Continuation of yesterday’s excerpt:
“What she means is,” Abby continued, “the studio’s business is great, and it will get even better as soon as I can find a day manager to oversee the boutique and our online shop.”
Down the hall, the dance room door opened, followed by a stampede of bare feet and dance shoes. Melanie checked the wall clock. It was break time for the class. She braced herself for what was coming.
Then, right on cue, a squeal: “Taz!” A girl with a curly mop of red hair rushed up to him. “Oh my God, Taz Roman, what are you doing here?”
Curly was quickly joined by a dozen of the girls and women who made up the Saturday morning belly dance class.
Sheesh. You’d think he was Brad Pitt for belly dancers.
When he explained he was dropping off CDs, it set off another round of squeals. “If we buy one, will you sign it?”
“Of course,” he said, with that toothy celebrity smile of his. “I’d love to.”
That was an understatement. You could see it in the way he basked in the adoration. Puh-leez.
“Ladies, let’s give him some room. Okay, who wants one?” Abby counted the hands—which was all of them—and pulled out fourteen CDs. “He’ll sign them and then you can pay after class. You don’t want to waste your class time.” She exchanged a look with Janaya, who was an accomplished performer but was obviously still learning how to keep a class full of pheromone-surging females under control.
To his credit, Taz worked fast, and he charmed every one of those giggling students as he did it.
When they were finished and back in the dance room, Abby gathered up the CDs and set them beside the cash register.
“That was very generous of you,” she said to Taz. “You made their day. Didn’t he, Melanie?” She bumped Melanie with her hip when she didn’t get a response.
“Hey! Ow. I mean, yeah, that was pretty cool of you.” She made a face at Abby.
Taz didn’t seem to notice. He was standing at the window, staring at the parking lot.
“Actually, they made mine,” he said. “It’s been an epically bad day so far.”
“Girl trouble?” Melanie asked with a smirk. It was supposed to be a joke because—c’mon, this was Taz the Romancer. Everyone knew the only trouble he had with girls was fitting them all into his limited schedule.
So it took her by surprise when he said, “Yeah, you could say that.”
Abby slanted her a hard look that screamed, “Shut up.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Abby said, using her sweetest, most sympathetic voice. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone.”
He ran his fingers through his hair, brushing it back over his shoulder. “I’m not. It’s my sister.”
Melanie choked. Not a small, polite hiccup, but something loud and nearly obscene. Abby just stared.
“That came out wrong,” Taz said, almost laughing. “I’m not seeing anyone, but my sister thinks I am. Now she’s coming out to meet her.”
“To meet the girlfriend who doesn’t exist?” Melanie asked.
He nodded. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but she’s been on my case about everything lately, including settling down. She misunderstood something I said. It just seemed easier to let her believe I had met someone. Until she said she was coming out to meet the mystery girl. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“You could try telling her the truth,” Abby offered.
“I know. I should,” he said. “And I will. I’m just not in a big hurry. She’s difficult under the best of circumstances. This is going to—”
“I don’t see the big deal,” Melanie interrupted.
Two pairs of eyes shot her direction.
“What? Like you couldn’t find someone in a heartbeat who was willing—eager even—to pretend she was your girlfriend?”
His expression twisted. “Yeah, maybe too eager. I wouldn’t want to give someone the wrong idea, even if she was doing me a favor. Besides, she’d have to be convincing. My sister’s pretty sharp. She’s got the brains in the family.”
That wasn’t a surprise.
“But,” Abby said, “what if this mystery girl were getting something in return?” She turned to Melanie.
Instinctively, Melanie shook her head. She didn’t know what was brewing beneath that black ponytail, but she knew that devious look. She knew that tone.
Abby continued. “If she were getting something in return, she’d be motivated to make it convincing.”
Taz looked curious or confused—it was hard to say which. “Something like what?”
Crap. Melanie’s heart raced, and her palms burned. She would have made a run for it if there wasn’t an obstacle course of boxes between her and the door.
“I was just thinking that Melanie here…”
“Oh no,” Melanie groaned aloud. “You are not going to do this. Not now.” She stared at her friend, hard and with what she hoped was threatening malice.
Abby ignored the protest. “Melanie,” she repeated emphatically, “is planning to audition for the Divas in a couple weeks. And I’m sure it would be a big help to have someone who knows the ropes offer a little coaching beforehand. Would you consider that a fair trade?”
The excerpt will continue tomorrow…
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