“That must have been hard.”

“It still is,” she said. “Every time I tell myself it can’t hurt me anymore, it does.”

“But you never stopped loving dance,” he stated. “That’s true passion, if I’ve ever seen it.”

She leaned up on one elbow. “No. I never stopped loving dance which was why in Texas, it was painful to be around it and not be able to truly live it. I needed to step away from it, but nothing else interested me.”

“Until that recruiter came to your school.”

“It took a while,” she said, “but I needed to get excited about something to keep pushing forward. And truthfully, the connections I made there allowed this show to happen. I thought I was beyond the emotions of my own failed career enough to pursue this without it affecting me, but tonight with Carrie—that tore me up. I don’t know if I can come back to the show next season if I’m this close to it.”

They analyzed her options, where she thought she might go. They talked. And talked. One thing kept bugging Sam, and he had to have an answer. “Why didn’t you tell me about your knee before now?” he asked. “You knew about my leg.”

“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” she said. “You were hurt while fighting to save people’s lives. I was hurt in a pair of ballerina slippers. Who am I to complain? You’re a hero, Sam. You might not still be in the army, but I’m proud that you were, and that your family is.”

If Sam wasn’t already in love with her, it would have happened right then. His heart softened and he wrapped her in his arms and kissed her. They made love then, no hang-ups, no barriers. And Sam had no doubt that when she curled by his side and fell asleep, her walls were still down, and he intended to keep it that way. And no one, most especially Kiki, was going to take her dream from her. He would make sure of it.

* * *

SAM WOKE TO THE BEEP of a text arriving on his cell, The message was from Sabrina. Tapes that he’d gotten from an ex-studio had been given to Kiki’s uncle, the network executive. The content of the tapes, which included everything from bribery to seduction, were impossible to dismiss as misunderstandings. Sam had the thumbs-up to escort Kiki off the property.

He kissed Meagan, who was so dead to the world, she didn’t even move when he got up. He’d wake her with the news that she no longer had to be worried about, at least, one problem. He quickly showered and left her a note saying that he had security detail. And then Sam went to track down Kiki.

Sam knocked on the door of the mother-in-law property, and then knocked again louder. Eventually, Kiki, dressed to the hilt with model-perfect makeup, yanked open the door. Sam should have thought her sexy as hell, but there was nothing about this woman even remotely appealing to him.

Sam stepped forward, crowding her. “We need to talk. Alone.”

She rolled her eyes. “Can’t this wait?”

“No,” he said, leaving the screen door open and following her to the kitchen. On the counter he dropped the file he’d been carrying. “Open it.”

She frowned and seemed increasingly uncomfortable. After a pregnant minute of silence as she scanned the photos and documents, which held a history of her becoming a snitch for the studio.

“So. There’s nothing wrong with what I do. I help separate the losers from the winners. Of course I should get paid for it.”

“You mean you sabotage programs to avoid actually having to work, while still collecting the bonus your uncle offers you.”

“That’s insane,” Kiki said. “That’s enough. You can’t prove anything of the sort. I’m completely innocent.” She started to turn. “I’m going to call my uncle.”

“He knows everything,” Sam said. “There are tapes, we made a transcript. The content makes it clear that you manufacture problems to destroy people, and get paid anyway. And if that’s not enough for you, I managed to catch you on tape myself. One particular call really caught my attention. You were telling your friend Jenna about how you’d decided to stay on with this show and get rid of Meagan. You’d be amazed at the places I have audio hooked up.” He motioned to the room. “Like right here in your favorite place to chat on the phone when Meagan’s gone. And yes—it’s legally recorded. You agreed to it in your contract for the show.”

She burst into tears and before Sam knew her intention, she’d flung her arms around him. “Please. Please don’t do this. I’ll do anything. My uncle will disown me. He’s my only family, he’s—”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones Stepping Up Romance
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