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Joshua North always gets what he wants. And the mercenary wants Bethany in his bed. He wants her beautiful little body bent to his will.
She doesn’t surrender to his kiss.
He doesn’t back down from a challenge.
It’s going to be a sensual fight… to the death.
Blinding lights. Aching lungs. Thunderous applause. The final show concludes the same way we rehearsed for months, the same way we performed for weeks. My muscles know the movements better than they understand rest. The prospect of after, of what comes next, makes my breath catch. Even as the primas take their bows, relief echoes around the stage. Vacations are planned. Relief for strained muscles. Everyone needs a break, even professional athletes. I’m the only one onstage dreading it.
We bow and curtesy with practiced grace. The curtain descends to the floor. Almost to the second we break formation—a flock of crows startled from the woods. The more exuberant among us, the young ones, the new ones, the ones using steroids, prance and jete toward the dressing rooms. Most of us limp our way out. One hundred percent of NFL players are injured every season. Professional dancing is the same. We hurl our bodies through the air, forcing massive impact through tired joints night after night. I catch my friend Marlena in my arms. Her face is white with pain.
“Ice,” she says. “Or better yet—tequila.”
I push my shoulder under hers as we exit the stage. “Don’t sell yourself short. You can have both.”
A delicate snort. “Not likely. We have to smile and flirt with the old men with big, fat wallets. And for what? I won’t be here next season. You won’t be, either.”
The reminder clangs inside me like a copper bell. I won’t be coming to the New York City Ballet after the break. We fall into our creaky chairs in the dressing room. “Are you going to miss it?”
“Miss it? Of course I’ll miss it.” Marlena turned twenty-eight last month. It’s comfortably retirement age for a dancer. “When the little children do their terrible pirouettes, when they sneeze and throw up and cry all over my leotard, I’ll think fondly of the beautiful art I left behind. Then I’ll be able to walk home. That won’t happen if I try to dance another season.”
“You’ll make a wonderful teacher. You know you were mine.” She didn’t teach me to dance. It was my first love, before I learned to flip and contort myself. Before I ever leapt from a trapeze bar.
Marlena taught me the ropes of the ballet company when I joined two years ago. Most of them thought I wouldn’t last a week. Some of them didn’t want me to. It’s a rigid world, the hierarchy stacked with graduates of Juilliard or the John Cranko school.
I don’t have a pedigree.
All I have is a body that does what it must, no matter how much it hurts.
Which means changing out of my sweaty leotard into a fresh one. We’re contractually obligated to attend the ball. Like Marlena said, we should smile and flirt with the high society people who attend. Both the male and female dancers have to do it. It’s what convinces the sponsors to write checks that will fund the next season. By the time they’re rehearsing The Nutcracker I’ll be in New Orleans, the place I swore I’d never return.
Skye Warren is the New York Times bestselling author of dangerous romance. Her books have sold over one million copies. She makes her home in Texas with her loving family, sweet dogs, and evil cat. Website: http://www.skyewarren.com/books/audition/
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/audition/id1475290521
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/audition-skye-warren/1132969928
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