The Tycoon's Stowaway(10)

By: Stefanie London

The spell was broken as soon as her song finished. Her eyes locked on him for one final moment before she retreated behind the red curtain. The catcalls and cheering only made Brodie’s pulse increase and tension tighten in his limbs. She should not be dancing in a place like this. Wasn’t she supposed to be married? Where the hell was her husband and why wasn’t he protecting her?

‘That wasn’t quite what I expected,’ Willa said, looking from Amy to Brodie and back again. ‘I mean, she’s a gorgeous dancer—but this place is…’

‘Wrong.’ Brodie gritted his teeth together.

‘Don’t be so judgmental, you two.’ Amy folded her arms across her chest. ‘I’m going to see if I can find out what time she finishes.’

She wandered off in the direction of the stage but Brodie hung back with the others. Scott and Kate were chatting and laughing amongst themselves; Willa and Jessica were discussing the outfit of the next performer. Brodie leant back against the wall and ran a hand through his hair. His heart thudded an erratic beat and he wasn’t sure if it was from the desire to protect Chantal or from the fact that her skimpy black outfit had worked his libido into overdrive.

No, it had to be concern over her safety. He had four little sisters, and the need to protect was ingrained in him as deep as his need to breathe. Sure he was attracted to Chantal—what red-blooded man wouldn’t be? But it was nothing more than that. It had never been more than that.

Somehow the lie was no more believable now than it had been eight years ago.

Chantal had thought it wasn’t possible for the night to get any worse. Dancing in front of a room full of people who wouldn’t know art if it hit them over the head was bad enough, and the catcalls and leering were the proverbial cherry. But then she’d spotted Brodie and a good chunk of the Weeping Reef gang. Her stomach had felt as if it had dropped straight through the stage floor.

She braced her hands at the edge of the make-up bench and looked at herself in the mirror. All she wanted was to wash off her make-up and lock herself away until humiliation lost its brutal edge… though it was possible that would take a while. The shock on his face had been enough to destroy whatever confidence she’d managed to build up. He’d looked at her with an unnerving combination of disbelief and hunger.

She was about to remove her false lashes when her name rang out amongst the backstage hustle and bustle. Amy bounded towards her, arms outstretched and shiny blond hair flying around her face.

‘You were fantastic!’ Amy threw her arms around Chantal and gave her a friendly squeeze.

‘Thanks.’ Chantal forced a smile, wishing for possibly the hundredth time since she’d met Amy that she could have even an ounce of her vivacious confidence. ‘It’s a small gig in between a few bigger things.’

She hoped the lie didn’t sound as hollow out in the open as it did in her head, but she couldn’t let go of the false image she’d constructed. If they knew how bad things were right now… She wouldn’t be able to handle the pity. Pity was the thing she detested most in life—possibly due to the fact that it had been doled out in epic proportions throughout her childhood.

The teachers had pitied her and her borrowed schoolbooks, the other mums and their suit-and-tie husbands had pitied the way she’d had to wear the same clothes week after week, and as for the students… pity from her peers had always stung the most.

‘No judgment here.’ Amy held up her hands. ‘You have to come for a drink with us, though. We’ve got everyone together… well, almost everyone.’

‘Oh, I would love to, but…’ Chantal’s smile wavered. ‘It’s been a long day and I’ve got an audition tomorrow.’

She scrambled for an excuse—something that Amy wouldn’t question. There was no way she could go out there and face them—no way she could keep her head held high after what they’d seen. Heat crawled up her neck, squeezing the air from her throat. Not now, please don’t fall apart now.

‘Is your audition in Newcastle?’

‘No, Sydney. So I’ve got quite a long drive.’

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