It's almost here! Pas De Death releases March 22nd!!
I am lucky enough to be a murder victim in this book and I can't wait to see what happens. Over on the Greeps Through the Shelves Blog, we are holding a 'Guess how I died' giveaway. Check it out here to learn more and enter to win a signed book.
Aspiring ballerina Dani Spevak is back home in New Jersey for the summer. What was supposed to be a simple day trip into New York City to visit her friends at the Manhattan Ballet Conservatory turns deadly when Dani discovers that the world of professional ballet can be cutthroat - literally.
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CHAPTER 1 OF PAS DE DEATH
They say the professional dance world is cutthroat.
I have no idea who they are, but I’d always thought they were being figurative when they said that. You know, hyperbole and all those fancy words from English class and SAT study guides. As for them, we never hear their names, so for all I know, it could all be an urban legend.
But no. Apparently they were being literal.
Wait a second, I should probably back up, huh? I guess that would be helpful.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning.
* * *
My lame old skool cell vibrated against my thigh, alerting me to an incoming text. I pulled it out halfway, trying to sneak a peak at the screen without my attracting my seat-mate’s attention. To be honest, I shouldn’t have cared what the college student thought since I was unlikely to ever see her again after our bus arrived at Port Authority, but her perfect highlights, super cute pink and black slides, and exquisitely-cut, short black dress exuded a level of cool I could only even hope to aspire to. Why advertise the fact that I couldn’t match up?
Forget about an iThing. I had a genericThing. Once again I silently cursed my parents’ refusal to buy me a smart phone. They were generally pretty cool as far as parents went, but really — 2010 called. They wanted their technology back.
MEET @MBC @11.
One of the many drawbacks of my lack of a modern phone was no cute little talking bubbles to show our chat session, so I had to scroll up to see who sent it. Not that there was a potential cast of thousands or anything. The text could only possibly have come from either Maya or Analisa.
Maya Sapp was one of my two best friends. Well, actually one of my two best friends from Mountain Shadows Academy of the Arts. My lifelong BFF was actually still Sophie from back home in Sparta, New Jersey, where I was spending the summer. But during the school year I went to a boarding school in Scottsdale, Arizona, majoring in dance.
And I really did mean went to boarding school, because after my injury this past spring, I had no idea whether I was going to be able to return in the fall. Because it’s kinda hard to study dance when you can’t exactly dance, you know?
But I refused to think about that right now. Way too depressing, and I simply would not allow myself to be depressed. Nothing was going to ruin my day. I was on my way into New York City to visit my besties!
Okay, so technically I was on my way into the City for my annual food challenge at Mt. Sinai Hospital to see whether I’d grown out of my peanut allergy, but that wasn’t until tomorrow morning. Light years from now, really. Mom and I were going to stay at my Grandma Rose’s apartment in the Village tonight. Mom had already left for work early this morning, but I didn’t want to get up at 6 am for no reason — I mean, injury or not, this was supposed to be my summer vacation — so she and Dad agreed I could take the bus in all by myself. And since I didn’t have to meet her and Grandma Rose until the evening, I decided to go see the girls.
Analisa San Miguel, the other member of our little trio, was participating in the Summer Intensive at the Manhattan Ballet Conservatory. I was super excited for her, of course, since it’s an amazing company and she’d worked so hard and totally deserved it. Plus, she’d be a junior in the fall, so she was at the age where they started looking to possibly offer apprenticeships. But I was also insanely jealous, because I was supposed to be there with her this summer until I blew my knee out.
I wasn’t going to think about that. I would be Zen-like. Grey sky out, blue sky in. Keep calm and carry on.
I’d been doing a lot of yoga breathing during my physical therapy sessions this summer (hey, I needed an excuse to steal my mom’s Lululemon workout gear despite not being able to actually, you know, work out), not to mention that my body image counselor had recommended the same plan, so even though it was usually a huge change for me to let my mind go blank rather than start making a to-do list during that downtime, I figured I should probably have the whole Zen thing down by now. I would not be jealous. That would be my mantra.
No jealousy. No jealousy. None. Be the Buddha.
The older girl looked at me funny, and it wasn’t because of my stupid phone. Shoot! I must’ve said that last sentence out loud. Well, whatever. It’s not like I’d ever see her again.
