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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2021 by Constance Sayers

Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio

Cover art by Arcangel and Shutterstock

Cover copyright © 2021 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Redhook Books/Orbit

Hachette Book Group

1290 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10104


First Edition: March 2021

Redhook is an imprint of Orbit, a division of Hachette Book Group.

The Redhook name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Sayers, Constance, author.

Title: The ladies of the secret circus / Constance Sayers.

Description: First Edition. | New York, NY : Redhook, 2021.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020032854 | ISBN 9780316493673 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780316493666 (e-book)

Subjects: GSAFD: Fantasy fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3619.A9974 L33 2021 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020032854

ISBNs: 978-0-316-49367-3 (hardcover), 978-0-316-49364-2 (ebook)




Title Page





Part 1: The Wedding That Wasn’t

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12: The Journal of Cecile Cabot—Book One

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Part 2: The Trip to Paris

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18: The Journal of Cecile Cabot—Book Two

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24: The Journal of Cecile Cabot—Book Three

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Part 3: Esmé’s Secret

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34



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The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed, that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood… She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.

—Henry Ringling North


Kerrigan Falls, Virginia

October 9, 1974

The Buick was both half on and half off the road, its shiny body blending seamlessly with the pitch-black night. He slammed on his brakes, nearly hitting the car’s back quarter panel. Jesus. Who the hell would have left a car here of all places?

The vehicle was familiar. He racked his brain trying to remember where he’d seen it before.

Worried that someone might have been hurt, he stepped out onto the road, careful to leave his own car’s right turn signal blinking to catch the attention of anyone else traveling on this desolate stretch. Despite the full moon, the dense forest made the road appear to be nestled under a tent even in fall as the leaves began to thin; the clusters of birch trees with their straight white trunks resembled sticks of chalk. The moon shining through them reassured him for a moment.

He peered inside the car’s open window, revealing the empty front seat. An RC Cola can was turned over, dumping its contents on the leather upholstery as though the driver had been holding it when he’d come to a stop. The radio blared. Poor bastard was probably just relieving himself in the woods.

“Hello?” His voiced carried more than he thought it would, making him realize just how lonely this road was.

The stillness puzzled him. On an evening like this, the woods should be buzzing with nocturnal activity, yet the night was eerily calm. He turned to go back to his car. He’d call old Chief Archer as soon as he got home and tell him about the abandoned car.

“Hello? Anyone out here?”

He spied something moving at the edge of the tree line.

His pulse quickened and he hurried back to the safety of his own car, relieved when he placed his right foot on the floorboard with the intent of getting in and driving away. Instead he focused on something moving slowly, cat-like, weaving in and out of the trees. He knew there were cats in these parts, small, but nuisance enough to vex the farmers. His eye followed the movement of what appeared to be a shadow—until it stopped.

Where the thing had halted, there was now a heap of something by the roadside. Gingerly, he took a step around the trunk, the car still protecting him from what was over there. What was it? A pile of leaves? Dear Lord, not a body?

Inching, inching closer.

The air left him as he realized too late what was in front of him. The thing was swift and for a moment—his last moment—it had been oddly familiar.

When it was over, the forest seemed to reassemble itself and there was nothing, except the sound of the two car radios playing “The Air That I Breathe” in unison.

Kerrigan Falls, Virginia

October 8, 2004

It was the wrong dress; Lara realized that now.

It was the color of old bones. The intricate platinum beading dripped down the dress’s fitted bodice in a scrolled pattern. Mid-thigh, the long chiffon skirt emerged, sweeping the floor with a dramatic five-foot train. Tugging at the garment, she looked in the mirror and frowned. Yes, she was definitely disappointed with this dress.

It was the first time she’d actually been alone with the gown. No mother standing behind her pulling at the fabric with a hopeful tone in her voice. No “bridal consultants” or seamstresses fussing at her with their encouraging platitudes of just how wonderful she would look.


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