Authors: Paula Black,Jess Raven
& PAULA BLACK
Published by Raven & Black
Copyright © 201
by Jess Raven and
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or
used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the
authors except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places
and incidents other than those in the public domain are the products of the
authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Explicit scenes of sex and violence make this book suited to an 18+
THE BECOMING TRILOGY
Irish myths, never sexier.
for notifications about new releases
Find us at
The shout came from out in the corridor, and with it
my heart took up residence like a crazed drummer in my throat.
This was a huge mistake. My last dance audition
had been ten years ago, and there was a reason I hadn’t done another. What was
it again? The buzz in my head was overriding my brain. Gripping the cool metal
of the padlock in one fear-dampened palm, the stench of sweaty crotch and cheap
perfume left me queasy. I was one erratic heartbeat from emptying both the
contents of my stomach and my locker onto the tile floor.
There’s still time
I could gather up my pride, scuttle out of the
studio, and leave this to the professionals. Who was I trying to fool? I was a
fitness instructor with yellowed dance qualifications gathering dust in my
attic, more Fitness TV than MTV. I was no professional dancer, and I was no
detective either. After my brother’s friend told me about the advertisement at
the funeral, I’d applied for the audition on impulse. I’d grasped at the tenuous
link to Daniel’s murder but never expecting to get shortlisted, I hadn’t
thought it through.
“That’s our casting call.” Gracie laughed and
smacked me on the ass, pushing me into the stream of bodies flowing out towards
the audition room. Her tiger-print nails curled around my upper arm, dragging me
along, when every instinct I possessed screamed at me to run.
I’d only just met Gracie - short for Gracious she
said - in the locker room. She’d ambushed me with her super-white teeth, fake
hair and larger than life personality.
From amongst the many toned bodies jostling for
space, I’d singled out the striking black girl, but it’d taken me a moment to
realise she was speaking to me.
“You’re not going out there dressed like that,” she’d
declared, in that sexy-rough South-London accent. She reminded me of some
freakish fairy godmother.
Sat on the bench, looking up at me, she’d primped
sleek, blonde hair-extensions, and displayed her ample, jiggling assets in a
lurex bikini top and booty shorts.
“I’m not?” I’d replied.
“You’re new at this music video thing, huh?”
Was it that obvious? God. Even now, shuffling down
the corridor, self-doubt prickled over my exposed flesh.
She’d fluffed her hair with those fierce nails,
and informed me that this wasn’t the Royal Ballet. Beastrider’s videos were all
about literal sex on the dance floor, apparently. “You want the gig?” she’d asked.
“I need this.” My jaw tensed, and I guess she saw
the hunger in my eyes, because she gave me a knowing nod.
“We all got to pay rent,” she said, misreading my
motives. “But you got to work for it. I’m not saying whore yourself. All I’m
saying is, you might wanna show off the merchandise a little.” She stood then,
and did a booty shake demo, her pretty face grinning at me over her shoulder.
And in the space of those few chaotic minutes, I’d
let her talk me out of my safe leotard and yoga-pants combo, and into a
revealing tied-under-my-breasts top and ass-hugger shorts. Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,
and I’d been transformed from a serious dancer to a desperate, wannabe hooker
with my ass hanging out for the world to see.
Another mistake, I thought, tugging at the lace
trim that barely covered my cheeks. Out here in the corridor, without the
blanket of Gracie’s reassurances that I looked sexy, I felt over-exposed. They
weren’t even shorts. Without a change of clothes, I’d improvised with the
purple boy-shorts I had on as underwear. At least she hadn’t attacked me with
her makeup palette. Her own gold and blue lidded, fake-lashed eyes were
testament to a heavy hand, and no way could I pull off the hooker chic look.
Whenever I tried to wear more than lip-gloss and mascara, I invariably wound up
feeling like the kid who’d broken into her mom’s cosmetics.
This is for Daniel,
I told myself.
doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter if you dance like a
drunken elephant on a stormy deck, as long as you get into their inner circle.
I swallowed down the anxiety clogging my throat,
and stepped into the windowless, mirrored room.
Perhaps twenty dancers, men and women, were
warming up on the bars and free-styling moves to their own inner beats. I
stretched awkwardly, the other auditionees assessing eyes making freedom of
movement a struggle. They were popping moves whilst I, trying to work the
nervous rigidity from my muscles without dancing full-out, stuck out like breast
implants on an anorexic woman.
A double-clap from the front drew us to a halt,
and we gathered in the centre of the studio. I forced myself to the front,
beside Gracie. However good my competition might be, I couldn’t afford to hide,
or I’d blow this opportunity. I crooked Gracie a smile. In profile there was
something masculine about the line of her jaw, at odds with the rest of her
pretty face. She glanced at me and threw me a thumbs-up, but then another
double-clap commanded everybody’s focus to the man up front. He was small and
wiry, with a neat goatee curling at his chin. As he stepped forward, he grinned,
flashing a gold tooth. The choreographer, I assumed, though he looked more like
the Devil, if the Devil wore pink spandex and had a fetish for fake tan.
“Don’t let the camp attitude fool you,” Gracie whispered.
