Authors: Helena Newbury
Nat pulled a stray strand of chestnut hair into her bun. She gave me a mournful look.
“It’s ballet,” I told her. “You’ll ace it.” Nat’s a much better dancer than I am, though sometimes I don’t think she realizes it. She flows through steps with an ease that I can never find—I’m too tightly-wound, too focused on making everything perfect.
I could see the fear on Nat’s face and, despite my words, I was almost as nervous about it as she was. This was a big one—a commercial that could get her the exposure she needed. At twenty-one, she had to hurry up and get noticed if she wanted her career to take off.
That afternoon, she did get noticed. Just not in the way either of us expected.
Nat raced off to her audition after practice and I didn’t see her or hear from her for the rest of the day—which wasn’t a good sign. If it had gone well, she would have called.
That evening, I had to rehearse for an off-Broadway show I was in. It was late by the time I finally trudged through the door—quietly, just in case Nat had turned in early.
I stopped in the doorway of the lounge. Nat was sprawled on the couch in a bathrobe, eyes closed, head tilted back. Her lips were slightly apart and, for a second, I thought she’d dozed off. Then I saw her hand, half-hidden in the shadows between her thighs, rubbing slowly back and forth.
I stood stock still for a moment, trying to decide what to do. Then I cleared my throat.
Nat’s eyes flew open and we stared at each other. She didn’t look guilty or embarrassed…not until she glanced down and realized what she’d been doing. Then her face flared red and she whipped her hand away so fast I heard the air whistle. “Hi!” she said, too loudly.
I pretended not to have seen. The poor girl needed all the fun she could get. “How was the audition?” I asked.
She shook her head in a way that told me everything I needed to know.
I pulled her into a hug. “What do we say when we don’t get an audition?”
“I’m a useless dancer and I’m never going to get a job?” she said.
I slapped her ass.
“Um…a door that’s closed…is just an opportunity disguised as a glass half full?” she tried, a tiny smirk in her voice, now.
I slapped her ass again.
“They’re morons,” said Nat grudgingly. “Where’s the vodka?”
“Attagirl!” And I went to the kitchen to get the orange Skittle-flavored vodka, our traditional drink when one of us has a bad audition, or Miss Kay rants at us, or we break up with a boyfriend. I noticed how clean the kitchen was—Nat did that, when she was upset, as a way of coping. She’d probably been riding her exercise bike, too, until she was sweat-soaked and exhausted, and my stomach churned—how could I have disappeared all evening and left her alone? But I’d had to go to the rehearsal—I couldn’t be there for her 24-7.
What she needed was a boyfriend. Actually, what we
needed was a boyfriend.
Nat didn’t share the details of what happened until the next morning. Jasmine joined us for coffee at Harper’s, a café near Fenbrook. Ideally, Karen, the cellist who rounds off our little foursome, would have been there too, but it’s difficult to get her out of a practice room before noon. “So?” I asked as I put down three mugs. “Spill.”
Nat was silent.
“That bad?” asked Jasmine.
Nat told us about the audition going well…until some guy burst in and broke her concentration.
“Idiot,” said Jasmine. “Probably just wanted to get a look at girls in Lycra.”
I nodded. “He probably has a
for dancers. I went out with one guy who wanted me to wear the whole thing: tights, leotard, shoes—
time we went to bed.” That was true. I would have made it up just to make Nat feel better, but I didn’t have to.
“Did you do it?” Jasmine asked. Jasmine is our resident sex guru. Everything about sex fascinates her and nothing seems to shock her.
“Only for a couple of weeks. Then he wanted me to stand en pointe while he”—I gave Jasmine a meaningful look—“Uh,
So I got out.”
“He asked me to dance for him,” said Nat.
We both turned to her. “He
I don’t think Nat had really meant to say it out loud.
“Eww! Like, in his bedroom?” asked Jasmine.
“Or maybe a lap dance. He probably wanted a lap dance,” I said.
“He said he wanted a muse,” Nat told us.
I hated the guy already. I could see him now—suit, slicked-back hair and smarmy, probably a shyster lawyer.
“Who is he, Van Gogh?”
“An engineer,” said Nat.
Okay, well he was still a smarmy creep. “What’s his name?” I pulled my laptop out of my bag.
“Darrell,” Nat said doubtfully. “Darrell Carner.”
Google is a wonderful thing. When the results popped up I froze, staring at the screen. He didn’t wear a suit—he was in jeans and a shirt. He didn’t have slicked back hair—it was wonderfully soft, falling in waves around a gorgeous face. And smarmy? No. No, he definitely wasn’t smarmy. I spun the laptop to face Nat.
Nat and Jasmine both looked. “Ohmygod he’s
said Jasmine immediately, echoing my own thoughts. And Nat’s face lit up as soon as she saw the photo. Yep—that was him and, better still, she was interested.
I knew they could read the news article I’d found for themselves, but I read it anyway. “Darrell Carner today signed his third deal with Sabre Technologies, licensing his latest design for an estimated
twenty-six million dollars.”
Nat had been asked to dance privately by an honest-to-goodness millionaire.
millionaire. I gave her a look. “You left out that part.”
“I didn’t know,” she claimed. “He didn’t
“Did he offer to pay you?” asked Jasmine.
“Well, yes, but—”
“Well then what the hell are you waiting for?” Jasmine was staring at Nat incredulously. “He’s super-
you should do it.”
“Wait, wait…” Nat held her hand up. “A second ago he was a creep and probably wanted a lap dance. Now just because he’s rich and”—she flushed—“and hot, he’s suddenly okay? What if he’s a rich, hot creep?”
