Well, we’ve made it through January and what has to be the strangest winter on record. I spent a lovely week at Los Cabos on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. Sunrises, lie this one were breathtaking. Watch for a story this spring inspired by the sea, sand, and fun.
February has always been considered the month for lovers. To that purpose, this month’s 99 cent book is Forever and Always, a story of endurance and triumph.
The dance is everything, or is it?
Brandi Alexandra Jameson’s entire life has been dedicated to ballet. When an accident she believes was caused by a crazed stalker fan leaves her close friend and dance partner dead and herself barely able to walk, she’s lost, adrift without a future.
Jarrett Sullivan has spent most of his life in love with the petite red-headed brunette he met when he was in first grade, acting as her protector throughout school, but just as he was ready to make his move, she left Victoria for the National Ballet in Toronto. He’s followed her career, and now that she’s back home, he jumps at the chance to get to know her the way he always wanted to.
Brandi remembers Jarrett, the boy she idolized, and when the man wants to have a relationship with her, she’s thrilled. But that joy turns to horror when she learns the truth about a poster, and believes he’s just another fan and that it’s Alexandra, the dancer, he wants, not Brandi, the broken woman. Fleeing her family and Victoria, she runs to the only friend she has hoping to heal her broken heart.
Discovering Brandi may have misunderstood the situation, Jarrett is frantic to find her and straighten out the mess, but will she be willing to listen and give him a second chance?
Here’s a sneak peak at Chapter One
Heart pounding, body covered in sweat, Brandi’s face glowed as she waited for her cue. God, she lived for moments like these. How Pavel could even think of retiring was beyond her. If she couldn’t dance, she would wither and die.
At the familiar strain, she danced onto the stage. Caught up in the music, she flowed from one movement to another, as if her body had been designed for this and only this. Up on her toes once more, she finished the final steps of the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy”, ending in the fourth position. Tchaikovsky’s music faded, and she relished the audience’s approval before hurrying off stage.
Finally, the last dance and the apotheosis completed, the curtain fell on this year’s opening night performance of The Nutcracker. Brandi smiled at Pavel, the Nutcracker prince, and Lucinda, who’d taken on the role of Clara. From the auditorium, applause thundered. In the wings, the ballet’s stars waited for their time to step forward for their first curtain call.
Usually Brandi danced the role of Clara in the annual presentation, but this year, Anton had chosen her to be the Sugarplum Fairy. They would perform the ballet another dozen times before Christmas. Her family, including her three-year-old niece, Hope, would arrive in Toronto for the final performance of the year, and then she would fly home with them. She would have three months off before rejoining the company for its European tour, Pavel’s final performances. This year, while he would be Siegfried, she would dance the part of Odile/Odette in Swan Lake, reprising the role that had earned her the title of prima ballerina.
“You were wonderful tonight, dorogoy,” Pavel said, the Russian endearment slipping off his tongue before he kissed her cheek as he had done to Lucinda. “Not even the great Pavlova could’ve done better.”
“As usual, you’re exaggerating, but I’ll take it. Lucinda, you were wonderful, and you, old man, weren’t too shabby yourself,” she said, grinning, teasing him about the fact that at thirty-seven, he was the oldest dancer in the company.
Praise from Pavel was high praise indeed because he was also the most critical dancer, demanding perfection not only of himself, but of every member of the troupe.
“You could give Nureyev a run for his money,” she admitted, knowing it was true.
Pavel inclined his head. “If only I was half as good as the master.”
“You’re that and more.” The orchestra played a different tune, and she smiled. “You’re up.”
Pavel nodded, and taking Lucinda’s hand, danced onto the stage to bask in the adoration of the crowd. Brandi waited the required thirty seconds before pirouetting to join them.
The audience roared its approval.
This was why she danced. Forgotten was the pain in her toes, the ache in her muscles, the pinched ribs, the long hours of exercising, practicing each move to exhaustion, and constantly watching what she ate. In their place was the adrenalin rush that flooded her when she stepped onto the stage, a feeling that turned euphoric as her body became one with the music until the dance ended and the audience applauded.
Bowing low, she glanced up in time to see a stagehand, or was it another theater employee, hurrying over to them, his arms filled with enormous bouquets of red roses. He offered one to Pavel, another to Lucinda, and the largest one to her.
Her smiled faltered, stopping short of a grimace, when she saw the small pink envelope attached to the white ribbon.
Who was he that he could orchestrate this every night?
Consummate professional that she was, she accepted the roses and hid her distress behind those plastic smiles she wore so well until the last curtain call ended. Twelve calls tonight, and the accursed roses grew heavier with each one.
Walking into the wings, she shoved the bouquet toward another of the stagehands as if the mere act of holding them in her arms pained her.
“Get rid of these, will you?” she asked, grabbing the clean towel he offered her.
“Right away, Miss Alexandra,” he said, reaching for the two dozen blood red roses, the look on his face one of stunned disbelief. “Do you want the card?”
“No,” she spat the word. “I know who they’re from, and believe me, he has nothing I want.”
Pavel seized the envelope. “Thanks, Luke, I’ll look after this.” He reached out and grabbed her shoulder, holding her in place, trying to hand it to her. “Brandi, you can’t ignore this guy. Detective Anthony told you that. Aren’t you in the least bit interested in what he has to say this time?”