“Raider is a total hard-ass. Put a foot wrong on his warm-up routine and you’ll
be back in Kansas before you can click your heels together and say Killer
Gracie wasn’t kidding.
The heavy, hypnotic base-beat of the music
started, and he showed us the routine. Once. He’d culled half the group before
the warm-up was through.
If he snapped his fingers at you, you were gone.
No second chances.
Somehow I held on. I’d never had my brother’s raw
talent, but what I lacked in ability I made up for in discipline. And it helped
to be a quick study. I picked up steps easy as pie. Not that I ever understood
how pie was easy.
When the music stopped, I looked around, and there
were only a dozen of us still standing. Raider was a hard-ass alright, but was he
“Now we’ve separated the wheat from the chaff,” he
said, strutting in front like a pink and tan peacock, “let’s get down to
business. Beastrider have specific requirements for their upcoming tour, for
which we’ve brought in a specialist.” He gestured to the door, and everybody
craned in unison to see who walked through it. Gracie gaped, and I had to lock my
own jaw to stop from mirroring her expression.
“Meet your torturer for the next two hours. This
is Konstantyn Lazarenko, ex of the Kiev ballet and the Ukrainian Special
Forces. This man can kill you five hundred ways and look fucking graceful doing
I believed him.
Looking like he brushed his teeth with straight
vodka, Lazarenko was a fierce wall of muscle in a tight black tee and combats.
A dark buzz-cut topped his hard-chiselled face. Even darker brows brooded over
eyes that saw everything and appeared to hate it. A shiny bullet-casing dangled
from a silver chain around his muscular neck. Scars and tattoos patterned his
thick forearms with a Cyrillic script I couldn’t understand. The only soft
thing about him was his full mouth. Saying that, it had a cruelty to it that probably
made it akin to kissing the edge of a blade, if you were so inclined.
Primal instinct clawed in my belly. Raider might
have been a killer, but this man definitely was.
“Fortunately for you,” Raider went on, “there will
be no actual bloodshed. Today is about interpreting fight moves through the medium
Not even the choreographer’s dance brief could
pull my attention from the man who was staring right at me.
Threatened was not a strong enough word for what I
“You,” Lazarenko growled.
An Eastern European accent flavoured his syllables
and my heart kicked to a gallop.
“Me?” I asked, pointing to my own chest, while
sweeping the room to be certain I was his focus. “I’m Neva,” I said, attempting
a smile. Thankfully my voice didn’t betray the pounding of my pulse.
“Did I ask for your name?” he barked. “Come here.”
He crooked a finger in my direction and I took a tentative step forward. Well,
I’d wanted to be front-row, right?
“You are fighting for your life,” he said.
I was unprepared for what came next. He snapped a
hand around my throat and pushed my chin high. A gasp escaped my lips. Staring
into his dark eyes was like looking into the face of death. My heartbeat
pounded against his rough palm, and his hold forced me up onto my toes. I tried
to swallow but my throat was drier than the Atacama Desert.
“Do you understand?” he asked. His tone was
brutal, without a shred of compassion.
The man left me with no doubt: he had the power of
life and death in his bare hands. Yet in spite of his firm grip, he wasn’t
I stole a glance at the other auditionees, and
realised they were hanging on my response. I nodded my head as best I could.
Fighting for my life. Right.
Not that hard
to imagine with this huge man’s hand circling my throat. His extended arm
bulged with muscle and I managed a nervous swallow. Were we waiting for a sign?
Should I just wait or -
The music started: a rhythmic bass I recognised
from the radio. His hand tightened and my self-defence instructor’s voice
sounded in my head, jerking me through moves she’d drilled into us.
, I thought, even though my instincts were screaming danger. I took a
sharp step to the left, swung my arm across the brawny strength of his and
twisted around in a lithe curve.
I succeeded in knocking him loose from my throat,
but the move pushed me back until his chest was a hard heat fused along my
spine. At least I’d gotten free, but now I had his hand trapped in the crook of
my elbow, and was acutely aware of where it rested, just below my breast.
His long fingers spread out along my ribcage,
brushing the sensitive skin, and the touch jolted me. Or was it the rough yank
he tangled into my hair, arching my head back to his hard shoulder?
My mouth opened on a gasp. Now we were both
trapped. I narrowed my eyes up at him and his nostrils flared.
“Not bad,” he grunted, his accent harshening the
semi-compliment, “for a street fight.” He released me and I stumbled forward gracelessly,
getting as much distance as I could before he spoke again. “This is
interpretive dance, not elementary self-defence.” He shot a withering look in
Raider’s direction. “I thought you said they were good.”
Raider flipped his palms up in submission before
glaring daggers at me.
I frowned at Lazarenko. I’d done what he’d told me
to do, what more did he want? Jazz hands?
Like he’d heard my mental snark, Konstantyn
beckoned me back into arms’ reach.
“Again. This time, more fluid.” His voice softened
to a liquid caress on the ‘fluid’, and I heard feminine sighs behind me.
I was fighting back tears of frustration, and they
were swooning over the bastard? Just fucking great.