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Petra Hewitt’s the top ballerina in the world, and The Great Rubio her obvious counterpart, so why does she want to strangle him whenever he’s around? He’s haughty, abrupt, demanding—and alarmingly sexy. Petra knows Rubio is dangerous to her heart, to her peace of mind, and worst of all, to her career, but his rough flirtation compels her. When she gets a chance to play with him at a BDSM party, their professional partnership takes a feverish left turn.
After that, any attempts to keep him at arm’s length falter in the face of his obstinate sexuality. Rubio’s methods are ruthlessly erotic as he introduces her to the pleasures of sadism, bondage, pain, and submission. The more Petra tries to resist him, the more she craves his strength and control.
But as they play their sensual games of dominance and submission, career pressures mount, and an overzealous fan brings dangerous tension to their relationship. Soon, the dream gives way to the stark reality of her vulnerability. Maybe, just maybe, some risks are too terrifying to take.
Chapter One: Disgusting
Fernando Rubio vaulted up the steps of the grand white town house, his stormy Brazilian temper in full effect. He drew back a fist and banged it on his friends’ front door.
“Liam. Ashleigh! Ash-lee! I know you’re in there. Open up.”
The door swung wide and a slight, elderly man peered out. “Mr. Rubio. What a pleasure to see you.”
He pushed past Mem and stalked into the house. “Where are they?”
“They are downstairs. They undoubtedly”—Mem slipped around the front of him—“undoubtedly wish for privacy at the moment.”
Rubio waved a hand, heading for the Wilders’ BDSM-equipped basement. “Whatever they’re doing, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
“If you would be so kind as to wait in the living room—”
Ruby ignored Mem’s polite but pointed protests and continued through the luxurious home to the lower floor. He stopped halfway down the stairs, scanning the play room until he located the naked couple. Oh, God. “That’s disgusting!”
At his barked exclamation, Liam turned to search for him with a frown. “Do you mind? Very bad timing, my friend.”
“You are both disgusting.”
The tall, long-haired man wrapped his arms more tightly around his petite partner. “Why, disgusting? I’m kissing my wife.”
“Exactly. You have this entire den of depravity, sex toys and BDSM furniture,” he said, waving a hand around the dimly-lit basement, “and you are standing there kissing her.”
“Not only that—we just made love,” Liam said. “Tender, sappy, emotional, gaze-into-each-other’s-eyes kind of love.”
“With lots and lots of whispered endearments,” Ashleigh added.
“Ugh.” Ruby spun and started back the way he’d come. “I’ll wait upstairs. You’re both...” He searched his mind for an adequate insult. “You’re both completely disgusting.” He wagged a finger at Ashleigh. “And you! I am furious with you.”
He turned his back on her apologetic expression and took the stairs two at a time. There was nothing she could say to excuse her behavior, nothing he wanted to listen to, anyway.
Mem greeted him back in the living room. “Would you care for some refreshment, Mr. Rubio? Coffee? Tea?” He took in Ruby’s dour expression. “Something stronger?”
“I don’t want anything,” he snapped, “except to unsee what I just saw.” Oh, and for Ashleigh to not leave City Ballet. He wanted that more than anything.
He collapsed onto one of the living room’s deep leather sofas and put his head in his hands. He and Ash had been partners for four years now, achieving new heights of artistry with each ballet. How could she leave him now, after all they’d created together? After all the work they’d done?
A few moments later Ashleigh appeared from below, clad in Liam’s black tee. At least he assumed it was Liam’s since it hung to her knees. She hugged the shirt around her waist and crossed to sit next to Rubio on the couch.
“Well?” he said. “I’m waiting for your explanation. Why are you leaving?”
“I’m not leaving. I mean, I’m not leaving London.” She leaned forward, rubbing her knees. “I’m just taking a break from dancing.”
He felt unreasonable anger at her offhand tone. “A break? No. You’re quitting the company. That’s what Yves told me after class. Why didn’t you warn me? You didn’t tell me nothing until today. Then, boom.”
She lowered her head, her black locks falling across her cheeks. “I was afraid to tell you, so I let Yves do it.”
