her family and close friends knew that as a result of contracting meningitis when she was eight she had been left with serious hearing loss. The digital hearing aids she wore were small enough to fit discreetly inside her ears and were hidden by her long hair. The latest designed aids enabled her to have a telephone conversation and listen to music. Sometimes she could almost forget how lonely and cut off she had felt as a deaf child who had struggled to cope in a world that overnight had become silent.

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