Under the Spotlight (Perth Girls Book 4), page 1
Table of Contents
About Bree Verity
Also by Bree Verity
Also from Bree Verity
About Bree Verity
Bree Verity grew up on a diet of tea and crumpets, dancing, Regency novels, old movies and musicals. It's no wonder she has ended up writing love stories.
She lives in Perth Western Australia with her teenage son, her long-suffering, patient and wonderful partner, and her two doggy writing buddies, Millie and Boofhead. She keeps it very quiet from them that she is equally a cat person.
She loves everything to do with time travel, will watch a dozen renovation shows in a row without having any desire whatsoever to renovate her own house, and has a very bad habit of binge watching her favorite shows so she is almost always in a TV drought. Luckily enough, she is an avid reader, not just of romance! She likes mystery, fantasy, paranormal (although she is just about fed up with shifters), soft sci-fi and the odd thriller. A book that twists and turns is always a winner.
If there was a way to directly infuse tea into the veins, she would sign up for it immediately.
Bree loves to hear from her readers and can be contacted on Facebook or Twitter.
Sign up for Bree’s newsletter at www.breeverity.com
Also by Bree Verity
Revolution and Regency
The Hidden Duchess
The Unwilling Smuggler
The Ruined Lady
The Scandalous Widow
The Perth Girls series
Sax in the Park
For Business and Pleasure
Troubled by the Texan
Under the Spotlight
A Bouquet of Love - anthology
All Wrapped Up – A Christmas anthology
To the theatre community in Perth Western Australia.
Thank you for my comfortable spaces.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2018 Briony Vreedenburgh
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book is licensed to the original purchased only. Duplication or distribution via any means in illegal and a violation of International Copyright law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this eBook can be shared or reproduced without the express permission of the publisher.
With a smile and a generous swipe of lip gloss, Penny Davis made her way down the concrete steps and across the foyer of the Stirling Theater. Reaching the front door, she yanked it open, and stepped inside.
A warm, welcome feeling surrounded her. The theater was her second home, a comfortable place full of comfortable things. It was somewhere she belonged - and really, those places were few and far between.
Her smile widened when she noticed her stage assistant Marc chatting to the director, Jane in front of the stage. Penny loved working with them both. They’d all done quite a few shows together, so as a team, they were well on the way to becoming a well-oiled machine. And personally, it was not difficult to share her backstage space with Marc.
She slowed her steps a little, so she would have time to appreciate him before he and Jane realized she was there. He wasn’t the classic tall, dark and handsome, since he was only a little bit taller than Penny’s own five foot eight, but his body was compact and muscular, with dark-toned skin that suggested a middle-eastern heritage. The muscles in his shoulders and arms filled out his ubiquitous black t-shirt amazingly well, as did his butt in his blue jeans.
Her ogling session was interrupted when Marc realized she was there. “Oh, hey Pen,” he said with a dazzling smile. Penny flushed. She hoped he hadn’t noticed exactly where her eyes had been.
“Hi,” replied Penny warmly, then turned to the director. “Hi Jane.”
“Hi Pen.” Jane was never without makeup, perfect nails and a bright pink streak in her white-blond hair. Still, she could wield a hammer or a paintbrush with the best of them, and she was one of the most talented directors Penny knew. “I’ve asked Marc if he could go on book today for me.”
“Sure, not a problem,” Penny replied. ‘On book’ meant that Marc would be reading the script as the actors acted it, feeding them lines when they forgot. And this early on in rehearsals, there were an awful lot of missed lines.
Penny was disappointed that Marc wouldn’t be backstage. He was fun and made some of the very long intervals between scenes fly past with his banter and teasing.
But deep down, Penny figured he was way out of her league. He must have a whole cadre of women lining up to date him - gorgeous, amazing women who never worried about what they were saying or how people were looking at them. And he would never be interested in such an introverted, anxious person as Penny.
“I’m getting a coffee before we start. Anyone want one?” Jane asked. Penny shook her head and Marc said, “No thanks, Jane,” as she went to the back of the auditorium where the kitchen was, leaving Marc and Penny alone.
“Sorry to leave you back there by yourself,” Marc said, but Penny shook her head with a smile.
“I can hold the fort for now. It’s more important to have a prompt out here than two of us backstage.”
“True,” agreed Marc. “But I’m sorrier for myself. I think I’ll have a much tougher job than you this afternoon.”
“It was scripts down only a week ago,” mused Penny, “which means yes, you’ll be prompting every second line.” She grinned at Marc, who grinned right back at her.
