Sapphire Secrets – Excerpt 2

ballet students

It’s Happy Hour! To celebrate, I’m offering this appetizer to you. It’s an excerpt from chapter 2 of Sapphire Secrets, my debut novel, designed to whet your appetite for more….

A stark white banner stretched across the flat building, reflecting enough sunlight to attract the attention of every neighbor. DeeDee tugged on the lower left corner, achieving perfect symmetry. Welcome To Saffire School Of Dance, blared its message in eye-catching red letters. Last night, DeeDee had added In Honor Of Our Mother, Luna Raquelle, against Livy’s wishes.

“Why not?” DeeDee thought she and Livy were on the same wavelength. But Livy’s strenuous objection to proclaiming Mom’s name stymied her.

Livy’s excuse? “People will ask questions.”

“We don’t owe them any explanations.” As usual, DeeDee overrode her twin, and the phrase stayed.

The nearby boulevard hummed with vehicles. DeeDee crossed her fingers in hopes some of them were headed to Saffire’s grand opening. She and Livy had set up signs, advertised in newspapers, and spread the word on social media. A topnotch techie fashioned them a fancy website. Now, they waited in the September sunshine for their first guests.

DeeDee shivered as a rare sensation rocketed her pulse. She needed to dial down the excite-o-meter. Emotion equaled weakness. At her right stood Livy, all boho-chic in her peacock-print tunic and teal ankle boots, her hair bunched atop her head like a rooster tail. “Why are you so tense?”

Livy shot her a look. “I’m not tense.”

“Yes, you are. You’re frowning, and your ponytail is shaking.”

“That’s the wind, you dork.” Livy, pretending their tiff hadn’t happened, plastered on a smile and peered at the street. “I think someone’s coming.” They turned and went inside to watch through tall, narrow windows flanking the front door.

Four months ago, this one-story space had been a hollow cobwebbed shell. But thanks to Dad and his megabucks, new drywall divided the 4,000-plus square feet into three studios, a small office, restrooms, and a storage closet. The hallway walls gleamed pale yellow above teal wainscoting, offsetting the rich cherry-red enamel below.

Her mother’s spirit was here. In DeeDee’s imagination, Mom floated along the crimson hallway. She danced in midair, beaming.

“Look, Deeds. A whole family just pulled up.” Livy propped the door as a car parked at the curb. “In a Mercedes. Mom, Dad, two daughters.”

Craning while the family emerged, DeeDee said, “We need something special to give our first visitors.”

The four hesitated in the doorway. She smiled and approached them. “Welcome. I’m DeeDee. This is Livy. Since you’re our first guests, you’re automatically eligible for a fifty percent discount on any of our fall classes. Congratulations.”

The woman entered first. “That’s very generous.” Glamour exuded from every plane of her flawless face, every seam of her designer clothing. “I’m Roxanne Shropshire. This is my husband, Will, and our two daughters, Amity and Katrina.”

The others stepped inside. The husband angled his body away from his wife and refused to look at her. Strained lines marred his handsome face. Maybe they’d been fighting.

DeeDee leaned forward, braced her hands on her thighs, and looked the daughters in the eyes. “And how old are you two?”

“Ten.”

“Thirteen.”

“What kind of dance would you like to learn?” asked Livy.

“Hip-hop.” Amity, the thirteen-year-old, clasped her hands above her head and shimmied. “I can move like Iggy Azalea.”

“I want to take Tap.” Katrina’s saddle shoes shuffled, the toes bouncing with an energy of their own.

Roxanne’s gaze swiveled from floor to ceiling. “This is beautiful.”

The dad breathed deep. “Smells like fresh paint.”

“Why don’t we show you around?” Livy led the way.

“Wow, killer.” Amity pranced along the hall ahead of them, peeking inside every door. Soft music wafted from each studio’s state-of-the-art sound system. Mirrors and shiny barres hugged the walls, reflecting fresh-waxed oak floors.

Roxanne plied them with questions—had they taught dance before? No, but they were lifelong dancers and daughters of a professional dancer. Did they offer evening and weekend classes? They did. How much were the fees? One hundred dollars per month.

“What a nice way to honor your mother. Her name sounds familiar.” Her voice took on a coaxing, intimate quality. The tone of someone fishing for information she wasn’t entitled to.

DeeDee wasn’t biting. “It’s unlikely you’ve heard of her.”

She felt, more than saw, her sister’s outraged glance before Livy segued them back to business.

“Our teaching approach is a little different from the norm.” Livy’s measured tones smoothed over her discomfort.

“We call it the three Ps—”

“Precision, Posture, and Presentation.”

“Dance enriches kids’ lives in so many ways.” DeeDee spread an arm wide. “We want kids to have fun, but dance is so much more.”

Roxanne arched a brow. “You take a holistic approach, then?”

“You could call it that.” DeeDee nodded. “Dancing is good for the body and the soul. Did you know kids who learn dance at a young age grow up to be better students?”

Roxanne’s accusatory gaze rested on her husband’s face. “There, you see, Will? If you hadn’t been so stubborn, Max might not have dropped out of school.”

Will’s face flamed mottled scarlet as though she’d slapped him. Recoiling, he made his getaway toward the door. “Daddy!” the younger daughter screamed, taking off after him.

Tension hung heavy in the air like a low, thick cloud cover. “My fifteen-year-old son is a dropout. Thanks to his stepdad who made him quit his extracurricular activities.” Roxanne dabbed the corner of her eye. Her gaze raked Will’s retreating back like malevolent claws.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” DeeDee waited for Roxanne to face her, then resumed the speech she’d spent hours perfecting. “We believe in encouraging students to work hard in school and be the best they can be in all areas of life.”

Livy clasped her hands in front of her like a wise swami and stepped closer. “Our motto is, ‘Dance like the whole world is watching,’ which we believe applies to anything we do in life.”

Roxanne offered a watery smile, her gaze darting between the door and DeeDee. “That sounds wonderful.” Clutching her wallet, she followed DeeDee into the office. “Did your mother pass recently?”

“We lost her when we were kids.”

“Oh, how sad. Was it cancer?”

“No.” She met Livy’s gaze, her sister’s eyes saying, I told you so. Maybe Livy had a point. Did they really want people asking how Mom died?

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