“Well, I almost punched him in the face. That would have been your fault. And how do you think he feels?” Yves Thibault was City Ballet’s director-in-chief, and he’d seemed almost as upset as Rubio by the news.
She touched his hand on the cushion between them and then wrapped her fingers around his. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you. I don’t know what to say to you, even now.”
He felt choking emotion. Cold betrayal and loss. Ashleigh was his favorite ballet partner of all time. They danced everything together, in perfect, comfortable harmony. “Why?” he asked. “What did I do?”
“It’s not you.”
“I know I’m rude sometimes. I know I always touch your tits and pretend it was an accident. I know, it’s bad. I won’t do it anymore, I swear.”
“It’s not that,” she said, squeezing his hand tighter. “I’ve loved working with you. These past few years have been a dream, both personally and professionally.” Her pale blue-gray eyes communicated the same pain he felt, the pain that had devastated him when Yves broke the news an hour ago.
“Why then?” he whispered. “Why?”
She let go of his hand and picked at the hem of Liam’s shirt. “I’m tired, okay? Ballet has always been easy for you because you’re a natural, a phenomenon. It’s a struggle for me. I want to... I want to try something different.”
Liam joined them with two beers. He sat on the arm of the couch beside his wife, passing one of the bottles to his friend. “You realize you’re being a total pussy about this, right? A pathetic crybaby pussy?”
“Stop it,” Ashleigh said, reaching over to her husband. “It’s hard for dancers to lose a partner. Over time you develop this really transcendent bond, almost like brother and sister.”
Or husband and wife. Rubio had pined for Ashleigh years ago, when she was dating Liam. Sometimes he still did, even though his friends were happily married and completely devoted to each other. Ashleigh turned back to him, pleading with him to understand. “You taught me so much about ballet and artistry, so much about performance. I feel horrible leaving you, but...Liam and I are having a baby. I’m three months pregnant. I won’t be able to dance next season because of that.”
Rubio’s eyes went wide. A baby? “Is this a joke?” he sputtered. “Your belly is completely flat.”
“I’m not showing yet, but believe me, I’m pregnant. Remember how I kept throwing up on the summer tour?”
Ruby put his hands to his head. “Jesus Cristo. Why you need a baby? I need a partner! What about that?”
“Watch your tone with my wife,” Liam said.
Ruby turned to jab a finger at him. “This is your fault.”
“Everything is everyone else’s fault, huh?” said Liam. “Maybe it’s your fault. You introduced us, if you’ll remember.”
“Yes, but I didn’t imagine all this kissing and getting married and making love and...and babies.”
Liam shrugged. “That’s what grown-ups do.”
Ashleigh turned to Ruby, edging Liam out of the conversation. “Look, there are a lot of talented dancers you can partner with at the company. I’m sure Yves will let you dance with whoever you want.”
“Except you,” he groused. “I can’t dance with you.”
“A few months from now I’ll be big as a whale. Right? You won’t want to dance with me.”
Ruby couldn’t stop the half-smile. “Don’t try to be cute. Don’t be funny. I’m angry at you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tight. Rubio waited for her to start laughing, to tell him this was all a joke. She didn’t look pregnant. She didn’t feel pregnant, but Ashleigh, his favorite partner, his soul-mate partner, was pregnant and he didn’t know what he was going to do.
“Maybe I’ll quit too,” he grumbled against her neck. “Maybe I’ll stop dancing. Maybe now it’s time.”
She pulled away from him in horror. “No, you can’t. Don’t even say that.”
“Pussy,” Liam muttered from behind her.
“You have years left to dance,” she said, truly alarmed. “You’re only thirty years old.”
“You’re only twenty-eight!”
“It’s different with men and women. You’re stronger than me and...” She put her hands over her belly. “I really want to have this baby right now. It’s time for me to do this. I feel it in my heart.”
“Stop begging him to understand, hon,” said Liam. “It’s Rubio, remember? He’s obnoxious and self-centered. He’ll never understand the impulse to start a family, but eventually he’ll get over it. Won’t you?” Liam shot him a dire look.
