He wasn’t an arrogant jerk. He wasn’t a control freak. He had a whole lot of hero in him. He’d tell her it was okay, that he wasn’t risking his job, to be with her. And that mattered to her. He mattered to her. She had to let him go.

He was right though. Rather than using her smarts,

she’d been letting her emotions get involved when dealing with Kiki, and everything to do with this show. That ended tonight.

* * *

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING, Sam was awake and thankful for the coffeemaker in the room. He might be a soldier at heart, but he’d never been a soldier who denied himself thick, black hardcore caffeine when he

needed it.

He finished off a cup, with one thing on his mind. Meagan had let him walk away the night before. Again. Damn, he’d never been a glutton for punishment before. This was unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory, and he had to get some space, to get his head clear. Setting the mug aside, dressed in his jeans and a T-shirt, he was ready to finish the deal for the house and get his hands dirty securing the property.

Around the hotel, Meagan was too close for comfort. Where just knowing she was a few doors down had him climbing the walls, and right out of his skin.

He stepped into the deserted hallway, everyone still in bed, when he was surprised to hear a contestant’s door open and then quietly shut. Sam frowned and soon came face to face with Carrie.

“Oh, I…I…didn’t think anyone would be up yet.”

“I see that,” he commented, noting the rolling suitcase behind her. The kid couldn’t be more than eighteen or nineteen, maybe twenty. “Going somewhere?”

Silent tears started to stream down her cheeks, and Sam knew exactly what he had to do. “Come with me.”

A few seconds later, Meagan’s door opened. She was still wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse pajamas, with her hair sticking up wildly, and looking more sexy than he could imagine any one woman looking. And when such an appearance could not only get a guy hot, but make him smile, inside out, he was as hooked as a bee on honey. Sam knew right then, he couldn’t hide from what this woman was doing to him, no matter how he tried.

The instant Meagan saw Carrie, her eyes widened, all signs of sleep slipping away. She hugged Carrie, her eyes meeting Sam’s. She motioned them inside.

The kitten met Sam at the door, meowing loudly. Sam fed the hungry little beast, and then went for the coffeepot, knowing that Meagan was running on limited to no sleep. By the time the pot was brewing, Meagan had Carrie sitting cross-legged across from her on the bed, spilling her story.

“She hates me,” Carrie was saying. “Absolutely hates me.”

“Competition can be brutal,” Meagan said. “But everything worth having is worth fighting for. And you know what? The things you have to work the hardest for, are the ones you appreciate the most. The question is, do you want this bad enough to fight for it? Your packed bag makes me wonder.”

“I want to dance,” she said. “I don’t want to fight with Tabitha.”

“So you don’t want this.”

“That’s not what I said!”

“You aren’t willing to fight.”

“I am.”

“Just not Tabitha.”

“She’s the meanest person I’ve ever known.”

“Until you meet the next one like her,” Meagan pointed out. “There are tons of Kikis in this world.” Sam took a seat nearby, across from the bed. Meagan’s eyes found his an instant before she added, “Listen, Carrie. Real life isn’t always pretty. Everyone isn’t going to be nice to you, and everything isn’t going to come with a shiny pink bow on top. You can’t let people like Tabitha steal your dreams, make you give up.”

Sam took in those words, took in what she was telling him indirectly. She had a dream and she was scared of losing it. He knew that, but hearing it again wasn’t easy. She had baggage she had to deal with, and there wasn’t room for him inside her life until she did—if she ever did.

“I sprained my ankle last night,” Carrie announced. “It’s bad, Meagan. I hid it but it’s getting worse.” She laughed bitterly. “I’d rather the curse would have gotten anything but my ankle.”

“There is no curse,” Meagan said. “And a sprain can be wrapped and medicated. You have ten days before your first performance. Or, you can use that and Tabitha as reason to quit. Your choice.”

“I don’t want to quit. I don’t. But—”

“No buts,” Meagan warned. “I’m going to get tough with you now. In or out. Fight or give up. You choose.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Stepping Up Romance
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