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Chapter One

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The blood was flowing freely now. A rust-colored stain, which had been the size of a quarter at the beginning of the hour, had now spread to that of a silver dollar pancake.

Who thinks of pancakes while they are bleeding all over the place?

Apparently you do, the snarky voice inside my head responded, when you choose to skip breakfast in lieu of getting to class early.

A small price to pay to stake my claim at the barré before the other vultures get here, I responded to it.

I shook the thoughts away as I realized I was having a conversation with myself. Again. This happens a lot when you spend most of your time inside your own head. Sure, I had actual people to talk to—a few that I would even call friends—but more often than not, I was alone. There was only one thing that occupied my mind more than myself.

Dance.

"Emmalynne, you're up!" a slight yet stern voice called out above the twinkling of piano notes.

I turned to see my ballet mistress, Miss Diane, looking at me expectantly and counting out sets of eight to the music. I'd been caught red-handed—or as the case was, red-footed—and I knew at once that all the extra time I'd spent in the studio that week had been nullified with this single stupid move on my part.

There was nothing the teachers at The Richmond Ballet Company hated more than a dancer who wasn't paying attention. Well, except for a bad instep maybe.

With one last look down at my bloody foot, I pushed my thoughts and the pain I was feeling away, and took a few delicate steps forward. Then, as if I were weightless—and at 5'5" and 102 pounds, I practically was—I moved across the floor, performing a series of turns and leaps until I'd reached the other side of the studio. Sauté arabesque, balancé en tournant, run, run, run, grand jeté. Which, in layman's terms, meant: slide hop, dancy grapevine with a turn, run, run, run, end with a big leap. Only in French. And more graceful than it sounded.

As I finished, I brought my feet together, toe touching heel, and let my arms curve down into a low oval shape near my thighs. I knew the combination had been damn-near perfect, and had I not just pissed off my teacher, I would've been satisfied with myself. Instead, my face remained neutral as I tip-toed to the back of the line with my tail between my legs.

The best I could hope for now was to remain invisible for the rest of the class. Or if I was lucky, another dancer would mess up and draw the focus away from me.

I know that sounds horrible—wishing someone else would screw up, fall, forget the combination, sloppily land their quad turn—but if you were like me, a ballerina in one of the most prestigious companies in Northern California, you'd be thinking the same thing. I mean, you might feel bad about it, but you'd still think it.

"Way to piss off the Miss," a voice said quietly in my ear. "Are you trying to give the others a chance to snag your swag?"

I didn't have to turn around to know who it was. After all, there was only one person who talked to me like that.

"Of course not, Zhara," I whispered back. "I was just having a bit of...trouble. Of the bleeding variety. I got distracted for a second, gimme a break, okay? You'd think a girl could expect at least that much from her partner."

He took a step away from me, and then held up a hand, signaling for me to stop.

"Ew, girrrl, that is so not cute. I thought you were all over that mess," Zhara said, circling his finger in front of my midriff. "Isn't that one of the perks of being a teeny-tiny little thing like you? No more girly drama."

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