Ashleigh dropped her head onto Rubio’s shoulder. “I just feel like...this is the time. I should have told you,” she said, lifting her eyes to meet his gaze. “I should have warned you we were making these plans but I didn’t want you to be angry.”
“Well, I’m angry.”
“I gave you so much. So whatever. Maybe I forgive you someday, but not now. No.”
At those words, tears filled her eyes. She jumped to her feet and fled the room.
Liam sighed, sliding down onto the couch. “Very nice. Making a pregnant woman cry. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
“What did I say?”
“God, you’re an idiot.” Liam snatched away his beer. “I would make you go apologize, but that would probably upset her more. Plus the pregnancy hormones are making her erratic and she might kick you in the neck.” He bent forward and fixed Ruby with his potent amber stare. “But seriously. If you’re going to keep coming over here, if you’re going to attend the play parties on Saturdays, you’re going to have to cut her some slack. She’s pregnant and it can’t be undone.”
Ruby eyed his friend, noting the subtle tension in his voice. “You and her planned this pregnancy? Or it just happened?”
Liam rubbed his forehead. “It was kind of planned. It kind of just happened. She wants a couple kids, and...” He covered his eyes and kneaded his palms into his eye sockets. “I’m going to be okay with that.”
“You’re going to be, or you are?” Liam’s silence was deafening. Ruby sighed and took back his beer. “Ashleigh is a good girl, you know. She won’t be like your mother.”
“My mother had postpartum depression. Any woman can get it. Ashleigh too.”
“But if she does, you’ll be there to help. It won’t be the same.”
“I know.” That was all he said. I know. He stood and started toward the stairs. “I better go see if she’s okay.” He turned back to Ruby and gave a regretful half-shrug. “Look, I’m sorry you’re losing your partner. I don’t mean to be a bastard to you, but I’m on Team Ashleigh. I have to be. I’m asking you friend to friend, and I really hope you hear me: Let her go.”
“I will,” he sighed. “I don’t have a choice, do I? But who the hell am I supposed to dance with now?”
“It doesn’t matter who. You’re the best dancer in the world, Ruby. Pick someone. Don’t be a pussy, for fuck’s sake.”
With those words, his friend went up the wide marble staircase to comfort his wife.
Chapter Two: Horrible
Petra squeezed her hands in her lap, a mess of nerves in the back of a black sedan. She was just in from New York, where drivers sat on the other side of the car, and cars drove on the other side of the road. She didn’t often regret her single status, only at times like these when she would have liked someone friendly sitting beside her telling her everything would be okay.
And everything would be okay. This dinner wasn’t an audition. Petra Hewitt had reached the point in her career where she didn’t have to audition. She was the world’s premier ballerina and she could pick and choose where she wanted to dance. Companies courted her, theater directors begged her for appearances. Last week, out of the blue, she’d been offered a position at London City Ballet, an offer that included an impressive salary, a furnished luxury “flat,” and a driver to take her to and from the theater. But those perks weren’t the main draw...
Fernando Rubio danced at London City Ballet.
He was called The Great Rubio, for his partnering skills, his graceful strength and instinctive touch. It was a stupid name, but the ballet press had coined it in his heady younger days, and over the years it had stuck. People also called him “this generation’s Petr Grigolyuk” because of his sex appeal, and because women congregated outside the stage door squealing and jostling each other to get a look at him. As it happened, Grigolyuk was Petra’s father and she didn’t consider any comparison to the man flattering. In fact, she hoped Fernando Rubio was nothing like her asshole of a dad.
Well, she would soon find out. She twitched at her plum-colored silk dress and turned her clutch over in her lap. The sedan eased up to the curb of The Gilded Swan and the smiling driver told her in a charming accent to “hold tight, luv.” He got out and shooed some photographers away. London had paparazzi, like New York, although not as many, and surely not for her. These photogs would snap Rubio’s photo in a heartbeat, but she didn’t share his widespread playboy appeal. She was a serious dancer. Once the driver helped her from the car, she strode into the restaurant without cracking a smile.
“Petra?” A tall, thin, middle-aged man with wire-rimmed glasses emerged from the press of elegant people standing inside the door. He held out a hand to her. “How wonderful to see you.”
