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'Tolly, I know you said you were fine, but I was passing anyway, and I thought I'd just drop in and' Shona did a double take and stopped short. 'What happened to your hair?'
'I cut it last night.' With nail scissors. The long, straight blonde hair Harry had said he loved was no more. And at least getting rid of it had been Polly's choice. Something that was under her control.
'Cut? Hacked, more like. Has Fliss seen it?'
'Um, no.' And Polly knew her best friend would panic, remembering what Polly had done half a lifetime ago. Her lowest point, when she'd sworn that her life would be perfect from then on, no matter how hard she had to work at it. When she'd learned to smile her way through absolutely anything.
Shona blew out a breath. 'We need to get you to the hairdresser's. Like now.'
Polly waved a dismissive hand. 'I'm fine. It's not as if anyone's going to see me. I don't have to go in to the studio.'
'That, sweetie, is where you're wrong. Coffee, first,' Shona said crisply. 'And, while I'm making it, you need to get changed. The sort of stuff you wore for Monday Mash-up will be just fine.'
'I don't work on Monday Mash-up any more.' Polly shrugged. 'Anyway, I'm busy.'
'Doing things that Harry really ought to be doing, since he was the one who called off the wedding,' Shona said, her mouth thinning.
'I'm the one who organised it, so it's easier for me to do it. I have the contacts,' Polly pointed out.
She left unsaid what they were both thinking: it also meant that Grace wouldn't be involved. Cancelling the wedding arrangements less than two weeks before the big day was tough enough; letting her ex-fiance's new girlfriend do it would be just too much to bear. And she knew that Harry would definitely delegate cancelling everything: he'd give that little-boy-lost look that always got him his own way.
'I could strangle Harry, I really could. Selfish doesn't even begin to' Shona stopped. 'But you already know what I think. OK. Go and get changed while I sort the coffee and make that hair appointment. Oh, and put some stuff under your eyes.'
To cover up the shadows Polly knew were there. It was one of the disadvantages of having fair skin; even one night without sleep meant she had dark shadows under her eyes. She hadn't slept for several, since Harry had told her that he couldn't marry her.
'I do love you, Pol, but '
As he said the words, someone filled her veins with liquid nitrogen. Freezing her. But.
That meant Harry didn't love her at all.
'. .it's as a friend. There just isn't the kaboom,' he finished.
'Kaboom?' She didn't have a clue what he was talking about. How was this happening? Was she in some parallel universe?
'Kaboom. When you meet someone and it's like the sky's full of fireworks.' He gestured wildly, mimicking starbursts in the sky. 'A thousand red balloons floating into the sky.'
She still didn't have a clue what he meant. When she saw Harry, she didn't see dangerous fireworks or balloons that could pop and leave her with nothing. She saw warm and safe and secure. And she'd been so sure he'd felt the same. That they'd be together for ever. That theirs would be one of the marriages people looked up to in showbizone that lasted, instead of being over almost as soon as the publicity photos had been printed. Because she and Harry were friends. They fitted. Polly wasn't going to have the same kind of on-again, off-again relationship that her parents had, in between their affairs. This would be a proper marriage. Harry's family liked her. His friends liked her. And her friends liked Harry and his easy charm.
They were a couple.
Except now it seemed that they weren't. And her head couldn't process it. 'I'm sorry, Pol.'
And then Harry told her about Grace.
His new assistant, who'd made him feel the kaboomthe way Polly never had
Polly shook herself and changed into one of the bright long-sleeved T-shirts, jeans and trainers she'd worn on Monday Mash-up, then swiftly added enough make-up to erase the shadows and the pallor from her face. And then she pinned on her brightest smile, ready to face the world. By the time she'd finished, Shona had made them both a coffee and was speaking rapidly into the phone.
'I've managed to get you in with Enrique in twenty minutes,' she said. 'I've told him it's urgent. And we'll take a taxi to make sure we get to the studio in time.'
'Which studio?' Polly asked. 'And in time for what?'
Shona shoved one of the mugs towards her. 'Drink this. I put enough cold water in it so you can chug it straight down. I need you awake. Because, sweetie, you're going to be on Ballroom Glitz. Starting tomorrow!'
This was definitely a parallel universe. Polly had just walked out of a steady job, knowing that there was a recession on and she'd be lucky to find a waitressing job to tide her over until her agent managed to get her so much as an audition, let alone find something she'd enjoy as much as she'd loved her role as a children's TV presenter. And now Shona was talking about a new contract on a new show? She couldn't quite take it in.
''Ballroom Glitz? Since when?'
'Since I got a phone call from the producer an hour ago saying that someone had had to drop out and asking if I had anyone on my books who could fill the slot,' Shona explained. 'Obviously there are other people auditioning for itbut you're going to be the one who gets it, Pol.'
Polly appreciated the older woman's faith in herright now, her faith in herself was pretty shakybut she knew it was misplaced. 'Shona, I've got two left feet. Look at the mess I made of it when Danny tried to teach me those dance moves on the show.'
Shona rolled her eyes. 'Danny's not as experienced in teaching as the guys on Ballroom Glitz are. And street dance isn't the same as ballroom. You're going to be great.' She patted Polly's shoulder. 'And if you trip or make mistakes, so what? It shows you're real. People will be able to identify with you, Polly.'
Polly couldn't help smiling. 'I'm hardly an A-lister, Shona. Monday Mash-up isn't even on terrestrial telly. Nobody's going to have a clue who I am.'
'People like you. They identify with you, and Fliss would tell you the same.'
'Fliss is my best friend. She's supposed to say things like that.'
'It's still true,' Shona said firmly. 'That's why the "Challenge Polly Anna" segment was so popular on Monday Mash-up. You did the things people wanted to try doing themselves. And you didn't always beat the challengeso they knew it was true to life, not something set up with all the flaws airbrushed out. You're going to learn to dance with one of the professionals, and every woman in the country, young or old, will be able to imagine themselves in your shoes. They'll love your warmth and that amazing smile of yours. And that, sweetie, is exactly why you're going to nail this audition and be on the show.'
'What about the costumes?' Polly asked quietly. 'They let me have long sleeves on Monday Mash-up.'
'They can do the same thing on Ballroom Glitz. If not long sleeves, then cuffs or fingerless elbow-length gloves,' Shona reassured her. 'Nobody needs to see your wrists and nobody's going to ask questions. Don't worry.'
Easier said than done. Polly dreaded the wardrobe department seeing her wrists and asking questionsor, worse, speculating. Especially if they thought the scars were because of Harry. Which they weren't.
But being on the show could make a huge difference to her life. It'd mean eight whole weeks of work, if she managed to stay in the competition until the finals. Even if she was voted out at the first elimination, it still meant that she'd have two slots of prime-time exposureslots that could lead to other opportunities. Plus dancing was something physical that might just tire her out enough to let her sleep in her new flat instead of lying awake and realising how wide the bed seemed without Harry in it, wondering where she'd gone so badly wrong and why she hadn't been enough for him. And she'd have to concentrate on the training, so she wouldn't have time to think about the wreck of her life.
Everything could be perfect again. Far, far away from the lowest point in her life all those years ago. The point that had led to her scars and the long, slow climb to the settled and happy life she'd wanted so badly.
Yeah. She could smile her way through this. Fake it until you make it.
'I've always wanted to learn to dance,' Polly said. She pushed away the memories of her five-year-old self begging for ballet lessons and her father's sneered refusal. Fairy ballerina? Fairy elephant, more like. You're too clumsy, Polly.
She lifted her chin. 'We've got the lemons. Let's go make lemonade. With a sparkly swizzle stick in it.'
Shona patted her shoulder. 'Attagirl.'
Six hours later, Polly was back in her flat, making a list of the last few things she needed to cancel for the wedding and answering concerned emails from friends with the minimum of details. Even if she didn't get the Ballroom Glitz job, at least she had great hair. Enrique had somehow managed to transform Polly's appalling scissor-job into an urchin cut that made her look like a blonde Audrey Hepburn, all eyes. And in any case the audition had been good practice, reminding her of the skills she needed to brush up on for the future. Today had been a good day. And Polly Anna Adams had spent half a lifetime living up to her name. The tougher the going, the brighter her smile. She'd learned to look on the bright side and ignore the difficult stuff. And the strategy worked.