I was just about to text Maya back when I felt the bus halt. I figured we were probably stuck in yet another traffic jam on the way to the Lincoln Tunnel when I realized that the driver had turned off the engine and the passengers were all getting up, so I glanced out the window.
Hey, what do you know? We’d arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal.
I was in New York City!
K, C-YA THEN!
After firing off a quick response, I grabbed my overnight bag and fell into the line of passengers exiting the bus. The sophisticated-looking college girl was several people ahead of me now because of my delay in texting, but who was I kidding? It wasn’t like we were going to be best friends or anything.
And it didn’t matter, because I was on my way to see my best friends!
My dad had given me some extra money to take a taxi to the Manhattan Ballet Conservatory campus because he didn’t think I should ride the subway on my own. I wasn’t a little girl — I’d been living on my own away from home at school for the past year — but I guess my almost being killed not once, but twice, last school year didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in my ability to travel cross-town without running into trouble.
Which was so not my fault. It’s not like I’d asked for that kind of attention. Some girls attracted hotties. Apparently I was a psychopath magnet. And if we want to get technical, I’d totally shown I could take care of myself in the end. Those nut-jobs were behind bars, and I made national news for my heroism. He was taking “Daddy’s Little Girl” just a little too far.
So I decided to pocket the cash and take the subway anyway.
What? I was a teenager, not a saint. And I wasn’t making much above minimum wage teaching pre-ballet to two-year-olds at the town rec center, so I could definitely use the extra cash I saved by using public transportation. Besides, I was doing my part in taking care of the planet. Less carbon footprint. Yeah, that was it.
One weirdo ranting about the ancient alien takeover of Congress, two street performers of wildly varying levels of talent looking for handouts, three homeless bums, and four stops later I arrived at my destination.
My phone rang as I strolled through the courtyard of the world-famous performing arts complex that housed MBC, as it was affectionately referred to in the dance world. For a second, I assumed it was Mom calling, and wondered how she could possibly know I’d gotten there already, but then I realized she’d be in class, teaching first-years about Miranda rights and executing search warrants. My mom normally teaches Criminal Procedure at Rutgers, but she was a visiting professor this summer at Fordham. She took the job because their law school is right next door to the plaza where MBC is located. I think she wanted to keep tabs on me, since I was supposed to be doing the Summer Intensive with Analisa and had this unfortunate little habit of somehow ending up the target of homicidal psychos.
But I’d screwed up those plans when I blew out my knee. The plans for Mom to spy on me from her office, I mean. My injury had nothing to do with thwarting the attempted murders.
I probably should have stopped in to say hello, but I wouldn’t have gotten to see Mom anyway, unless I interrupted the lecture to stick my head in the door and let her verify I’d managed to get into the City in one piece. And I was pretty sure that wouldn’t exactly put her on the happy-list with the school administration. Nah, I’d just send her a text instead.
After I answered the phone and finished the present call instead, natch.
“Hello?” I said, without even looking at the read-out.
“I’m running late.” Maya’s voice boomed from the tiny speaker. “I’m still on the 2 Train. There was a delay coming in from the Bronx, but I should be there in like twenty minutes, max. Probably less.”
Even though she couldn’t see me, I pouted a little. “What am I supposed to do until you get here?” I mean, really.
“You’re in the greatest city in America, Dani. I’m sure you can figure something out.” I could almost hear the eye-rolling.
Yes, I know that’s not possible. Work with me.
I shielded my eyes from the almost-midday sun as I looked up at the skyscraper at the far end of the plaza. The building housing the Manhattan Ballet Conservatory studios and dormitory also was home to the the Julian College student residences, a number of theaters, and office space for several fund-raising organizations like the Manhattan Opera Guild. Yes, I was aware I sounded like I was applying for a position as a tour guide. I’d practically memorized every page of the student handbook when I was first accepted into the MBC Summer Intensive.
Fat lot of good that did me.
If I squinted, I could almost see the dancers as the instructors put them through the paces of rigorous center work. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking, because the windows were pretty high up, and I couldn’t be in there with them.
Looked like a guy class. I craned my neck for a better view inside, hoping to catch a glimpse of my friend Patrick Velasquez, who’d danced the Cavalier to my Sugar Plum back in December, but then I remembered that the company members were at their summer “home” in Saratoga Springs, and as a new apprentice, he’d be there instead of taking class with a bunch of teenagers. Of course, he was still a teen himself. Amazing what a difference a couple of months made. He’d graduated from Mountain Shadows in May, and now he was a pro.
