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Katherine "Kat" Moore stepped off the exit ramp into the Las Vegas International Airport with her long blond hair piled on top of her head, ready for a hot bath, cool sheets and her own bed, which she hadn't slept in for months. After globe-trotting with a couple of big-name pop stars' tours back-to-back, she'd found the escape she'd sought, but the lifestyle had taken a toll. She was done. This was it. She wanted roots, a pet, a fridge full of her favorite things. Stability.
Wearily, she headed toward the luggage area when her cell phone started to ring. Dang it, she knew she should have left the darn thing off. Kat sighed and dug the phone out of her purse to see her agent's number on the display. Of course. They'd been arguing when she'd had to turn off her phone in italy to head to the States.
"Yes, I'm home, Michael," she said, without saying hello. "And no, I'm still not taking the new tour. I don't care if it's Derek Mercer or how many number-one hits he has. I don't need the money and you probably need it less." She needed a life. She needed No. No, she didn't. She refused to think of what she really needed, what she'd run away fromapparently unsuccessfully.
"You're right," Michael answered. "You're not taking a tour. I have something just as big and you get to stay right here in Vegas."
She stopped walking. "I'm listening." Someone bumped into her and she quickly moved to the side of the walkway as clusters of people passed by.
"I got a call this morning from M&M Studios. They have a top secret project they're working on. They won't release details over the phone, but the pay is double your tour pay if you get the gig and you were requested by name."
"Double? You have to be freaking kidding me."
"Money isn't something I ever joke about."
"No kidding," she said, thinking that the house she'd planned to surprise her parents with for their retirement next year might just have gotten bigger. "And I'm not complaining."
"I need you at the Wind Walker Hotel in thirty minutes."
"Wait. No. I'm a mess. I'm grimy and tired. I've traveled halfway across the world. And who asked for me, anyway?"
"They want to make a decision today. They're waiting on you. I told them you'd be there. This is my reputation and yours. You're committed."
She was going to kill him. "Michael"
"You said you wanted to stay home in Vegas. You said you wanted stability. I'm giving it to you. Get your skinny, pretty little backside over thereand do it now. Call me from a cab and I'll fill you in on whatever details I can." He hung up.
She gaped at the phone. He'd flipping hung up on her. She growled low in her throat and started walking. She'd been with Michael ten years, since she'd turned twenty and landed her first big dancing job. If she didn't like him so much, she'd fire his "pretty little backside." She wasn't going to an interview now.
Damn. Damn. Damn. She had to go. He told them she'd go, and her decision to put down some roots meant there would be less opportunities for work. She glanced down at herself as she stepped onto an escalator leading to baggage claim. She had on a PINK Victoria's Secret T-shirt and faded jeans with a rip down the leg. She looked more like she was hanging out at the house on a day offnot to mention that she felt like death warmed over, after a number of time changes.
She rushed onward to baggage claim to discover her bag was missing. Frustrated, she dialed Michael. She couldn't do this interview. Not now. She'd make a bad impression.
He didn't answer. She glanced at the time of their last call. She was never going to make it to the interview if she stayed and argued about her luggage. She hesitated and thought of her parents, of their dream retirement, of living close enough so she could actually see them. She hurried toward the exit and the cab line.
The interview was poorly scheduled, but it was a blessing, and if it worked out, she'd be thanking Michael for pushing her.
Twenty minutes later, Kat still hadn't reached Michael and she was pretty sure he was avoiding her calls so she couldn't back out of the interview. By the time the cab pulled up to the front of the towering Wind Walker Hotel, one of the largest casinos on the strip, Kat had removed her hair clip, applied lipstick and unsuccessfully tried to cover her dark circles.
She paid the driver and dialed Michael again. She didn't even know where she was going at this point. Finally he answered, and before she could even speak, he demanded, "Are you there?"
"I have my contact on my cell so hold on," he said, and she heard him say, "She's there." He came back to Kat. "Where are you?"
"I'm at the front door, but"
"Front door," he told whoever he was talking to, then back to Kat, "Go to the bellman and give him your name. You'll be escorted."
