What happens when an animal rights activist goes undercover at the circus? Find out in The Lion's Den, one of three romantic adventures in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions by Julia Douglas - a perfect read to download to your e-reader this Christmas.
Here's an exclusive extract...
It was love at first sight - for Charlotte, anyway. What the lion was thinking, she had no idea.
A printed sign tied to the wire mesh identified him as Sphinx, and he sat as proud, still and beautiful as the ancient Egyptian monument after which he was named - head up, forepaws gracefully crossed in front of him, in the exact centre of the cage.
It was a chilly evening. Charlotte was glad of her cable-knit tights and the sheepskin coat that had been a real find in the charity shop. But Sphinx, so far from his African home, seemed oblivious to the damp English wind that stirred ocean-like waves in his luxuriant mane. He appeared oblivious, too, of his harem of four lionesses, lounging and washing themselves in the shadowy far corners of the enclosure.
Charlotte wondered if he was aware of her, or the other circus goers - mums and kids who had paid an extra 50p to gawp at the show’s ‘performers’ in a shanty town of pens and tents behind the big top.
If Sphinx was aware, he feigned regal indifference.
Charlotte moved closer, her tied-back copper hair a righteous blaze in the sunset, and dared to touch the cold mesh. She imagined the lion dreaming of the open veldt, its horizons shimmering in the heat haze, with no cruel humans in sight.
That’s where you should be, Charlotte thought, angrily. Not caged among these throbbing generators, caravans and lorries. Not forced to earn your dinner by jumping through hoops.
It was the 1980s, for heavens sake, not the 1890s when people knew no better.
Her pulse quickening, Charlotte glanced around for a door to the enclosure. She’d set him free this minute if she could.
Not that she would dare, with all the families around. She didn’t want anyone hurt, no matter how misguided they were in paying to see an ‘entertainment’ that made slaves of creatures as noble as Sphinx.
She forced herself to be calm. There was a longer game to play.
“Beautiful, isn’t he?”
Charlotte jumped at the sound of a man’s voice, close behind her. She spun around and found herself staring at the broad chest of Guy Starr, the circus owner.
Click here to buy The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions - three stories of women in unique worlds on the fringes of entertainment.
In The Fairground Girl, Beatrice falls pregnant by fairground worker Eddie and runs away to join his world in the rock'n'roll years of the 1950s.
In The Lion's Den, animal rights activist Charlotte goes undercover to expose cruelty at the circus and finds herself torn between two men and two ideologies.
In Blue Eyes and Heels, Angel fights for equality in the world of professional wrestling.
Read all three adventures in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions.