Authors: Amber Lin
The Lost Girls 3:
The Lost Girls 3: Tempting Fate
Copyright © August 2013 by Amber Lin
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Editor: Ann M. Curtis
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I unwrapped the brace from my knee, wincing at how bad it looked underneath. About as bad as it felt. A puffy mass of pain that I would pretend didn’t hurt so my brothers wouldn’t worry.
Very soon I wouldn’t need to hide. I wouldn’t need to hurt.
My end goal was simple, modest even. A ballet teacher with a small studio. An apartment nearby to put up my feet after work. And if it were lonelier that way…well, that was the price of exit.
Lindsey whistled as she slumped onto the locker-room bench beside me. “I really want to complain about my ankles right now, but after seeing your knees, I think I’ll just count my blessings.”
“Glad to be of service. Now, do you have good news for me?”
Lindsey was in the corps de ballet, a position for newer dancers within the company. Not as stressful as a principal, perhaps, but the pay was almost half, so many of them had side jobs to complement the paltry salaries.
She was a part-time real estate agent, and I’d enlisted her help in finding the right spot for my studio. So far the available spaces had been too large, too far outside Chicago proper, too expensive.
“You’re going to love this one, promise. Not only is the rent midrange, but it used to be a yoga studio, so there’s already a wooden floor and windows all around. And—wait for it—a living space upstairs.”
“Get out.” I had also asked her to keep an eye out for apartments nearby, but I hadn’t dared imagine it would happen in one fell swoop.
Her smile was smug. “I swear, if you don’t take this place, I will, and I’m not even opening a ballet school.”
“What’s the catch?”
“It’s hidden behind a courtyard. There’s virtually no storefront, but you can get signage on the building right by the street.”
Not a deal breaker at all. In fact, it would be better not to have pedestrians peering in the windows during ballet classes. “It still seems too good to be true.”
She shrugged. “The upstairs needs work. It was some sort of weird lounge, which I think is code for people smoking pot all day.”
“Lindsey, there are going to be kids coming to the school.”
“I didn’t say
had to smoke pot. It has a kitchen and a bathroom. With a little renovation, it’s your new apartment.”
“Where exactly is this place located?”
“Lincoln Park, which is totally safe. I mean, you wanted to stick to the city, so we’re not talking white picket fences or anything. But it’s a cool area with families packed like sardines in condos.”
“With no outlets for their kids’ energy,” I finished.
“I knew you’d see the light. So I’ll set up a viewing?”
“As fast as you can. And tell them they have an eager renter ready to sign, so don’t go showing it around.”
“Are you? Ready to sign, I mean.”
“And your brother?”
“He’ll deal with it,” I said firmly. “I’m sure he can handle the news that his sister is a grown-up doing grown-up things. He’s a big boy.”
Lindsey flushed with a dreamy expression. “Don’t I know it. The man can fill out a suit, that’s for sure.”
She’d had a crush on Philip since he’d come to one of our dress rehearsals the year before. At least he hadn’t taken her up on her not so subtle hints. He knew better than to cause problems for me in the dance company. Because where he was involved, trouble inevitably followed.
“Believe me,” I said, “you’re better off.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to marry him. I just want to fuck him.”
“Nice,” I said drily.
“I’m sorry we can’t all be Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”
The sharp words caught me off guard, and I flinched.
She sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it in a bad way. You’re the innocent one. It’s cute.”
“No worries.” I offered her a quick smile before heading for the door. “I’m heading out. Text me when you have a time for the viewing.”
I got in my car, shaking my head. If only she knew. Sure, it had been a while for me, but I was far from pure. My past would remain with me wherever I went, however long I avoided the subject.
No, my concern for her hadn’t been borne of prudishness. My brother wasn’t a good catch. Philip was a criminal. Not the whitewashed, white-collar type to embezzle money or take the company jet out for a spin. He was an honest-to-God bad guy, grown up like a weed between the white trash of Chicago. Strictly speaking, he shouldn’t even be allowed in the starched crowds he frequented. But one thing tipped the scale: power.
Wealthy businessmen courted his favor. Their rich-bitch wives wanted to have sex with him. Sometimes he would oblige them. But that was Philip. He made the rules and then broke them.
As I left the city, the walls of downtown gave way to squat shopping strips and a blue-orange sunset in the distance. The streets of Chicago were like one of those visual illusions. Close up, there was only chaos, garish and bright. The secrets lay deeper, hidden from those who didn’t know how to see them.
