**LOVE ALL YEAR IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE AS AN eBOOK**
Still available as a paperback on Amazon
Because holiday romance happens all year long . . .
Three Stars in the Sky by Stacey Agdern
It Happened One Yule by Celestine Martin
Queen Esther, Unmasked by Hallie Alexander
Legacy of Love by Savannah J. Frierson
Making up with Eid Bae by Farah Heron
A Bridge of Magpies by Ekaterine Xia
The Sweet Spot by Felicia Grossman
Praise For Queen Esther, Unmasked
“I loved this story pretty much from the get-go . . . both sweet and sizzly (sharing chocolate hamantashen, who knew?) and ultimately a feel-good that I enjoyed whole-heartedly.”
— GoodReads Review
Praise For the Anthology
“This anthology really delivered and I’m very excited to have a few more authors to add to my must-follow list. “
— GoodReads Review
“A joy for anyone who lives by their own community’s holidays and never sees them represented in media.” — Amazon Reviewer
Editor: Elizabeth Kahn
Published: September 22, 2020
Queen Esther, Unmasked by Hallie Alexander
It’s 1890, Gilded Age Manhattan and Freida is about to perform in a Purim spiel, or play. She recently jilted Max because he was cheating on her, but of course society doesn’t see it that way. Also, Sylvie is Frieda’s best friend, the kind we should all be lucky enough to have.
Freida couldn’t breathe. She bent at the waist and gripped her knees, beard tickling the tops of her hands. Her mask slid forward. Air rushed beneath, cooling the dew from her face.
“Breathe,” Sylvie implored. “Rabbi Graber wouldn’t have given you this role if he wasn’t confident in your abilities.”
Freida wasn’t so sure. “That was before I jilted Max.”
“That has nothing to do with it.” Sylvie rubbed circles on Freida’s back.
Freida couldn’t have been more grateful to have a friend who always took her side.
“I should have bowed out while I had the chance.” Waves of nausea rolled through her stomach, portending a disaster of Waterloo proportions. How would she survive facing Max in front of a crowd?
Sylvie helped Freida stand and set the king’s crown atop her head. “You know there’s no bowing out with the rabbi. Remember Passover?” Sylvie shivered at a memory Freida was sure involved endless stockpots filled with gefilte fish. “No matter what, I’ll be right beside you. You are not alone. If Max is horrible, I will help you toss him over the balcony.”
“You would do that for me?”
“Depending on the situation, I might do it myself. Come along, King.” She shoved Freida toward the door. “Don’t keep me from my villainous ambitions.”
“No, never.” Freida’s voice wavered. She swallowed, hoping to keep down her supper, never mind that supper was hours ago.
Dancers and court jesters took their places to join the parade that would bring them to the balcony overlooking the grand ballroom. Below, hundreds of noisy, costumed guests awaited their performance.
It was a good thing Freida wouldn’t be able to see them.
Beside her, Sylvie raised a sardonic brow and twirled the end of her mustache.
The doors flew open. Freida’s pulse kicked into a canter. Sylvie let out a squeal of excitement. Eastern-style music heralded their arrival. Burning incense filled the room with exotic, spicy smells. Hanging from the ceiling were fluttering, colorful silks. Seligman had converted the ballroom into a Persian palace.
Someone shouted, “Haman!” and the room erupted with noise to drown out his name. Every Napoleon, Lady Justice, and Humpty Dumpty stomped their feet and cranked their loud, mechanical, wooden groggers.
Sylvie preened, lips twisting into a grimace. She thrust a scroll in the air and announced, “King Ahasuerus!”
The mood of the room shifted from raging to thrumming and back again. It was enough to freeze Freida in her place.
A finger poked at her back. “They’ll never settle. Might as well begin.” It was one of the elders who performed in the chorus every year. His wrinkled face creased with impatience.
She should ask to borrow his spectacles. What did he need to see, anyway? She couldn’t fix her sight to any one thing. It was like looking out on a tempestuous sea and expecting to find the horizon, but the waves kept coming with no reprieve in sight.
“This is . . .” Sylvie hissed, trying to prompt Freida with her first line.
Freida whipped around to Sylvie and gave her head a quick shake, eyes wide with panic. The seasick feeling made the room spin. The edges of what vision she had disappeared into endless darkness. Feverish heat burned in her chest.
Sylvie gave an understanding nod. “Would you look at this place!” She exclaimed loud enough to be heard in Yonkers.
This wasn’t how the play began—Freida knew as much. It wasn’t Rabbi Graber’s schmaltzy style. The audience quieted anyway.
Sylvie slung her arm around Freida’s neck in a non-courtly, but particular friend-like manner. “They know how to throw a party here in Persia, don’t they?”
Whispered complaints in Yiddish swirled behind them. “Pfft. Forget the script,” Sylvie murmured from the side of her mouth. “Just answer the question.”
