As soon as she had left the arena after the grand finale and endless curtain calls, Corrine did her best to stay away from Kaleb. She managed to lose him in the chaos of celebration that went on backstage after a successful performance, hurrying outside and into the fresh air. It was cold outside, the hairs on her bare arms prickling up at the sudden change in temperature. She wandered away from the performers entrance and towards the trailers where everyone slept.
Corrine was so happy that their performance had gone well but at the same time it scared her. Every time they finished a perfect performance Kaleb got closer to kissing her. He had almost done it after they had come backstage earlier, she could see it in his eyes. If he kissed her then Corrine didn't know what she would do. She didn't want to break the sacred trust that performance partners shared, but at the same time she didn't want him to think that she felt more for him than she really did.
"Excuse me?" A voice out of the darkness made Corrine jump out of her skin.
"I'm sorry," the voice said softly, "I didn't mean to scare you." A tall, lean figure appeared out of the shadow of the side of the tent, dressed smartly for an outing to the circus in a suit and bow tie.
"Y-you shouldn't be here," Corrine said, stumbling over her words. "This is the performers' space."
"Then I will leave in a moment, I just wanted to congratulate you on a wonderful performance."
As the man drew closer, Corinne could make out his profile. He had a thin face and pointed nose but his eyes were kind and warm and inviting. She suddenly felt a lot less threatened by the stranger, the muscles in her shoulders relaxing.
"You were the girl in the knife throwing act, weren't you? Nadia was it?"
"Yes," Corrine replied, answering to her stage name.
"I have a lot of respect for what you do," the gentleman confessed. "It must take such courage to allow yourself to be put in that situation."
"I trust my partner," she said. "I have known him for years, he was my father's apprentice."
"Even so, it is a big risk to take. I could never do that."
"Corrine?" Kaleb's voice carried from around the corner of the tent. "Are you out here, Corrine?"
"Is that your real name?" The stranger asked. "It's very beautiful. You should use that instead of Nadia."
"But Nadia sounds more exotic and the crowds like it."
"Well I prefer Corrine."
She felt the blood rising in her cheeks at the gentleman's compliment and looked down at the floor, wishing her hair was loose so she could hide behind it. There were footsteps behind her and Kaleb appeared at her side.
"There you are," he said. "I was wondering where you'd gone." Kaleb's eyes settled on the strange man who was now standing only a few steps away from his partner and Corrine could feel his muscles tensing, pulling himself up to his full height. "Can I help you?"
"I was just wanting to congratulate you on a stunning performance. I don't think I've ever seen such wonderful performers."
"I will make sure that the troupe knows of your approval," Kaleb said stiffly. "But if you don't mind the audience aren't allowed back here."
"A thousand apologies," the gentleman said. "I shall leave you to your celebrations." He reached out and took Corrine's hand, kissing it softly before letting it go. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Corrine."
She could only manage a smile and a nod in reply as she watched the stranger leave.
"Who was that?" Kaleb asked, his arm sliding protectively around Corrine's waist.
"I don't know," she replied, sliding smoothly out of his grasp and heading back towards the tent, heart pounding, knees weak and head full of the stranger's words and his warm smile.