Sneak peek of Chapter One of Duchess by Nikki Wilson:

“Du-chess! Du-chess! Du-chess!” The chanting washed over her like a warm wave. The adulation of the audience enthralled her in a way nothing else ever could..

After taking a swig of water, she patted her perspiring brow with a towel, careful not to scrub off her makeup or disturb the wig. The tall, white-powdered monstrosity sat atop her head like soft-serve ice cream balancing precariously on a cone. To say it was awkward was an understatement of epic proportions. The platform shoes and big, bulky dress were no picnic either, but Duchess knew what the people wanted, and she would go to any lengths to give it to them.

She had to—a life depended on it.

Plastering on a smile, Duchess waited for the fog machines to send out misty fingers and then swept onto the stage for her encore.

“Dahlings, dahlings, dahlings! Your Duchess is back!” The lights of the stage, the smell of the fog, and the screaming of the fans lit something inside her every time. Duchess basked in the glow. “Are you ready to dance?”

The response was deafening, and she fed off the energy. She waited for the fog to mask the wires attached to the hidden belt inside her dress. As the first few notes of her new single floated from the back of the stage out to the screaming audience, a real smile lifted the corner of her mouth. This was her audience, and they were under her spell.

As she danced to the beat, the rhythmic lyrics came out slightly distorted, thanks to the small synthesizer in her mic.

“You wrote a note to King George back in 1776,

Claimed you needed to be free from us Brits.

But you’ve been worshipping us ever since.

If it weren’t for a war and dumping tea from a ship,

You’d all be enjoying wonderful fish ’n chips!”

The best part was coming up. Duchess braced herself as she felt the wires tug her off the floor. A cool breeze swished past her as she was lifted four feet up. Trying hard not to squint into the spotlight, she began her air choreography, floating above the stage like a medieval ghost. Fitting, since she would forever be haunted by that fateful day when she signed with the record label and became their puppet, complete with strings.

“Fish ’n chips, fish ’n chips,

Read my lips—you want fish ’n chips!”

The crowd always went crazy for this part. She wasn’t sure if they were cheering for the dancing or if they were waiting for her to fall and break her neck. Her feet glided through the air, and not for the first time, she wondered what inspired the record label to come up with this circus act.

The wires pulled her up higher, and a gilded throne came down from the ceiling of the stage. Meeting it in the middle, she took a seat. She’d practiced this move hundreds of times before she could do it without knocking herself up against the royal seat in the sky. Bruises still dotted the right side of her body.

Pillars of fireworks went off in the dark sky above the Staples Center as the last note played. It was the Fourth of July, after all.