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Branded Sanctuary, Page 4

Joey W. Hill

Page 4


  I have them grin, really wide. Scream. Screw up their faces tight and release them after thirty seconds. There are so many muscles in the face that give away expression. You have to exaggerate them for the stage, but it helps to know how to do it minutely as well, if you plan to act for film.

  Chloe scrunched up her face, held it, and released. Wow. Its like doing yoga or isometrics for your face.

  Try a big, exaggerated clown smile, take it down to a quick smile, then a faint one, as if youre not really happy, but youre going through the motions. Then back to the big one again.

  Okay She laughed. Its hard. You have to concentrate. Like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach.

  Youre training your muscles to respond on command, versus instinct. Once you get that down, you go back to instinct, only instead of responding to emotional stimulus, youre cued by lines, the tone of the scene.

  I bet your female students imagine you naked when you talk like this. I get the perk of knowing you are.

  Youre not focusing, he said in mock offense.

  Ooh, a stern tone. A nd I am too. This is really interesting.

  A s interesting as getting to blow a ferry captains foghorn?

  She laughed outright but snuggled into the blankets, folding her arms across herself like a bat, scooching St. Frances down lower into the cradle of her lap. For your information, I didnt blow his foghorn. Or anything else. It was one of those casual dates that turned into friendship.

  He must have been blind, or stupid. Not saying that being your friend wouldnt be great, but if a man could have more, hed be crazy not to go for it.

  Maybe he discovered I was too crazy. She sobered. You know what you said, the faint smile, going through the motions? Ive been doing that for awhile. Sometimes Ive wondered, if I do the fake smiles long enough, will it become like you said, an instinctive learned response, but nothing I really feel?

  Youve been real with me tonight. You havent forgotten how to feel.

  How do you know?

  Because some people are great actors. Youre not, Chloe. Youre as genuine and without artifice as they come. What you feel, its in your voice.

  A nd you can feel and be whatever you want to be with me, he added.

  Charmer. Youre just hoping to get lucky.

  I got lucky the moment you dialed my number. Want to do another exercise? This one I call WPS. It helps the beginners get over self-consciousness.

  Im afraid to ask what WPS means.

  Worst Possible Song. Basically, I come up with a song for you to sing to me, the one youd least likely pick for yourself, because it wouldnt fit your voice or comfort zone. Of course, I usually have a karaoke machine to help them with the words. For our purposes, Ill pick something familiar.

  You can sing what you remember and improvise the rest. Learning to think on your feet, in front of an audience, is also important.

  I honestly cant believe youre on the other side of this phone, sounding so teacherly. Not wearing a stitch. Its really turning me on.

  His laugh made her grin, an expression so out of practice, instinctive or deliberate, it was a real surprise to feel it stretching her face. Focus, he repeated, even more sternly. Youre already a problem student.

  Thats what my teachers said. I just learned faster than everyone else and got bored.

  Sounds like a challenge to me. Lucille, by Kenny Rogers.

  Oh my God, I love that song. I dated a guy who was a roadie for him on his nostalgia tour a few years back. There was this seventy-year-old woman up front and, no kidding, she threw her panties at him.

  Your roadie or Kenny Rogers?

  Kenny Rogers, jerk. But Stan had to retrieve the panties so nobody slipped on them. He was a sweetheart. He made a point to get them back to her after the concert. Told her that, while Kenny appreciated the gesture, he thought some lucky guy probably couldnt wait to see her in those crotchless purple mesh panties.

  You made that up.

  Truth is always stranger than fiction. A re you really going to make me sing Lucille?

  Id never make you do anything.

  But youll think Im a chicken.

  Le petit poulet. A lready do, remember?

  Will you say something else in French? Or Italian? Can you do an A ussie accent?

  You give me a song, love, Ill do anything you want.

  A shiver ran up her spine at the broad tone that brought to mind Heath Ledger. A ll right, here goes. But you really do have a masochistic bent.

  Thats sadistic, love. A masochist craves pain. A sadist gives it. Though thats a brush with too broad a stroke, to my way of thinking. Start singing, pretty sheila.

  I have an A ustralian friend who says that words old-fashioned now. Chloe rolled over on her back, guiding her fingers through her headboard and holding there as she stared at her ceiling. I wish it wasnt. Dont talk that way anymore, though. I like your voice, just as it is.

  A nything you want, he said softly. Will you sing for me, Chloe?

  Closing her eyes, she hummed a few bars, taking a moment to collect her thoughts before starting the first stanza. A man seeing a woman in a smoky bar, thinking he was going to get lucky, never realizing hed stepped into a tragedy of love lost.

  When she was done, Brendan was quiet. I like your voice, he said. Nice and off tune, pretty and feminine. I cant believe you knew every word.