She recognized Yves Thibault at once. He was well-known in dance circles, admired for his work as the head director of City Ballet. She returned his smile as he kissed her on both cheeks. “I’m so glad to finally meet you in person,” she said.
“How was your flight? Is the hotel to your liking?”
He pelted her with polite questions as he led her to a table set for three in the corner. After all her nerves, The Great Rubio wasn’t even here. Yves pulled out her chair and a waiter came to fuss over them and offer menu suggestions. “What a lovely place,” she said, looking around the opulent restaurant. White tablecloths, gleaming china, sparkling chandeliers. It was old world richesse, ornate and glittering. Like ballet, it seemed to be trying very hard to be beautiful.
“Mr. Rubio will join us shortly,” said Yves, glancing over the menu. “He’s excited to meet you. Everyone at City Ballet is thrilled you’re considering our company.”
Yves’ French accent clipped each of the words; perhaps he felt as nervous as she. Petra sat very straight, surreptitiously watching the door. She might look down on Fernando’s bad-boy, sex-appeal image, but she was curious to meet him and see what he was like. He could do great things for her as a partner. In some way, they belonged together since they were both acknowledged as the world’s best dancers. Their pairing at City Ballet would be legendary. Historical.
She drew in a deep breath and reached for her water as soon as the waiter poured it. That’s when she saw him, mid-sip. The Great Rubio crossed toward them in a tailored suit and tie, looking more “fashion-week” than formal. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome—she’d known that—but in person he was so much more. He had an aura, a way of moving that communicated both sensuality and masculine power. Female heads turned, mouths dropped open. They all got that look.
Petra tried not to have that look when he locked eyes with her, but it was difficult. He was strikingly, alarmingly sexy. His height, his confidence, the way he moved, the way he presented himself. He was gigolo material, with his tousled black hair and dark eyes, and that carved Brazilian jaw line.
Be cool, Petra. He’s just a guy. She took another sip of water, reminding herself that they’d asked her here, that they wanted her, not the other way around. She had nothing to prove, nothing to live up to except a pleasant dinner between contemporaries. She glanced up from beneath her lashes as he navigated the last of the candle-lit tables to arrive in their private corner. Somewhere along the line his casual smile had transformed to a scowl. He stopped a few steps from the table and glowered at her like he wished he could throw a knife through her solar plexus. “No,” he said, turning to Yves. “I said no. Why did you bring her here?”
Hm, not a knife. An axe. Fernando Rubio wanted to bury an axe in her rib cage, she could see it in the black depths of his eyes. Cold anger washed over her.
“You said he was excited to meet me,” she said, turning to Yves.
“Yes, well,” Fernando cut in, “sorry you made the trip for nothing. We don’t need another principal here.”
Yves gave him a harried look. “Yes, we do. We’ve lost two principals recently. Ashleigh and Mariel have both retired.”
“You said we were meeting to talk about the ballets for next year,” Fernando said to Yves.
“We will. We are. Now, if you’ve made enough of a scene, perhaps you’ll consider sitting down and behaving like a civil person.”
The director’s voice never rose above a level tone, but the reprimand was obvious. Rubio snapped his mouth shut and slid into the remaining seat, fidgeting with his jewel-patterned tie. He angled himself away from her, as if to deny her presence. Petra felt gob-smacked. She’d flown all the way across the ocean, only to sit here and endure his scorn?
“We talked about this,” he said to Yves in a stage whisper. “You said I got to pick. I told you, specifically, not this.”
At “this,” he flicked a finger at her, the ballerina-who-must-not-be-named.
“What’s wrong?” She shot him an arch look. “Afraid I’ll outshine you if I join the company?”
“Outshine me?” Fernando snorted. “Maybe in makeup you outshine me. You have a tragically big forehead.”
Yves made a faint, distressed sound as Petra drew herself up to her full height, which was not very high.
“I do not have a big forehead,” she said. “And I find it hypocritical that you’d talk about my ‘tragically big’ forehead considering those massive feet you drag around the stage.”
His expression hardened. “My feet are not massive. I have the best feet in ballet.”