“It will be a bit quiet back there though,” she continued. “Especially during that long scene eight when everyone is on stage. Hope I don’t drop off to sleep, being back there on my own.”
Marc barked a laugh. “How good would that be? I can just imagine Chris and the girls all crowding back in, and there you are, mouth open, drooling…”
Penny swatted at him with a smile. “I would not be drooling.”
“Not that either.”
“You don’t snore?”
“No, I do not.”
“Who told you that?”
Penny hesitated. She hadn’t slept with anyone in a very long time. And she knew that Marc’s question wasn’t meant to be prying. But she immediately felt as if she needed to back away from the conversation, to put some distance between herself and Marc. “Nobody.” All the humor fell away from her face. “I have to go backstage.”
“Sure.” Penny was sure she saw a flash of concern in Marc’s dark blu
When she reached backstage, she stopped and leaned on the wall, her heart racing. She gently banged the back of her head on the wall. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she whispered to herself.
It was always like this. She tried hard to be friends with Marc, and with other guys, to let things take their natural course. But inevitably, she scuttled her own chances by backing away when things got even the tiniest bit more interesting.
She wasn’t even sure why she did it. She had a friendly, sociable personality, and a huge group of female friends. But as soon as she started to get even a little bit closer to a guy, something happened.
Penny didn’t want to think about why. The why was shut deep inside her mind, closed away so that she wouldn’t have to think about it, to feel anything about it.
But what Penny didn’t know was that the very thing she was trying to avoid was about to make itself very clearly felt.
And the effect on her life would be horrendous.
The following day, Penny stepped outside and quietly closed the door, conscious of the other four people sleeping inside the house. She breathed in the cool early morning air and stretched her hands together over her head, and then down behind her back, stretching through the front of her shoulders.
Legs next, stretching quads and lats and rotating her ankles before readjusting her ginger pony tail under her cap, turning on her iPhone music, and starting to run.
As always, she ran down her steep street, across the West Coast Highway and on to the boardwalk, where she could run in full view of the sparkling blue Perth coastline.
Penny wasn’t much of a swimmer, but just looking at the ocean, the power coursing through the waves and the tang of salt in the air invigorated her. She couldn’t think of a better way to start her day.
She ran down the highway, feeling a kind of community with the other runners doing the same as her - making use of the most amazing part of the day to exercise along the most stunning coast in the world.
You couldn’t always be looking at the water, or you could find yourself entangled in someone’s dog lead, or the spokes of their bike. Or, as had once embarrassingly happened to Penny, you could crash headlong into another runner, leaving you both so winded that neither of you had the breath to say sorry.
She still colored at that memory. The guy had gone purple in the face before he got his breath back, and Penny had wondered if she might have to call an ambulance. As it was, when his lungs started to work again, he walked her up to the Voyager Kitchen and they shared a delicious breakfast of pancakes and tea. He’d been nice. They actually went on a couple of dates, but it didn’t spark anything, and he just wandered away. Like all of them did, eventually.
Still, Penny hadn’t given up looking. And on the boardwalk this morning, she was impressed by the number of hot, tanned, male bodies she was passing. Perhaps a boat of sailors had come in from Fremantle, or an interstate football team was staying in the area. She certainly didn’t mind, either way. From under her cap, she could drool over them without them even knowing about it. Additional eye candy gave her yet another reason to enjoy her morning run.
She smiled and extended her stride a little. Even as a little kid, she had always run everywhere. It was no surprise to anyone that at fifteen she had found a job in a sports store, and that when she went to university, she did a degree in sports science and nutrition. Health had always been important to her.
Her steps faltered a little. Except for that one time. That one dark moment.
No Penny. Don’t think about that.
She slowed, reaching the halfway point of her run. Her heart was racing, but more from the memory than the running. She still remembered the pain, the bleeding, and the deep, deep sorrow. She still felt guilty. She leaned over, her breath coming in gasps. Thirteen years later, she still felt guilty. Her eyes flooded with scalding tears.
Stop it, Penny. You can’t do anything about the past.
But the memories would not be pushed away. They clamored for attention at the front of her mind, and she put her hands up to her head, as if to force them away. Voices and thoughts and fleeting physical reactions, faces and more faces, people she knew, people she didn’t know, people she would never know. Names and places and sensations and always guilt and pain…
“Are you alright?” Someone touched her arm, and Penny quickly turned her head toward the voice. A drawn brow and a kindly smile met her, and Penny forced herself to smile back through her tears and burning cheeks. “I just took the road a bit too fast, that’s all.” She stood up with another smile for the concerned woman. “Thank you for your concern.”