All the same, when the phone rang, she let it go through to the answering machine. She wasn't in the mood for sympathy, no matter how well-meaning. Dwelling on things and crying about it wasn't going to make Harry change his mind. Or make her feel better.
'Sweetie, I know you're there. Pick up,' Shona said.
There was a sigh. 'All right, do it your way. But I'll be over at ten tomorrow to drag you off to the wardrobe department at the studio. Because you, my clever girl, got the job.'
Polly sat down as the news sank in.
She'd got the job. On Ballroom Glitz.
And, although one door had slammed very firmly in her face, another one felt as if it had just opened. One that could lead her to a whole new world.
'See you at ten. And have the kettle on,' Shona said, and hung up.
Two years. How the world could change in two years. Even in one, Liam thought. This time last year, he'd lost everything. His career, his marriage, his home, his dreams. All the experts had said he'd never dance again. But he'd fought to prove them all wrong. Even when his body was screaming for him to stop, he'd pushed himself that little bit further each time, until he could walk again. Until he could dance again.
Every second of agony had been worth it, because now he was back on Ballroom Glitz, teaching celebrities to dance on the show and choreographing the routines for the professional dancers. Getting his name back out there.
It still rankled that he had to prove himself all over again, but moaning about it wouldn't get him back to the top. Only sheer hard work would do that. He just needed to focus and remember the lesson burned into his heart: the only person he could rely on was himself.
Thankfully Bianca wasn't one of the female professional dancers on the team, so that was one less reminder of the past. Half the professional dancers were new, people he hadn't come across before as part of his job; those he did know and had worked with before had given him lots of sympathetic glances, but to his relief they hadn't said anything about the accident or the wreck of his marriage. They'd simply welcomed him back.
So which of the four celebs was going to be his partner? The comedienne wasn't particularly light on her feet, which would mean he'd need to be very careful with any lifts; he really couldn't afford any more damage to his back. Plus her wisecracks seemed to be constant; he could do without that kind of irritation. He wanted someone who'd take this seriously. Someone who'd be prepared to put in the hours it'd take to make them win. The model and the pop singer both moved wellas he'd expect, given their career choicesbut both had a hardness about them that reminded him of the worst moments with Bianca.
Which left Polly Anna, the children's TV presenter. Something about her drew him; though, from the video clips the presenter had shown of Polly's show, that was a pretty severeand very recentchange in haircut. In Liam's experience, when women made a change that radical to their appearance, it meant they were upset about something. Really upset. That might affect Polly's ability to concentrate on the choreography. Which didn't bode well for their chances of staying in the show.
He'd just have to make the best of whoever he was teamed with. He put on a smile for the cameras as the runner cued him in, and headed out to the dance floor for the final showcase dance with the other professionals before the pairings were announced.
Which of the four male professionals would be working with her?
Polly had already talked it over with Shona and Fliss. Two of the male dancers were new, making them unknown quantities. Andre had been part of the show for years, but he'd always come across as a bit strict and humourless in the videos of the training sessions. Definitely not the kind of guy she'd enjoy working with.
And that left Liam Flynn.
Liam, the one she'd always liked most when she'd watched the show in the past. He'd always come across as a really nice guy, supportive and kind to his dancing partner. Plus he was very, very easy on the eyes: tall, dark and utterly gorgeous.
Except Liam had been in a serious car accident eighteen months ago, and at the time the media had claimed he'd never be able to dance again. Clearly he'd had a lot of physical therapy to get him back to this point. And, although Liam was the dancer she'd love to be teamed with, Polly couldn't help worrying. She knew she was clumsy. What if she tripped and they fell awkwardly, and that hurt his back again, and this time his dancing was over for good?
She damped down the fears. No. She was going to work hard. She was going to beat the clumsiness. And she most definitely wasn't going to let what had happened with Harry shred her confidence. She'd been totally professional and given her best on Monday Mash-up, and she'd do exactly the same on Ballroom Glitz.
'And now the moment you've been waiting forthe official line-up,' Millie, the glamorous presenter of the show, announced.