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Audition (True North #1)
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Blood and sweat. Bethany Lewis danced her way out of poverty. She’s a world class athlete… with a debt to pay.
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.
AUDITION is the enthralling spin off from the bestselling North Security series, though it can be read separately.
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The novel Oliver Twist shone a light on the plight of poor children who were forced to work in harsh conditions much like a prison. They were fed primarily gruel and soup, only given tea when prescribed by a doctor.
Blinding lights. Aching lungs. Thunderous applause.
The opening show ends the way we rehearsed for weeks, only this time with an audience. My muscles know the movements better than they understand the rest. The prospect of after, of anything outside this stage, makes my breath catch.
We take our bows together, as a single line. The avant-garde dance company doesn’t have a strict hierarchy—no corps dancers or prima ballerinas. There’s only this show, this moment, which suits me perfectly. No promises. No regrets.
The curtain falls.
Almost to the second, we break formation—a flock of crows startled from the woods. We prance to the dressing room, our bodies made springy by adrenaline. Euphoria clings to our sweat-dampened skin even backstage.
Grins and congratulations all around.
The show is titled Olivia Twist, a contemporary retelling with most of the roles gender reversed. Fagin has been reimagined as Fanny, the clever head of a group home for girls. The concept was mine, but the entire show is a team effort.
There’s relief, too. The standard ritual of icing swollen joints or wrapping bruised tendons. We hurl our bodies through the air, forcing massive impact through tired joints night after night. We look strong onstage. Behind the curtain we’re a jumble of never-healing wounds, held together by silk and spandex and Kinesio tape.
I catch my friend Marlena under my shoulder. Her face is white with pain.
“Ice,” she says. “Or better yet—tequila.”
I help her limp off 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. As if I don’t do enough of that at home.”
We fall into our creaky chairs in the dressing room. The stage director tosses half-frozen bottles of Ozarka at each of us, and we both pause to gulp. I’m wearing an army-green leotard sewn with rags to highlight my part as the gender-reversed Olivia Twist, while Marlena wears a patchwork greatcoat for her part as Fagin.
I drip some of the cold water into my palm and smooth it across the back of my neck. “You don’t have to. At home, I mean. You definitely have to flirt at the opening party.”
“My body hurts too much to give up my whirlpool tub or two-thousand-thread-count sheets.” Marlena has a sugar daddy who visits her a few times a week for an uncomplicated evening. In exchange he pays for an upscale brownstone once owned by a Hollywood actor, a Bentley and driver to take her to and from practice, and a 401K through his company.
“Does he have any friends?” I ask, though I’m joking—mostly.
“You know I’d find you a sugar daddy if I thought you’d actually accept it. We probably don’t even need to. I’ve seen the way Scott looks at your ass. He has more than enough money to keep both of us.”
I choke on a swallow of water. “Marlena.”
She giggles. “He may be old, but he knows how to show a girl a good time.”
“We’ll call that plan B. Besides, I like my apartment.” The dance company doesn’t pay very much. Less than minimum wage. They get away with it because it’s considered a part-time job. We’re only paid for the time we perform, even though we practice eight hours a day.
I don’t precisely like my apartment, but it’s all I can afford.
Marlena rolls her eyes. “Let me know when you get tired of the rat droppings.”
For that comment I flick my fingers, spraying her with ice-cold water. She squeals and spills some of her water on my thigh, making me gasp. She thinks I’m too uptight to accept a sugar daddy, like maybe I look down on her. That’s not it. I learned early on the risk of belonging to a man. The danger of trusting one.
Being a ballet dancer is a terrible business model. My only commodity is my body, and between injury and age, it depreciates quickly. Still, it’s managed to keep me off the streets. It’s managed to keep me independent from my brother.
For that I’m grateful.
I remind myself of that as I sit at my bench. We’re contractually obligated to attend the ball. Like Marlena said, we should smile and flirt with the rich people who attend. Both the male and female dancers have to. It’s what convinces the sponsors to write checks that will fund the next season. Ticket sales don’t even cover our tiny paychecks.
Fresh lipstick. Powder. I smooth a hand over my bun, but it’s perfectly tight. The truth is that I look composed most of the time. People assume I must feel that way, too. It’s an act as surely as I dance on the stage each night. A performance.