Savage Vandal (82 Street Vandals #1) - Heather Long

Chapter 1

“Emersyn.” The waspish voice raked across my nerves. “You’re late.”

“I know,” I informed Marta as I stripped off my soaking wet coat. “I know I am. There was an accident on the freeway. The car couldn’t move for fifty minutes.” I could have gotten out and walked, I supposed. It was only storming outside. Localized flooding, according to the radio report the driver had been playing. Why didn’t I do that again?

Oh right, I didn’t even know the name of the town we were in, much less how to get to the theatre. As if to remind us both, thunder exploded outside like bombs being dropped. I dragged the scarf off my hair, not that it had done me much good. The short walk from the hired car to the theatre had saturated the rest of me, despite the driver’s best attempts to get me close. He’d wanted me to wait while he took us around front, but I needed to be backstage and I wouldn’t melt. I swore he would have kept arguing, but I just wrenched the door open and thanked him before I darted inside. It might have been my imagination, but his swearing followed me to the door. The last time I glanced back, he was standing with the door open staring at me with such blazing intensity, it left me shivering as I ducked inside.

Marta glared. The woman had been with me in some form or another for over a decade. I used to be terrified of her. The other dancers used to tease me about my ‘nanny,’ but warden was more like it. Right now, this impatience only irritated me, and I found her need to scold me over every damn thing not remotely interesting.

“They wanted you out there for warmups.”

“Well, I can continue to stand here while you verbally spank me, or I can go get ready and take my place. Which will it be?” The sugar in my voice might as well be saccharine. What vague sense of life that might have existed in Marta’s eyes petrified as she turned that stony gaze on me.

“You are not entertaining, Emersyn.”

“Ha!” I chuckled, amused for the first time really, even if I was wet and cold. “I’m hilarious.” With that, I pivoted on a heel and headed down the long tunnel like hallway to the dressing rooms. This was an old theatre. We’d been in—fuck, I still didn’t know the name of the town. We’d been here for a week. First, there had been electrical issues with the venue. Then some contractual mess. Finally, the equipment had been late. The decision to cut a stop and extend this one until we could perform had been a calculated one.

Despite what they thought I paid attention to, I understood a stop hadn’t been cut so much as moved to the end of the tour. Now, instead of ending in eighteen weeks, it would end in twenty.

If I was lucky.

A sigh escaped me. I must be the most ungrateful wretch on the planet, but I’d been on tour every year for the last seven years.

I was tired.

Despite our ‘break,’ I’d spent every single day we could rehearse in a dance studio, working. At least they’d found a school close enough to the hotel that I’d been able to walk back and forth to it. The last two days, though, I’d been here, running the routines over and over.

I could do the damn things in my sleep.

As I plunged deeper into the theatre, the scents, noises, and feel of the place began to seep into my bones. The scents of oil-based makeup, the all too familiar sawdust that inhabited every venue I’d ever performed in, and the ever-present must of sweat. Performers plus hot lights and hurried costume changes left a heavy perfume of sweat ingrained even into the stone walls.

It was familiar.

It was comforting.

I freed the cross strap of my bag as I nodded to some of the others already warming up. We wouldn’t do our costumes for at least another two hours. Warmups and a quick run-through of specific acts were up next. The chorus had probably already been warming up.

One of the theatre techs had the door to my dressing room open, and he was doing something to the doorknob. Steps slowing, I studied him. He had his back to me, but there was no missing the tattoos on his hands as he twisted the screwdriver and tightened the knob.

“Is there something wrong with my