“Want some company?” Meagan asked, flipping on the light.
“Meagan,” Carrie rasped, her throat thick with tears and exertion. “I just needed—”
“To rehearse and feel like you have some control of your destiny,” she said. “I know. I get it.” Meagan went to the sound system and switched the music. “Why don’t I teach you a routine that once got me into Juilliard.”
“You got into Juilliard? I thought you went to a Texas college?”
“After Juilliard,” she said, confessing the small part of her life she spoke of so infrequently that sometimes, sometimes, she almost convinced herself it had never happened. “How about I teach you my audition piece?”
“Yes,” Carrie said excitedly. “Yes, please.”
And so they danced, and danced, and danced some more. And Meagan’s leg hurt, and hurt some more, but she didn’t stop, until they were both ready to collapse. Until Carrie broke down in tears, and Meagan with her, and they hugged.
“I don’t want to go home, Meagan. I don’t want to go home.”
“I know, sweetie,” she said. “But this show is one opportunity, just one. There are so many more. Look at Rena. She joined a Broadway show. You don’t have to win to have doors open. Focus on one week at a time.”
“I’m trying. I’m trying so hard. To focus, to do well. I want to do well.”
“You are. You will.”
The sound of a male voice clearing his throat echoed at the door, and Josh appeared in the entryway. “I’d like to offer to take Carrie to get something to eat on the way back to the house.” The light in Carrie’s eyes was almost instant. Josh was at least seven years older than Carrie, but Sam thought a lot of Josh, and that held weight with Meagan.
And Meagan was in pain, and afraid she wouldn’t hide it well if she didn’t get some distance from Carrie fairly quickly.
“I’d like that,” Carrie said, before casting Meagan a hopeful, cautious look. “Unless that breaks any of my contractual rules?”
“You’re safe with Josh,” Meagan said, casting him a warning look. “Right, Josh?”
“Without question,” Josh assured her. Carrie hugged Meagan and gathered her things.
“Turn the light out behind you,” Meagan called as she switched off the music. The lights went out, and she dropped to the floor, against the mirror, pulling her knee to her chest and squeezing her eyes shut.
She knew long before he was kneeling in front of her that Sam was there. Felt that prickling, tingling wonderful sensation, that only he could create.
“How bad?” he asked.
She bit her lip and forced her eyes open, and that was her mistake, looking into his eyes, knowing he saw everything—her pain, her defeat, her loss of a dream. Suddenly, she felt completely vulnerable. This man knew her in ways no one else did. This man could hurt her with the same deep cut that the loss of her dancing had.
He massaged her leg, like he’d done his own any number of times, and it helped the pain but somehow made her feel all the more exposed.
“How bad, sweetheart?” he prodded.
“I deal with it.” It had been what he’d said to her, when she’d asked about his leg. “And don’t call me that. You call me that all the time. My name is Meagan, Sam. Meagan. I need to go back to my place.” She tried to get up and moaned.
“Meagan, sit.” It was an order.
“No. Damn it, Sam. I’m fine. And you don’t get to tell me what to do.”
His broad, damnably perfect chest of his rose and fell as long, tense moments passed. “I don’t deal with it. I said that because it’s what guys say. Otherwise, it makes me feel weak, and it reminds me that my life changed without my permission. But it brought me here to you. And you made this place a place I want to be. I hope that maybe, just maybe, I can do that for you.”
She dropped her head back, fighting tears. “I need to leave, Sam. I need to be alone.”
“If you think for one minute that I’m going to let you walk out of here alone—not that I even think you can—you’re wrong. When we’re back at the house, if you want me to go, I will. But not until I know you’re okay.”
She forced herself to stand, forced herself past the throbbing pain that grew with each passing second. “I’m fine. It comes and then it’s gone.”
Sam’s phone beeped, and he eyed the number, then cursed. “I have to run to the office for a few minutes. Wait for me, Meagan. If this wasn’t important I wouldn’t even think about leaving you. Don’t be stubborn and try to take off. Okay?” His phone stopped ringing.