"Hurry," he said. "Kat. This is bigger than I thought. This is huge. Call me after. Go get 'em, tiger." He hung up.
Kat let out a breath and just gave up. She found the bellman and gave him her name. She resolved to do what she did in the middle of a tour when something went wrongshe just needed to roll with the punches. An employee led her to the hotel theater ticket booth and a row of offices behind it.
The woman knocked on a door. A few seconds later, to Kat's surprise, ellie Campbell, an old friend and top-notch choreographer, rushed from the room, pulling the door shut behind her. "Kat!" Ellie's arms were outstretched, her long hair that, at least for today, was a pale shade of light blue, floating behind her.
Kat hugged Ellie, whom she'd met on a television project a good seven or eight years before.
"I can't believe you're here," Ellie said, leaning back to inspect her friend. "I wanted you for this project so badly. I couldn't believe the timing of you coming home today!"
"I can't wait to hear the details, but what happened to Stepping Up? I thought you were judging?"
"Oh, I am," she said. "I love it. Absolutely love it."
Kat's stomach twisted with the connection the show held to the very past she was avoiding. "I'm confused. Then why am I here? Why are you here? Surely you don't have time to work on a Vegas show?"
"The studio came up with this idea that we should organize a multi-state tour in between seasons and a Vegas show to run for a full year here at the hotel. The show will open a month before auditions start for season three of Stepping Up. The catch? They gave us a whole six weeks to make this happen. Thankfully though, the tour will be after season three ends. It's fun and exciting, but" she grinned and rubbed her stomach "I have a bun in the oven. I just dropped the bombshell on the studio. I can't travel to judge and do the Vegas show. It's too much."
Kat gaped. "A bun in the oven. How?"
They both laughed.
"Okay," Kat said. "I know how."
Ellie raised her finger. "Last season we had a new production manager for Stepping Up. Needless to say, we sort of hit it off."
"Sort of?" Kat teased, staring at the gorgeous white diamond on her friend's finger.
"I'll tell you the story later. But right now, we need a replacement for me on the live show and the tour. I saw your name on a prospect list and knew you were the one, but I called and got your service."
"I've been out of the country for months."
"So they told me, but I was determined to reach you. I contacted your agent. It has to be fate, honey, because you arrived today, and we really need to wrap up interviews today. Good, bad or ugly, we need to nail this down. You can make this end with good, and leave the bad and the ugly behind. I just know it."
The door behind them opened, and a sixty-something woman whose hair was dyed a dark chestnut color appeared. Ellie turned to her. "Dawn. Thanks for coming. How did it go?"
"Excellent. I agreed to take the job. I'm thrilled."
"Wonderful. I am, too." Ellie hugged Dawn before she departed, then whispered to Kat. "You'd never know from looking at her, but that woman is the hottest new costume designer in this city. I'm talking smoking-hot designs. And we aren't in prime time like Stepping Up is. We have to dirty up this show to make it work for Vegas."
Kat laughed, but it didn't sound completely genuine and she knew it. All she could think of was the TV show and its connection to her past. "I've learned to never judge a book by its cover in this business. I'd love to see Dawn's designs."
Ellie motioned to the door. "Let's go meet everyone. I'm excited. This is going to be so good."
He wasn't here, she decided. He wasn't a part of this. If he had heard her name, he would have said no. This was going to be okay. It was going to be good. They wouldn't see each other. "Me, too," Kat said decisively. This was exciting. It was a great opportunity.
Ellie rushed into the room. "I have a surprise. I made a phone call and got lucky. The perfect choreographer I've been telling you guys about is here. She's the one."
Kat felt her cheeks heat and her stomach twist. Ellie was giving her some big shoes to fill. She drew a calming breath and then followed Ellie into the room. A group of six people sat around a conference table, but she only saw onethe one sitting at the head of the table. She only saw him. Jason Alright, with his light brown tousled hair, his square jaw shadowed with stubble and his deep green eyes, intense as they met hers. Those eyes reached inside her and warmed her in all kinds of wickedly wonderful, and yet painful, ways, as they always did. Those soulfully sexy eyes had landed her in bed with him two years before, just before she'd left the country. And ten years before, those same eyes had spoken to her heart, her soul, the day they'd stood at the altar and gotten married.