“No, I have the best feet in ballet,” she corrected him. “Everyone knows that. Your feet are big and square like...like bricks.”
“Petra, Rubio, please, people are staring—” Yves tried to interject.
“Me and my big feet do not want to dance with you,” Fernando snapped. “I need a partner with grace and lyrical beauty. Not a big-forehead robot like you.”
She gasped. “I’m not a robot.”
“You dance like a robot. You’re famous because you’re Grigolyuk’s daughter,” he said, waving a hand. “Nothing more.”
That flippant wave infuriated her. She hated Fernando Rubio, hated him for dismissing her fame and accomplishments like they were nothing. She’d earned everything she’d achieved through her own hard work, not her father’s support. Grigolyuk had never even acknowledged her, although everyone knew he and her mother had had a torrid affair when they were partners at the New York Metropolitan Ballet, and that Petra looked exactly like him, down to his light blond hair and Slavic hazel eyes. And yeah, her mom had named her Petra to drive the point home.
But Hillary Hewitt had never demanded a paternity test or financial support. “Petr knows he’s your father,” she used to say. “If he doesn’t want you, we don’t want him.”
To this day, Petra lived by those words. She threw her napkin beside her plate and pushed back her chair.
“Forget it,” she said to Yves. “If he doesn’t want me, I don’t want him.”
The slim, stolid director shot up from his seat and followed her as she stormed toward the door.
“Petra, please, let me explain.” He drew her over by the coat room and spoke in a low, urgent voice. “Rubio wants you—he just doesn’t know it yet. He’s in a bad place right now. He was...” Yves paused, frowning. “He was very close to his previous partner.”
Well, that wasn’t the way to make Petra rethink things. After all the pain her father caused her mom, she was dead set against partner relationships. She wondered if The Great Rubio had knocked up Ashleigh Keaton, if that was why she’d left ballet.
“He doesn’t even know me,” she said. “How can he be so rude?”
Yves looked over his shoulder to where his star dancer sat alone, tapping his fingers on the table. “He’s a bit rough around the edges. Temperamental, like many artists. You shouldn’t take it personally. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”
“I don’t care how famous he is. I’m an artist too, and I’m not temperamental and condescending. I can dance with anyone in the world, anywhere I want to. New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow.” She knew she sounded bitchy but, for God’s sake, she did not have a big forehead. She felt embarrassed and disappointed. Rejected. “You misled me,” she said. “I came here because you said Fernando Rubio wanted to dance with me.”
“He does! I promise you he does, it’s only a matter of adjustment and change.”
“You asked me here knowing he would refuse me. That doesn’t inspire a lot of trust.”
Yves sighed and removed his glasses. “I asked you here because he chased off the previous four prospects, and you’re the only one left.”
“What?” That kicked her ego right in the gut. “So I was your last-ditch choice? Really?”
“No, you were the most expensive choice. With Mr. Rubio on the payroll, we couldn’t afford another renowned dancer until a certain donor—who wishes to remain anonymous—agreed to foot the bill for your salary. I invited you to come the same day.” He put a hand over his lips and looked massively stressed out for a moment. He’d composed his expression by the time he looked up again. “Petra, you of all people must understand. Mr. Rubio needs a certain caliber of partner to inspire and motivate him, and that type of partner doesn’t grow on trees. You are his best match in the ballet world at the moment. The two of you could become a legend, one of those pairings that inspires a whole new generation of students to dance.”
We could, thought Petra, if he wasn’t such a braying ass.
“He said that he’d already told you no,” she said. “So why—”
“Mr. Rubio is saying no to everyone and everything right now,” Yves said, cutting her off. “Again, you shouldn’t take it personally.”
“It’s hard not to take it personally when someone says you dance like a robot.”
“We all know you don’t dance like a robot. Please, give him a little time and space to redeem himself. You know, he and his previous partner began their acquaintance under terrible circumstances.”
“Ashleigh Keaton? But they were—”
“Amazing together? Certainly, but they first met under the pressure of a last minute substitution. She wasn’t prepared, he was incensed. He called her a whale, if I remember correctly.”
“He called her a whale?”