And as a student in the MBC Summer Intensive, Analisa was well on her way to joining him in pro land.
So jealous. And no amount of Zen thoughts was going to change that feeling.
“Do you know what time Ana gets out of class?” I chirped into the phone.
“I think” — static— “one.”
“Look, I gotta go,” Maya shouted. I could barely make out every other word. “Bad reception.” No kidding.
I really hoped Maya was wrong. One was more than two hours from now, and it was getting way too hot to stand around in the summer sun, so I decided to head over to the school and see if I could wait inside. At least get out of the heat, even if the self-important security guard stopped me at the front desk.
Which he did.
“Hi!” I summoned every ounce of perkiness I possessed and pasted on a fake happy face that could rival a Miss America contestant. “I’m here to visit MBC.”
His gaze did a little up-down thing as he swept the length of my body (which, I admit, was pretty ew, because, duh, he was like at least three times my age —um, illegal much?), and I could tell he was sizing up my figure to see if I actually had a shot of getting admitted to the program. (And you wonder why so many dancers have eating disorders?) “I’m sorry, but the school is not open for visiting hours. You’ll have to return during an open house.”
“But I’m Dani Spevak.” Wow, that sounded humble. Why should he care? “I mean, I’m here to visit Analisa San Miguel. I think I’m on her list or something.”
Okay, I was totally lying about the list. Maybe there was one, but I had no idea. I just needed an excuse to remain in the a/c. I thought I was melting outside on the plaza. Triple digit temperatures in Arizona had nothing on mid-90s with humidity in Manhattan.
He opened a notebook and ran his finger down the page. Hey, would you look at that? Maybe there actually was a list. A real-life “binder full of women.”
But before he could flip the page to the S’s, he looked up. “Oh wait, you’re that girl, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I was supposed to be in the Summer Intensive, but I had to drop out because I developed chondromalacia —”
“—in my knee. Stupid freak accident really. I wish I could say it was during a solo, but it was kinda dumb. I was hiking and twisted it or something, but my orthopedist said that was likely just the inciting event —”
“—Inciting? No, I meant—”
“—and that it really developed because of chronic friction between the patella and the groove in the femur through which it passes during motion, so it would’ve happened anyway. So now I’m doing physical therapy, but I hope—”
The guard waved his hands and my babbling stopped shorter than a Kardashian marriage. Why did I always resort to verbal vomit whenever I was nervous? Made me sound like a whiny, neurotic person with a possible side order of crazy. “I don’t care about that. I mean, you’re that girl. From TV. The one who caught those thugs.”
Yeah, about that. I should really have the words “That Girl” (in uppercase and with quotes, of course) monogrammed on all my clothes, since it seemed to be the most popular way to refer to me, ever since my national debut on Teen Celebrity Dance-Off last fall that resulted in me saving the set from sabotage. Rescuing my frenemy Hadley Taylor after she was kidnapped by a mafia flunky a few months later only added to the stigma.
I’d have to change my initials from D.S. to T.G.
I smiled weakly. “That’s me.”
“That was wonderful service you did, miss.” He thrust his hand out to shake mine. “A wonderful service. It’s an honor to meet you.”
“I didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t do,” I mumbled, as he crushed my fingers in his much stronger grip. Ow!
“No really, it was very impressive. I saw your interview with Faith Darcy.”
“I was also on Anderson Cooper.”
“I saw that!”
I gnawed on my bottom lip. “Just, um, doing my job.”
But I wasn’t, of course. Not really. My job was dancing, not solving mysteries.
Bad Dani, my job is dancing. Is, not was. Because I was going to be back at Mountain Shadows for my sophomore year in the fall, and maybe I’d even get into MBC next summer. I had a great physical therapist, and I had to trust she would help me.
I didn’t really have a choice. Giving up my dream of a dance career before it ever started just wasn’t an option.
At least not one I was willing to entertain.
“So what are you here for?” My new best friend, aka the front desk guard, asked. “A new mystery?”