This wasn't going to work. She had to leave now.
Jason's eyes narrowed and he shook his head ever-so-slightly, telling her not to leave, and reading her like he always did. Did he know she was coming? Surely, he hadn't known.
"This is Kat Moore," Ellie said to the group, touching Kat's arm and announcing, "Kat is the best choreographer in this business." She elbowed Kat. "After me, of course."
Kat laughed. "Of course."
Ellie grinned and continued, "She just got back from a world tour with the pop star Marcus Knight today, which was pure luck for us." She glanced at Kat, explaining, "We're basically trying to bring Stepping Up to life in a musical, and the best people to make that happen are those who are a part of the television show, who understand what that means. So we're important to the creative process, though most of us won't stay involved beyond that. We just can't swing the time for both the Vegas production and the TV show."
Kat let out a discreet breath. Maybe Jason wasn't going to be involved long-term. Maybe that's why he didn't want her to leave. Maybe.
Ellie began her introductions, going around the table quickly. Kat greeted two women and a man before Ellie said, "Meet Lana Taylor and Darla Nelson, both judges for the show, as I'm sure you know. We trust them, so their help enables us to work under such a tight time crunch."
"We're arguing over casting," said Lana, a pretty brunette known for her diva attitude on the show. "Nothing new there, though, if you watch the show."
Kat didn't watch. Ever. But it wasn't like she could say, Sorry. I don't watch because my ex-husband that I've never stopped loving, who's ripped my heart out a few too many times, is one of the stars.
"No, indeed," Darla chimed in, shoving a long lock of blond hair behind her ear. "There's nothing new about Lana and I disagreeing." She smiled at Kat. "You'll get used to us fighting, though. Even I have. It's very nice to meet you, Kat. I'm excited to meet someone Ellie is so excited about."
"Oh, please," Lana said. "Enough with the excitement."
Darla laughed and wrapped an arm around Lana. "You'd never know she likes me."
"I don't," Lana said tightly and then sighed. "Oh, okay, I do, but that's a big secret, Kat. The audience loves our bickering."
The mention of a secret echoed in Kat's mind, and her gaze discreetly slid to Jason's, the connection tingling down her spine with shared understanding. They had a secret, too. A past they'd never hidden, but it had been so long ago, before either of them were established in the industry.
"And last but not least," Ellie announced. "Meet Jason Alright. He's"
"Jason," she said softly.
"You look good. Your hair's longer now."
"And you forgot how to shave."
He ran his hand behind his neck and laughed, a soft, warm sexy sound that sizzled along her nerve endings. She loved the man's laugh. "I guess I did," he agreed, glancing around the room and announcing, "Yes. We know each other." They knew each other all right, and a few people understood how, but then, they'd been unknowns, barely getting started, always apart. He patted the table beside him. "Come sit down, Kat."
By him. She wanted to be by him. That was dangerous. She'd be so close to touching himway, way too close. Touching him was bad and oh-so-good. She'd proven, over and over again, that not only was she putty in Jason's hands, she enjoyed every second of it.
Jason rose and, pulling the chair out for her, she moved toward him. It was official. Not only was he still tall, lean and muscular, he still made black jeans, a Harley T-shirt and biker boots look like the definition of sin in the city. And she would bet her left arm that somewhere nearby he had a leather jacket, despite the heat of Vegas in July.
"Oh, good grief," Lana grumbled. "The man doesn't hold a chair for me and I sit next to him at the judges' table for months of every year. Do tell, Kat. How exactly do you and Jason know each other?"
Jason glanced at Lana. "If I held your chair for you, you'd just roll it over my foot. I've learned to keep my distance."
Darla nodded in agreement. "Smart man."
Kat cut her gaze from Jason's to sit down and gain composure before facing the group, but it didn't help. He was close, so close, and his all-too-familiar spicy masculine scent flared in her nostrils. He still wore the same cologne, and she remembered burying her nose in his chest to inhale that amazing scent.