“And she accidentally kicked him during the pas de deux, barely missing his testicles,” he said, setting off the accidentally with air quotes. “He stormed away after the curtain call and she ran to the dressing rooms and vomited. Repeatedly. It was a disaster, but from such beginnings they developed into one of the most notable partnerships City Ballet has ever known.”
“So what happened? Why did she leave the company?”
“Ashleigh is expecting a baby in the spring.”
She knew it! She shot a vicious glance at Fernando. “By him?”
Yves’ eyes widened. “No, by her husband. Ashleigh and Rubio were friends, nothing more. When he gets to know you better, he will be your friend too. Please, don’t leave yet. Dance with him tomorrow so he can see all you have to give, what a perfectly matched partner you’d be. We’re rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for the fall. Perhaps you already know the choreography.”
Petra sniffed and pulled at the clasp of her clutch. Of course she knew the choreography. Romeo and Juliet was a much-loved ballet, even if the maudlin, misery-of-cursed-love theme was a bit overblown. At twenty-eight, she’d danced the lead role in five different productions.
“If he wants to dance, I’ll dance. But if all I get from him is attitude, I’m heading back to New York.” She looked past Yves to where Rubio sat scowling at the table. “And I’d rather not stay for dinner. I seem to have lost my appetite.”
Yves squeezed her hands. “Of course. I’m sorry. I’ll make this up to you, and I promise you’ll receive an apology from Mr. Rubio.”
Petra wouldn’t hold her breath on that one. She climbed into the back of a cab, still fuming. She’d really wanted things to work out here. London City Ballet had great facilities, savvy management, and some of the most lavish productions in the world. There was a history here, a history that extended far beyond that of the companies she’d danced for in the US. Her father had chosen to dance with City Ballet after he left Russia...and he still lived in London.
That wasn’t why she wanted to be here, of course, although she’d had fleeting fantasies of him coming to meet her after a performance. Of the two of them hanging out and bonding backstage. Since her earliest years, she’d imagined a scene where her father would come to find her, perhaps in her dressing room, or in the dark hush of the wings. He would hold out his arms and smile and say, “I’m so proud to call you my daughter. I’m sorry now I was never part of your life.”
She wanted to jab an ice pick in her brain whenever she had those fantasies. Grigolyuk had turned on Hillary Hewitt as soon as he found out she was pregnant with Petra, destroying her ballet career. He hadn’t even come to her funeral a few years ago. Petra had been walking around wearing his face for twenty-eight years without the least acknowledgement of her existence, so why expect him to come meet her now? It was a stupid fantasy and it wasn’t even really a fantasy because she didn’t want it to happen.
As for The “Great” Rubio, she’d dance with him tomorrow for Yves’ sake, but that was it. One chance to redeem himself, or she’d be out of here like Ashleigh Keaton.
No wonder the woman had gotten herself knocked up—anything to get away from him. Four years of Fernando’s brand of professionalism, and Petra would be stark raving mad.
* * * * *
Rubio banged open the elevator and stepped into the stillness of his soaring, cement-walled loft. He threw his keys on a table and collapsed on the couch, running his fingers through his hair. Petra Hewitt. Damn it.
He’d only seen her perform two times, but that was enough to know he didn’t want her as a partner. She was too perfect, horribly perfect, and he didn’t like it. She danced like a robot, like an alien from some ballet planet where no one made mistakes. Her body was perfect, her balance, her technique, her face, her hands and feet, all perfect. She was so flawless that she shook his normally unshakable confidence, and he didn’t need that in his life right now. Petra Hewitt danced like she was tiptoeing over the skulls of her enemies—and he was pretty sure he’d made an enemy of her tonight.
He bit off a few Portuguese expletives and reached for his phone to message Liam. Call me, a-hole. U suck.
He went to the kitchen for an apple and then walked over to the wall of windows to look out at the London cityscape below. He was on the eighth floor of a modernized industrial building. He’d bought this concrete-bound loft because one of the walls was a giant window, but he hadn’t realized there would be nothing to see but more concrete and buildings. In the slums of Rio where he grew up, people built houses right on top of each other, rickety, cobbled-together houses that boiled in the summer months, but at least in the favela, there had been a view.