“Any time.” The woman’s face cleared and, throwing Penny a friendly wave, she continued on her way.
The smile fell from Penny’s face and she scolded herself for drawing attention.
She took a few deep breaths, then started the run back toward her house, emptying her mind, and filling it only with what was happening right now. Sun kissed bodies, the scents of salty air and sunscreen, and the rhythmic tap of people’s feet against the pavement. Her own feet slapping down, and her heart beat playing in her ears alongside her music. It all worked together to calm her, to center her. The peace and happiness she had momentarily lost came flooding back, and by the time she reached home, Penny had returned to her usual, smiling, contained self.
But it wouldn’t last.
Later that evening Penny was back at the theater. Rehearsals were Sunday, Monday and Thursday for around ten weeks before a show. In the wings of the theater, awaiting the cue to pull the curtain, Penny’s thoughts had wandered. She usually pulled herself up quickly when she did that - when you were backstage, it was too easy to be off in La La Land when you should be handing someone a prop or be on stage for a quick scenery change.
This time, the attack came on quickly. In the dark of the wings, Penny’s thoughts drifted back to the morning, to her run, and to the dark, sad memories that until now, she had safely kept tucked away, locked up in the back of her mind.
The memories overwhelmed her. Grief and shock and pain collided in her head and in her stomach. She felt the color drain from her face, and her pulse speed up. Her heart beat so hard in her chest she thought it would explode. She put her head between her legs, only to hear, “Curtain,” over the headset. But she couldn’t move.
“Penny! Curtain!” One of the actors hissed at her from near her on the wings. Her head snapped up and she nodded. Grasping the curtain wire, she closed the curtains before leaning against the wall, a cold sweat covering her body. She slid down to a sitting position.
What was happening? Was she sick or something? She felt a shaking, starting from inside her chest and radiating outward until she couldn’t hold her hands still. They trembled as her eyes filled with tears. She inhaled convulsively, trying desperately to hold it together, to keep anyone else from finding her and seeing her like this.
The backstage lights came up and Penny immediately dragged herself to her feet, wiping the tears from her face with the back of her hands.
“Hey.” Marc sauntered up to her, his usual friendly grin on his face. “I’ve set the props for Act Two, do we need to - are you alright?” He stared into her eyes from under his dark brows.
“Nothing. I’m okay.”
Marc’s piercing blue gaze bore into her. “No, you’re not. What’s wrong?”
Penny sighed, her embarrassment at being caught far outweighing her worries about her health. “I had some weird kind of chest pain or something, but I’m alright now.”
“Chest pain? That doesn’t sound good.”
Penny gave him a wry smile. “It’s okay,” she repeated. “Just some stress or something, I guess. I’m fine now.”
“No, you aren’t.” Mar
“Go and sit down and I’ll get you a cup of tea at least. You should go to the hospital if it’s chest pains.”
Penny shook her head in alarm. “No, I don’t need to go to hospital. But a cup of tea sounds good. Do you mind bringing it to me here? I’m not sure I could manage the greenroom right now.” She gave Marc a weak and pathetic smile. “And can you do me another favor?”
“Don’t tell anyone what happened.”
For a moment, Marc seemed to consider, then he winked. “I won’t tell a soul.” Realizing that he still held her hand, he dropped it with a smile, and went to get her tea.
Penny slid back to the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees and leaning her head back. The concrete wall was cool against her back. Closing her eyes, she squeezed them together, screwing her whole face up, then letting it go, to try to relax.
“Penny! I can’t find the handkerchief!”
She sighed. That was Cerise, the production’s leading lady, and a diva of the highest degree. Outside of the theater, Cerise was tolerable, if annoying. Inside, she was demanding, lofty and just plain unlikeable.
But she needed the handkerchief for a key scene in the second act. And it was Penny’s job to make sure she had it.
It was probably still on the props table, exactly where it was supposed to be.
With a long-suffering sigh, Penny hauled herself to her feet and, wiping her eyes again, heavily made her way to the greenroom.
Around her, the buzz of conversation was thick. With a cast of more than twenty squeezed into the tiny greenroom of the community theater, it was only to be expected, but the overwhelming noise gave Penny an instant headache.
Of course, Cerise didn’t notice Penny’s pain-etched face, nor her dried-up tears.
“See? It’s not there.” Cerise pointed theatrically at the props table. Penny forced herself to breathe. There was no need to let Cerise get under her skin. All Penny had to do was find the handkerchief, and Cerise would go away.
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