I couldn’t exactly roll my eyes if I wanted to convince him to let me pass. Who did he think I was — a Gallagher Girl? “No, just here to visit my friend, Analisa San Miguel. She’s a student in Group V.”
“You know Group V doesn’t get out of morning class until one on Mondays, right?”
“That’s what I’ve heard.” Although not from Ana. That would have been good information to know before I made the trek over to the school. “So, can I pass?”
He genuinely looked sorry as he shook his head. “I’ll need Miss … San Miguel is it? … to sign you in. School policy. I’m sure you understand.”
I did. Nothing like an attempt on your life or two to appreciate the need for security guards.
“And she’s not out of class until one,” I said.
He nodded. “And then they have Pointe at four. But she’s not out of the current class until—”
“—one,” I answered for him. I could feel a little frown settling in between my eyebrows. “Okay, got it. Thanks anyway.” Maybe I could go drop in on Mom after all.
I was pushing through the glass revolving doors, when I felt a tap on my arm that actually made me jump. But fortunately I checked to see who it was before letting out a girly shriek.
“Analisa! I thought you were in class.” Instead of crazed-scary-person shriek, it was more of an Oh.Em.Gee!-squee as we both leaned in for a hug.
My friend shook her head, a few stray curls escaping from her tight bun and threatening to mar her lead-in-Black-Swan-worthy look. “Just finished.”
I looked back at Officer … (I squinted to see his name plate) … Patterson. “But the guard said Group V gets out of morning class at one.”
Analisa laughed. “That’s true. But I’m in Group VI.”
I’d always really hated cliche phrases like “my jaw dropped.” I mean, it’s not even physically possible, you know? But right about then I realized that while it might not be the most elegant turn of phrase, it was the most effective way to describe the stupid expression that was almost certainly gracing my face at that moment.
Was Analisa actually in Group VI? Well, duh, obviously she was if she said so. She had no reason to lie to me. But it was sort of a slap in the face, nonetheless.
Because I’d only been accepted into Group IV. I figured Analisa would be a group level ahead of me, since she was a year older. But two groups?
More than ever, I felt a new urgency to get healthy again so I could return to dance school. I had work to do.
“Cool!” I said, swallowing my pride along with a healthy dose of real excitement for my friend. “That’s awesome. So, can you sign me in, Miss Prima Ballerina?”
Analisa screwed her face into a grimace. “Yeah, you must be hungry. Why don’t we go out for lunch?”
Change the subject much? “No, I’m not hungry, and don’t complain about my eating disorder. I’ve got that under control.” Mostly.
“Then maybe we should just step outside and wait for Maya.” She pushed me towards the door. “I think she wanted to take us over to Broadway Dance Center for a Triple Threat class.”
“But I can’t dance,” I protested.
“Sure you can,” she said as I disappeared through the revolving door, so I had to wait until we were both on the other side before I began speaking again.
I shook my head once she joined me outside in the heat, and pointed down at my ugly navy blue knee brace. “I’m supposed to stay off of it as much as possible. Only real exercise I can do is swimming.”
“But you can sing,” she insisted, putting her arm around my shoulders and sort of guiding me back through the plaza.
“And I can also hang out in your dorm room or watch your rehearsal,” I said, shrugging out of her hold and ducking under her arms to turn around and head back to MBC. “Seriously, Ana, I’m hot and tired and just want to relax in the a/c.”
She moved her graceful body in front of me to block my path. “You don’t want to go in there.”
I could practically see the angel on her right shoulder warring with the devil on her left. She bit her lip. “Craig’s upstairs.” Not sure which celestial being won that battle.
“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t want to go in there.” And with that, I spun on my heel and sprinted across the plaza, knee injury be damned.
“Dani, wait!” I could hear Analisa calling, but I didn’t care. I had to get away. I had to think.
I turned the corner into an alley so I could be alone for a second or two, but soon learned I had company. A woman was slumped on the bench like a homeless person except that she was way too well-dressed, so more likely hung over. Probably one of the law students from next door misunderstood the meaning of “bar review.”
And that’s when I noticed her shoes. Pink and black slides. And a black dress. And blood.
Apparently I was wrong when I said I’d never see the girl from the bus again. But I wasn’t wrong about her never seeing me again. She wouldn’t be seeing anyone else either, for that matter.
Not now. Not later. Not ever.
She wasn’t drunk. She was dead.