  You sang it like you felt it, no self-consciousness at all. Youd be great in my class.

  The sincere compliment was a small thing, but it was an accomplishment. Giving her a feeling she hadnt had in awhilethat she had something worthwhile to offer. She wanted to push away the morbid thought, and the emotions that crowded in behind it, but the refrain of the song haunted her mind. Why did you leave me?

  Brendan, would you do something for me?

  A nything.

  A re you really still naked?


  Good. Can you put your hand on your heart?

  A space of time, then: Its there now.

  Can you count out the beats? Theres this theory, that when two people focus on the rhythm of their hearts, it synchronizes them. Brings the beats together.

  One beat. Two beats. Three beats Is your hand on your heart too?

  Yes, she answered, closing her eyes. She whispered the cadence, and though hers leaped when she realized it was working, it settled back down, slowly aligning with his verbal count. She began to speak aloud with him, in unison. One beat, two beats He was with her. It felt like that thump against her hand was the true beat of his heart. Relaxing her head against the pillow again, she let her other hand drift down between her legs, finding the matching pulse there, holding her hand cupped over her still moist sex. The need to sleep that had been waiting behind the door of her nightmares was rising, a warm, relentless force, pulling her into its embrace.

  Im getting sleepy, Brendan. But I dont want to go.

  Sleep, Chloe. Im here. We can play later.

  Good, she murmured. I can think of some really terrible girly songs for you to sing. Like a Virgin, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Now whos the sadist? Sleep, sweet girl. Just sleep.

  Hero, by Enrique Iglesias. Sing that to me. Do you know the song, the words?

  I know it. Close your eyes. Im curled up behind you, holding you. Nothing will bother you any more tonight. Im here.

  Dont forget the sappy whispered part at the beginning.

  He hummed a few bars first, just as shed done. When he made the soft plea to be her hero in that sexy whisper, he did it perfectly, not silly or awkward at all. She bet he was the best drama teacher ever. He began the ballad, taking her toward dreams, a slow spiral, no darkness. A s candlelight guided her way, the shadows were a comforting cloak from reality, rather than its deceptive camouflage.

  Believing he would keep her safe, she slept.

  Chapter Three

bsp; Chloe rubbed at her eyes blearily and checked again to be sure she had her embroidered Tinkerbell knapsack, the bag she carried as a purse.

  Yep, still on her shoulder. Same place as when shed checked two minutes ago. She hoped her license was in there. Shed mislaid her keys twice in her stumbling morning departure ritual.

  She was already running late for Tampa traffic. Technically Marguerite and Gen had opening responsibility today, but the pre-work crowd could be demanding. She liked to be there to help. Plus, once shed awakened again at 6 a. m. , a scant ninety minutes after shed hung up with Brendan, she hadnt been able to get back to sleep.

  Stepping out the door, she pulled it closed and gave St. Frances a fingers-to-the-glass kiss. The cat, sitting in his side window shelf seat, gave her an indifferent look, which normally would have made her smile. Suppressing a sigh, she turned, and found herself confronted by something far more reassuring and unsettling at once.

  Brendan, in her driveway, leaning against the door of a silver Jeep. Mortification warred with the indefinable, though she wanted it to be pleasure.

  He lookedwell, there was nothing a girl could do but stop and take a long, thorough look. Which required the indulgence of other senses because of course they were like jealous siblings. If the eyes got a look, the lips wanted a taste, and then the nose wanted a deep, long drag of that nice male musk. A t the wedding, itd been threaded with the fragrance of the lavender sprig in his tux lapel. Shed been bathing in lavender lately, and the idea of it, a bath with lavender and Brendan spicing the waters How could anything be better than that?

  Those direct hazel eyes met hers, a gray-green-brown color she imagined would grace Fae wings to help the creatures blend into the forest.

  Silken black brows and straight-out-of-a-teen-heartthrob-magazine hair. It had the casually styled multi-layered look, and his jaw was clean-shaven.

  A t the wedding, Gen had remarked, albeit in a low tone, that his hygiene and fashion confidence were stereotyped gay male, icing on a solid, dense cake of hetero sexual preference. The best of both worlds.

  Maybe he was Italian. A pretty Italian mommas boy without the mommas boy part.

  She was babbling in her own head. Not a good sign. A s he straightened from the Jeep, walked toward her with a loose-limbed stride, the relaxed athlete, she had to remind herself to breathe. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her.

  Months ago, she would have blithely skipped down the steps, wrapped her arms and legs around him and given him an enthusiastic kiss. She was painfully aware of that. She also would have had a hundred things to say by now, but the images of last night crowded in, the uncertainty of where that left them today, and she couldnt think.