The Tycoon's Stowaway(4)

By: Stefanie London

Despite the positive affirmation, doubt crept through her, winding its way around her heart and lungs and stomach. Why was everything going so wrong now?

Panic rose in her chest, the bubble of anxiety swelling and making it hard to breathe. She closed her eyes and forced a long breath, calming herself. Panicking would not help. Thankfully, she’d finally managed to book a short-term dancing job in a small establishment just outside of Sydney. It wasn’t prestigious. But it didn’t have to be forever.

A small job would give her enough money to get herself through the next few weeks—and there was accommodation on site. She would fix this situation. No matter what.

She clenched and unclenched her fists—a technique she’d learned once to help relax her muscles whenever panic swelled. It had become a technique she relied on more and more. Thankfully the panic attacks were less like tidal waves these days, and more like the slosh of a pool after someone had dive-bombed. It wasn’t ideal, but she could manage it.

Baby steps… Every little bit of progress counts.

Shoving the dark thoughts aside, she pulled out of the car park and put her phone into the holder stuck to the window. As if on cue the phone buzzed to life with the smiling face of her old friend Willa. Chantal paused before answering. She wasn’t in the mood to talk, but she had a two-hour drive to get to her gig and music would only keep her amused for so long.

Besides, since her divorce Chantal had realised that real friends were few and far between, so she’d been making more of an effort to keep in touch with Willa. Ignoring her call now would go completely against that.

She tapped the screen of her phone and summoned her most cheerful voice. ‘Hey, Willa.’

‘How’s our favourite dancer?’

Willa’s bubbly greeting made a wave of nostalgia wash over her.

‘Taking the arts world by storm, I hope?’

Chantal forced a laugh. ‘Yeah, something like that. It’s a slow process, but I’m working on it.’

‘You’ll get there. I know it. That time I saw you dance at the Sydney Opera House was incredible. We’re all so proud of you for following your dream.’

Chantal’s stomach rocked. She knew not everyone Willa referred to would be proud of her—especially since it was her dancing that had caused their group to fall apart eight years ago.

Besides, they only saw what she wanted them to see. If you took her social media pages and her website at face value then she was living the creative dream. What they didn’t know was that Chantal cut out all the dark, unseemly bits she wasn’t proud of: her nasty divorce, her empty bank account, the reasons why she’d booked into some small-time gig on the coast when she should be concentrating on getting back into a proper dance company…

‘Thanks, Willa. How’s that brother of yours? Is he still overseas?’ She hoped the change of topic wasn’t too noticeable.

‘Luke texted me today. He’s working on some big deal, but it looks like he might be coming home soon.’ Willa sighed. ‘We might be able to get the whole gang back together after all.’

The ‘whole gang’ was the tight-knit crew that had formed when they’d all worked together at the magical Weeping Reef resort in the Whitsundays. Had it really been eight years ago? She still remembered it as vividly as if it were yesterday. The ocean had been so blue it had seemed otherworldly, the sand had been almost pure white, and she’d loved every second of it… Right until she’d screwed it all up.

‘Maybe,’ Chantal said.

‘I think we might even be getting some of the group together tonight.’ There was a meaningful pause on the other end of the line. ‘If you’re free, we’d love to see you.’

‘Sorry, Willa, I’m actually working tonight.’

Chantal checked the road signs and took the on-ramp leading out of the city. Sydney sparkled in her rearview mirror as she sped away.

‘Oh? Anywhere close by?’

‘I’m afraid not. I’m off to Newcastle for this one.’

‘Oh, right. Any place I would know?’

‘Not likely, it’s called Nine East. It’s a small theatre—very intimate.’

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