“Why? It’s going to be another one of his creepy declarations of undying love, or some crap about fate. I am not now, nor ever will be, his destiny.” She shook loose, started to walk away, the stiff skirts of her pale pink tutu—the same pink as the damn envelope flouncing along with her—and then stopped, her shoulders slumping. “Damn it. Why can’t he leave me alone? Why does he have to ruin everything?” She wiped her damp brow with the towel, staining it with stage makeup before putting it around her neck. “You’re right. I should at least have a look at it and hand it over to the police. Who knows? Maybe he stepped over their invisible line this time. Thanks for grabbing it.” She took the envelope, holding it gingerly. “It’s hard to issue a restraining order when you don’t know who you’re trying to detain, and ‘Your Prince’ isn’t a lot to go on. Maybe he left fingerprints or something on this one.” She huffed out a breath. “I’m sick to death of all this. I wish things were like they were in the early days when fans were just that—not obsessive psycho monsters. In some ways I envy you. In six months’ time, this will all be behind you and you’ll be up to your ears in dirty diapers.” She lowered her voice. “Is Stan still picking up Collette before us?”
“He’s probably there now.” He grinned. “We’re going to Sergei’s if that’s okay with you?”
She nodded. Sergei’s was an upscale Russian restaurant on Finch that specialized in the traditional dishes she’d grown to love. The owner was a friend of Pavel’s and had a quiet backroom they could use for their meals—out of sight, out of mind. The photographers could focus on someone else tonight.
“Collette’s been craving vatrushka all week and Sergei’s cheese pie is the best. As soon as the European tour is over, we’ll be going to Brandon to visit my parents for a few weeks before we move to Winnipeg. Don’t get me wrong, vozlyublennaya, I love the dance, but I love my wife even more, and with our first child on the way, I’m happy to retire from the stage and take a position as an instructor. I’ll still get to dance but without all the hours of rehearsal, the traveling, and publicity nonsense that go with it. Pavel, the dancer, like Siegfried, goes out in a blaze of glory as they say, and Ivan Branski, the teacher, takes his place. Some of my fans will be heartbroken, but life goes on.”
Brandi sighed. “I know, but I’ll miss you both so much. You’ve become closer to me than my own family.” Not difficult to do when she’d spent more time in the last fifteen years with him and the rest of the company than she had with her parents and sister.
“And we will miss you, but Winnipeg isn’t really so very far away, and there are plenty of direct flights from Toronto. My mother is thrilled that she’ll be so close to her grandchild.”
She punched him softly on the upper arm, the muscle firm beneath her touch. “I’m happy for you—for both of you—but who’ll protect me from the wolves once you’re gone? Ramon is an excellent dancer, but he’s not into women, and that’s public knowledge. I never minded having my name linked with yours as long as it kept the fools away, but it did make it hard to have any kind of personal relationship. I’m thirty-two and I’ve never been on a real date. The closest I got was five years ago when you escorted me to Jane’s wedding and I danced with an old friend—more of a tormentor, but one I had a crush on—all those years ago growing up. Back then, all the time I had went into schoolwork and the dance. No room for a life. I’m amazed you found time for one.” She looked down at the small card. “Adoring fans are one thing, nut jobs like this guy,” she waved the card around, “are another.”
Pavel stopped in front of her dressing room door. “Life is too short to ignore any part of it, Brandi. I wasn’t looking for love, but when I saw Collette, it hit me between the eyes like a hammer. She means the world to me. There’s someone out there for you. That guy may not be your prince, but don’t give up on finding him. Just be willing to give him a chance. You may not believe me yet, but there is more to life than the dance, and I look forward to every one of those dirty diapers. I intend to be the best otets I can be. There is no greater glory for a man than to be a father.” His smile was large enough to give the Cheshire Cat a run for his money. “Now, are you sure you don’t want to go to Rick’s like the others?”
“Positive.” Using the keypad lock, she punched in the code to open her dressing room door. “The paparazzi and God alone knows who else will be there, and I would much rather have a late, quiet supper with just the two of you—that is unless you’re sick of me playing fifth wheel. I can just go home and make myself a salad or something.”
“Don’t be silly. We love having you around. You’re the little sister I never had. Now, no more doom and gloom for tonight. It’s time to celebrate. Collette’s checkup today was good and Baby Branski will be here for Valentine’s Day. I can’t think of a more wonderful gift. I’ll meet you at the stage door in twenty minutes.”
Brandi stepped inside her dressing room, the scent of half a dozen bouquets, all gifts from fans wishing her success tonight, almost overpowering. She should be used to the funeral parlor aroma by now. When she’d first started performing with the National Ballet, she’d been thrilled with the bouquets and letters from adoring fans, but over the years, and especially lately, that adoration had become smothering. Gone was her ability to eat in a fast food place or go for a walk without having to don dark sunglasses and a cap. She couldn’t go shopping without being accosted, and a day at the beach was out of the question. Not that she’d ever had much of a personal life, but she missed the one she’d had. This newest fan, the one who, for the last six months, seemed to attend every performance regardless of where she danced, had gone from annoying to downright creepy.
A stack of cards wishing her well sat on the table in front of the sofa. Tomorrow Maria, her publicist, would send autographed pictures to each one of those who’d provided an address, but so many—like her stalker—were anonymous.
On her dressing table was the one bouquet that made her smile, a vase filled with red carnations, their spicy aroma fighting for recognition. Those flowers were from her family, sent on opening night no matter where she performed, the only floral tribute she wanted. Unlike the red roses her stalker sent her after each performance, the ones that somehow managed to be delivered while she was on stage in front of the audience—the ones she couldn’t refuse.
Forever and Always is exclusive to Amazon and available from all distributors.