Freida faced the rising tide below and swayed. She could do this. She had to. She had to prove to all the Mrs. Levys that she was more than the sum of her jilting.
“I . . .” Freida swallowed and cleared her throat. “I went to Vanderbilt’s legendary Masquerade Ball and let me tell you, my friend and most esteemed advisor, this gathering ain’t half bad.”
Someone below gasped. Probably her mother.
Sylvie cleared her throat to cover a laugh. “What, Your Majesty, would elevate this ball to Vanderbilt standards?” Sylvie’s eyes bore into hers, entreating her to move the story along. Even if she couldn’t remember the scripted lines, every Jewish child knew the basic sketch of the story: The king banished the first wife, Vashti, for disobedience, then took Esther as his second wife. She was not only beautiful but smart and saved the Jews.
Freida tented her eyes and dramatically searched the balcony, though all she could see with any clarity was Sylvie beside her. “Did we forget to invite women?”
A vulgar remark bellowed from the audience.
Sylvie snickered. “Bring the women!” she shouted to the nearest attendant.
Benjamin stumbled from the door behind them, followed by his entourage of three ladies-in-waiting. He’d donned a shimmering veil that partially covered his face, revealing dramatic eyes lined with kohl. He made a stunning Queen Vashti.
Shocking everyone, Benjamin performed like a professional actor, commanding the balcony as much as he commanded the audience.
When Freida banished him, she had to grab Sylvie’s shirttails to stop her from following.
“He held out on us!” Sylvie hissed in Freida’s ear. “Did you know he could act?”
Freida shook her head. “How would I know? He was in, he was out, and Max complained the whole time.”
“Well, Max won’t be able to compete with that.” Sylvie bit her lip and watched the door to the balcony as if willing Benjamin to reappear. When he didn’t, she wistfully turned back to the audience. “As the king’s advisor, Haman—”
She absorbed the audience’s thunderous regard, obliterating her name.
“—I advise you to take a new wife!”
Freida’s gorge rose. Sweat prickled her feverish skin.
An idea came to her. If she didn’t take a new wife, she wouldn’t have to face Max. Since Haman hadn’t yet threatened the Jews, they could end the spiel now and go straight to eating and dancing. Everyone won in her version of the story.
“I have a whole harem. Why would I want a new wife?” Freida thumbed at the ten alter kockers behind them, preening in gauzy skirts, scarves, and bristly faces.
Sylvie shook her head. “Those are the rules; I don’t make them. Might I suggest a beauty pageant to help with your decision?”
Freida groaned. So did her harem. “Fine.”
They turned to the door expectedly. Freida braced herself.
Nothing happened. Nobody moved. No one entered. Nor did Freida pass out, as she’d hoped she would.
Sylvie tried again. “Beauty pageant!”
The players waited. The audience’s chatter swelled. An ebullience climbed in Freida like champagne bubbles floating to the top of a coupe. Maybe the play would end as she’d hoped.
Then the balcony door swung open. Sylvie gasped.
Freida looked for a private spot to throw up.
A rumbling murmur traveled through the audience. She couldn’t believe Max needed to make a grand entrance like a prima donna would. This wasn’t La Traviata, and they weren’t the Metropolitan Opera.
“Your contestants are ready, Your Majesty,” Sylvie chirped, more cheerful than a particular friend should be in this situation. “I’ll call them forward one at a time. Since this is a last-minute contest, I am sad to report we won’t be holding any exhibitions. But fear not, my king. One of these fine ladies will make the perfect queen.”
Freida turned to face her harem. Though she could not see them well, she knew by the blue of his gown, brighter than the others, Esther stood to the left. A fluid rage shot through her veins at the sight of him.
Dash it all. No, damn it all. She wasn’t an unmarried gentlewoman tonight. She was King Ahasuerus. She didn’t have to follow society’s rules in this guise. Squaring her shoulders, she laid a gambit at Esther’s feet.
“My fortune-teller told me I would marry a beautiful virgin. How can I be sure one is true when the other is clearly not?” It took everything within her not to shake with fury.
A rough voice answered. A voice she’d never heard before. It struck a match down her spine, igniting a flame low in her belly. Her head snapped up.
“Don’t be disheartened by my beauty, Your Majesty. I promise I’ve been saving myself for you.”
Oy vavoy. This man was not Max. His answer came as close to flirtation as she’d ever heard. Who was he?
Considering how her legs had softened to taffy by his low purr, she couldn’t understand how she found herself standing before him. He wasn’t much taller than Max, but he seemed larger, crowding all of them on the balcony. A smear of blue paint embellished his eyes through his half-mask. This close, she could make out his square jaw, and a quirk to his voluptuous lips stained deep red.
Without thinking, she gave him two quick jabs to the chest. Yes, he was real.
Wherever Max had gone, he could stay there. This Esther was a keeper.