Audition - Skye Warren, Amelia Wilde Page 0,1

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.

I’d love to change into a fresh leotard and shoes, but Rio would complain. They like us sweaty, the stage manager says. It adds to the authenticity. Five hundred rich people of New Orleans will be wearing gowns and tuxedos. Meanwhile I’m damp with sweat and the remains of our impromptu bottled water fight, wearing an army green leotard with bits of frayed fabric forming a ragged tutu.

Chandeliers blind me. The chatter is a physical sensation, like hitting a wall.

Rio hands me two glasses of champagne. “Dunn’s on stage left.”

My stomach sinks. Trevor Dunn is a real estate mogul who thinks his corporate sponsorship gives him the right to grope the dancers. Unfortunately he has a particular liking for me. I look around for Marlena, but she’s already with Scott Castle. He stands in a black suit with silver-blond hair, a stern expression on his face. They met at one of these events last season, and he hasn’t missed one since. He wants the other men to know she’s taken. His hand on her ass doesn’t leave any ambiguity.

From all the way across the room I hear Trevor’s over-hearty laugh. God. He probably wants to become my sugar daddy. The idea makes my throat clench. My eyes burn.

Mamere’s voice rumbles through my head. You come from priestesses and warriors, child. Why you want to take off your clothes and dance for white men? She’s never thought ballet was different from being a stripper. As I approach the drunk men on the left side of the ballroom, the knot in my stomach tightening with every step, it feels like she’s right.

It might seem like being onstage, but for me it’s completely different. When I perform, my footwork is predetermined, the choreography practiced so well it feels like second nature. This? I try to avoid the boisterous crowd. People jostle me. They bump into me.

They make the champagne slosh against the glasses.

Golden liquid slips over the rim. It spills between my fingers. When I arrive at the group of men, they’re caught in the grip of belly laughs—most likely over something lewd or offensive. These are the quintessential frat boys all grown up.

I’m the girl from a family where no one’s been to college.

“Bethany,” Trevor says with what I suppose is a charming smile on his perfectly tan face. He’s aggressively fit, the kind that must take hours in a gym every morning. He’s also aggressively styled with slick hair and expensive clothes and a gleaming male manicure. “You looked great tonight. I can pick you out of the lineup every time.”

Heat rushes to my face. He can pick me out of a lineup because of my skin color. It’s not really a commentary on my talent or his skills of observation. “I brought champagne.”

Only as the words leave my lips do I realize how strange it is for me to bring a glass only for him when he’s standing in a group of other men. It’s something a girlfriend would do.

I don’t want him to get romantic ideas about me.

“Thanks, sweetheart.” He hands me his empty beer stein as if I’m a server.

It would be less humiliating if I weren’t half-naked. The leotard that feels so natural onstage seems obscene as I stand here holding a glass smudged with Trevor Dunn’s fingerprints.

I’m the high-society equivalent of a Hooter’s waitress.

“That must be for me,” comes a low voice I remember from my dreams. Green eyes. A face so handsome it belongs on some kind of movie star, not a soldier for hire. A mercenary. He wears his muscles with an ease that Trevor can’t match. Those hands have done things that would make society matrons gasp. That body has moved through the darkest places on earth.

“You.” My mind supplies only that word: you, you, you.

He gives me a cocky half smile that promises a wicked night. It’s the smile that could lure Eve out of the garden. He’s not Adam. No. He’s the serpent with the dark temptation. “Hello, Bethany.”

Trevor frowns. “You know her?”

“We’ve met,” Josh says, taking the other champagne glass from my