Philip’s house was in one of the many pocket neighborhoods. The people here had been carefully curated by the size of their investments and the expanse of their networks.
And then there was me. When I pulled into the long driveway, I saw a silver Lexus in the courtyard beside the garage.
He was here. He met with Philip at least once a week, so it really shouldn’t be a big deal at all. He wasn’t here to see me anyway, but my heartbeat quickened as if he were.
Drew Laramie was my brother’s lawyer. The first time I met him, he was wearing a tailored Italian suit by a designer I didn’t recognize. That alone was enough to pique my interest, sex starved as I was. I peeled back each layer in my mind: the soft wool, the thin silk, the stiff collar, and underneath? I wasn’t sure what I would find.
My only glimpses of a man’s body came from shadowed corners of the high school football field. Then it had been smooth, tanned skin heavily doused with tattoos. Then it had hurt.
Drew would be different.
The first day I’d met him, he’d faltered in his greeting, his hand half lifted to shake mine. His eyes had widened so slightly I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been staring—but I was. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I felt caught, like prey, unable to flee even as he came in for the kill.
Except he didn’t.
He didn’t hurt me; he didn’t hit on me. His initial surprise evened out into a bland smile and generic greeting. I suppose I could have expected it, considering Philip scared away every man who dared glance at me, but for the very first time, I felt disappointment.
That was years ago, and since then, I had learned more about the man. I had mentally cataloged each expression of bliss—from an ice-cold beer or the early strains of a saxophone over the Bose speakers. I knew he read old books and picked apart the musicals and operas they inspired like other people did for movies. He also enjoyed the ballet and regularly made use of the box seats Philip kept in support of me. He sneaked a cigarette every couple of months, an addiction he had supposedly cracked but which still nailed him in times of stress.
I learned so much from observing—and so little. Barely ever talking, never ever touching. That was what I did, as Lindsey had pointed out. I had no quickies in the bathroom of a dinner party, no torrid affair with a jetsetter from Paris. Me? I watched. The ultimate voyeur, my mind was drenched with dirty thoughts while my body remained in stasis.
I knew what it felt like to live in the outside world, which was exactly why I preferred my neat, sterile chambers. For years, I had preferred to stay frozen—untouchable. But lately the wicked thoughts about Drew had spilled over into heated feelings and busy fingers at night in my bed. And worse, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep them to myself.
The changes weren’t all on my end. He looked at me longer, more intensely, and I stared back, so very tempted. Sometimes I thought that was all we’d ever do: forever watch each other, the air between us as formidable as ice, undaunted by the incipient heat of my body whenever he was near.
I shouldered my way inside the heavy back door and dumped the contents of my duffel bag into the washing machine. The leather ballet flats came with me upstairs. One overly helpful housekeeper had ruined my lucky slippers in the wash, so these stayed with me. Where they belonged, really. My life in this opulent house was light years away from the small, shared room in my foster home, but these dirty, broken-in ballet shoes hanging on the footboard looked just the same.
At twenty-six, I wasn’t the oldest dancer in our dance company, but it was close. My muscles ached almost constantly, which I wouldn’t have minded, except my joints were almost literally cracking under the pressure. At least, that was how I interpreted the orthopedic surgeon’s fancy diagrams.
Pretty soon I would have to quit, whether I opened my own studio or not. But it was more than just the dancing; I needed to move out. To grow up. Philip wouldn’t take that well. He was overprotective, overbearing…and exactly what I had needed once upon a time.
Instead of climbing the wide, winding staircase to my room, I stopped into the kitchen for a banana and a cup of OJ. Then I swung a left through the open-air living room to pass by the office. The double doors were open, which meant their top-secret business discussion had concluded. The house was secure, oppressively so, but Philip made privacy an art form.
Even knowing I’d be welcome, I hung in the shadows of the hallway, listening to the comforting sound of low male voices. My eyes fell shut. Other people liked music or ocean noises to relax, but the rough, male timbre was my melody, the murmured ebb and flow my rhythm.
Drew laughed, a melodic sound like rocks tumbling in a stream. I sighed in pleasure.
Philip thought I would be scared of men, but he had spent years protecting me, building a fortress so that no one could touch me. I remembered my dad in flashes of a rage-contorted face and flying fists, more like a nightmare than reality. I had nothing to fear from men, not anymore. The only thing I feared was the coldness of isolation.