“I don’t think you can be rich, hot and a creep,” Jasmine told her. Then she turned to me for confirmation. “Can you?”
I shook my head happily. “No, if he’s rich and hot then he’s just kinky.
Adventurous.” God, he probably has a mansion. With a hidden dungeon.
Then I saw Nat’s worried expression and sighed. “I’m
Of course you should be careful. I’ll drive you there and check you’re okay. We’ll do the phone call thing and everything.”
Jasmine bounced up and down in her chair. “Ooh, ooh, we can have a duress code, in case he’s got you tied up in a tutu.” Jasmine has a thing about
and anything else related to cops and action. Her dream is to be in a police show.
Nat looked at both of us. “I don’t have a choice about this, do I?”
I shook my head. “This is easily the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in about a year, and the thought of you possibly hooking up with some uber-bachelor…? No. You don’t have a choice.”
“Who says I even like him?” asked Nat.
Jasmine smirked. “We saw your face when you looked at his photo. Don’t ever play poker.”
I suddenly remembered finding Nat on the couch and grinned. “Is
who you were—”
Nat kicked me under the table, blushing, which was as good as a “Yes.”
Jasmine leaned forward. “What? What did she do?”
I glanced meaningfully at Jasmine, as if threatening to tell her. “Answer!” I told Nat.
Nat sighed and nodded her acceptance. I squealed with delight—and I don’t often squeal. “You have to call him, right now. Before he finds some other dancer.”
“I can’t,” said Nat. “I don’t have his number.”
“He’s famous. We can find it.”
“Facebook him,” Jasmine suggested. But when Nat tried to, she found he’d got there first.
Nat had a long conversation with the mysterious Darrell on Facebook while Jasmine and I looked over her shoulder, offered advice and generally bounced up and down with excitement. By the end of it, we’d determined that he was going to pay her $500 an hour to dance for him,
nude (I insisted she check, much to her embarrassment) at his house. I’d drive her there that afternoon and stay with her while she danced, just in case he was a psycho after all.
Part of me was aware that I was living vicariously through Nat—but hell, if you can’t get bouncily excited about your best friend getting involved with a gorgeous multi-millionaire, what can you get bouncily excited about?
Was it some genuine thing where Darrell was willing to pay a dancer to “inspire” him? I couldn’t see it—what’s ballet got to do with engineering? Now if he was an artist and wanted to paint her…I briefly drifted off into a fantasy about a long-haired, muscled French painter painting me nude. Mmm….
More likely, this was some way of seducing her…but there are worse things in life than being pursued by a handsome millionaire. There was always the possibility that he’d turn out to be a slimeball who only wanted to get her into bed, and would break her heart. I’d have to make sure to give him the Best Friend Warning Glare when I saw him. And even if he turned out to be a nice guy, this whole thing wasn’t going to be easy. It had been a long time since Nat had dated—she was probably nervous as hell. Either she’d get scared and break it off almost immediately or—just as dangerously—she’d jump in with both feet. I’d have to keep a close eye on things.
Was I jealous? No, of course not. Nat needed a man much more than I did—I was glad it was happening to her. But maybe there was a part of me—just a tiny part—that wished that something that
would happen to me.
Just a few hours later, I was sitting in Darrell’s kitchen.
In the flesh, he’d been even hotter than his photo and seemed normal enough. I’d given him the Best Friend Glare and he’d seemed to take it well, understanding that I was more than ready to knee him in the balls if he misbehaved and managing to both take it seriously and not get defensive. I was pretty sure he wasn’t hiding a secret torture chamber—a secret kinky dungeon, maybe—and so I let Nat go downstairs to dance for him while I sat in his kitchen.
He’d known that Nat would bring someone with her—he’d laid on coffee and pastries for me, and even a selection of newspapers and magazines.
If this goes on,
I thought, opening
I could get used to being her chaperone.
Although, judging by the longing looks she and Darrell had given each other as soon as we’d arrived, I had a feeling that she wouldn’t want me along after the first time.
And then a Hell’s Angel broke into the house.
I mean, he looked like a Hell’s Angel, so I assumed he broke into the house. He was all in black—black jeans, black t-shirt, big black biker boots. It made his deep tan and long blond hair stand out even more. And he had this tattoo winding around one arm, all the way from his wrist up to the sleeve of his t-shirt. He was a fashion disaster and pretty much the opposite of everything I go for. I mean, yes, he had big muscles that strained against that tight denim and tighter t-shirt and yes, his blue eyes, in amongst all that tan and sandy-blond hair, had a kind of intense, almost Scandinavian thing going on. But a biker?
Then he opened his mouth and he sounded like he smoked sixty Marlboros a day, and so lazily drawly it was almost infuriating. I should have been searching for a magic remote control to fast forward him, but instead I found myself sort of bathing in his voice, the way you do with really warm sunlight. It didn’t seem to come through my ears, but through my body—it vibrated against me and soaked in.
His opening line was, “What’s a girl like you doin’ in a nice place like this?”
My jaw hit the floor.
The biker picked up a mug and then sniffed the nozzle of each of the catering pots of coffee in turn, like an animal. When he found his favorite, he poured himself a mugful and started drinking it, black. His eyes never left me and, the whole time, my rage was building higher and higher. It was like he was waiting for me to explode. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t.
“Does he even know you’re here?” he asked. “I’m kinda surprised he even gave you a key. He didn’t
anythin’ about givin’ someone a key.”
“Darrell is downstairs,” I finally said, my voice ice cold. “With my friend.”
He frowned. “What are you doin’—takin’ turns?”