His phone rang and he crossed to answer it, his mouth stuffed with a bite of apple. “Li-am?” He swallowed. “You fucking dick.”
“I’m working.” His friend’s calm tone only increased his agitation. “What’s up? What do you need?”
“I need you and Yves to stop conspiring against me.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Rubio tore off another bite of apple. “I know it was you,” he said, gnashing the fruit between his teeth. “Que droga. They couldn’t afford her without you.”
“City Ballet has plenty of donors. Hundreds. How can you be so sure it was me?” Rubio could tell he was grinning, even over the phone.
“I will punch you right in your ugly face.”
“Aw, come on,” Liam said in his drawling American accent. “She’s the best, Ruby. Me and Yves thought you should have the best. She was restless in New York, having some kind of personal issue—”
“Because she is a snotty, perfectionist diva! Everyone in ballet knows this.”
“Look, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you’re not exactly known for rainbows and sunshine.”
“She is worse than me. Much worse. She told me my feet were bricks.”
“Let me guess, it was right after you said something horribly inappropriate to her.”
“Is not inappropriate to inform someone their forehead is too big.”
Liam sighed. “Your English is getting better but your charm factor sucks. If you’re going to dance with this woman—”
“I’m not going to dance with her. No.”
“You’re going to dance with her, you obnoxious fuck, and you’re going to like it. The paperwork is all but signed.”
Stupid Liam. He didn’t get it. He wasn’t there, looking at her regal fucking majesty from across the table. Sure, Petra Hewitt was an amazing dancer. Sure, they belonged together but...damn it. She was just so good. He was used to being top dog at City Ballet. He enjoyed starring in all the photo ops, fielding all the big interviews and television appearances. He was the one with the fanciest dressing room. He was the exalted star the lower-tier dancers were afraid to look on.
“You did this to stick it to me,” he said. “You and Yves. You want to stick it to me.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You think I’m too much a diva. Too ego-tastical. Too full of myself.” He stalked over to the kitchen and tossed the apple core in the trash.
“Well, yeah, sure, but—”
“You want to take me down a nudge.”
“Notch. Take you down a notch, you ego-tastical bastard. And no, that’s not what motivated Yves to bring her here. He did it for you, because you need a dancer at her level to continue to develop your art. Look, I love Ashleigh, and she’s a great dancer, but she struggled to do the things that came easily for you. Maybe it’s time for you to struggle a little. I’m sure you can do it,” he said in a bright voice that made Rubio want to kick him in the nuts.
“It’s not just that,” Ruby said. “I don’t like her. She’s unpleasant. She’s stuck-up and she doesn’t smile. Her hair is this terrible yellow color and she has eyes like...like...lizard color. Snake eyes.”
“Translation,” Liam cut in. “She’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen and she wasn’t sexually receptive to you, so now you’re pissed off.”
“No, that is not it at all. I would rather die than have sex with her.”
“What are you talking about? You can make super ballet babies. She’s already a super ballet baby, isn’t she? Grigolyuk’s kid? Add some Rubio to the mix and this kid can take over the world.”
“We’re never having a kid,” he groused. “She’s horrible. I hate her.”
“You adore her,” said Liam. “That’s good. It will create compelling sexual tension between you while you’re performing, sort of how you were with Ashleigh.”
Rubio crossed back to the window and looked out at the cloudy, gray sky. No, no view at all. “I don’t know why we’re friends,” he muttered into the phone. “I hate you.”
“Sort of how you ‘hate’ Petra Hewitt? Cool. Well, listen, I’m glad we had this talk but I have a security business to run. Your ghastly little dance partner isn’t coming cheap. So try to make it work, okay?”
Ruby hung up on Liam and pressed his head to the window, breathing condensation onto the glass. He’d have to do some thinking about this Petra Hewitt situation. He didn’t like her, not really, but he admired her far too much. He wished she was horrible and ugly like a lizard but she wasn’t. She was very pretty. Her forehead was completely normal size.
For the first time in a long time, The Great Fernando Rubio felt insecure and a bit threatened, and he didn’t like that at all.