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Excerpt: In the Heat of the Spotlight

Aurelie led Luke into the music room at the front of the house, her heart thudding, her skin turning clammy. She felt dizzy with nerves, and silently she prayed that she wouldn’t pass out. The last thing she needed was Luke Bryant to think she’d OD’ed again.

She paused in front of the piano, half-regretting her suggestion already. No, not even half; totally. Why was she opening herself up to this? She didn’t need money. She didn’t need to sing in public again. She didn’t need any of this.

But she wanted it. She actually wanted to share something that was important to her, share it with this man never mind the public, even as it scared her near witless.

‘Aurelie?’

There was something about the way he said her name, so quietly, so gently, that made her ache deep inside. She swallowed, her face turned away from him. ‘It sounds better with guitar.’

‘Okay.’

She reached for her acoustic guitar, the one her grandmother had bought her just before she’d died. Don’t forget who you really are, Aurie. Don’t let them turn your head. And she had let them. She’d forgotten completely. Her fingers curled around the neck of the guitar and unable to look at Luke—afraid to see the expression on his face—she bent her head and busied herself with tuning the instrument. Needlessly, since she’d played it that afternoon.

After a few taut minutes she knew she couldn’t wait any longer. Yet she was terrified to play the song, terrified to have Luke reject it. Her. He’d let her down easily, because no matter what he said she knew he did feel sorry for her. But it would still hurt.

‘So has this song got some kind of long silent intro or what?’

She let out a little huff of laughter, glad he’d jolted her out of her ridiculous stage fright. ‘Patience.’ And taking a deep breath, she began. The first few melancholy chords seemed to flow through her, out into the room. And then she began to sing, not one of the belt-it-out numbers of her pop star days, but something low and intimate and tender. ‘Winter came so early, it caught me by surprise. I stand alone till the cold wind blows the tears into my eyes.’ She hesitated for a tiny second, trying to gauge Luke’s reaction, but the song seemed to take up all the space. ‘I turn my face into the wind and listen to the sound. Never give your heart away. It will only bring you down.’ And then she forgot about Luke, and just sang. The song took over everything.

Yet when the last chord died away and the room seemed to bristle with silence, she felt her heart thud again and she couldn’t look at him. Staring down at her guitar she idly picked a few strings. ‘It’s kind of a downer of a song, isn’t it,’ she said with an unsteady little laugh. ‘Probably not the best number to open a store with.’

‘That doesn’t matter.’ She couldn’t tell a thing from his tone, and she still couldn’t look at him. ‘Of course, if you had another one, maybe a bit more hopeful, you could sing that one too.’

Something leapt inside her, a mongrel beast of hope and fear. A dangerous animal. She looked up, saw him gazing at her steadily yet without any expression she could define. ‘I could?’

‘Yes.’

‘So…’ She swallowed. ‘What did you think? Of the song?’

‘I thought,’ Luke said quietly, with obvious and utter sincerity, ‘it was amazing.’

‘Oh.’ She looked back down at her guitar, felt tears sting her eyes and blinked hard to keep them back. Damn it, she was not going to cry in front of this man. Not now. Not ever. ‘Well… good.’ She kept her head lowered, and then she felt Luke shift. He’d been sitting across from her, but now he leaned forward, his knee almost nudging hers.

‘I can understand why you’re scared.’

Instinct kicked in. ‘I never actually said I was scared.’ And then she sniffed, loudly, which basically blew her cover.

‘You didn’t have to.’ He placed one hand on her knee, and she gazed down at it, large, brown, strong. Comforting. ‘That song is very personal.’

Which is why she felt so… naked right now, every protective layer peeled away. She swallowed, stared at his hand, mesmerised by the long, lean fingers curled unconsciously around her knee. ‘It’s just a song.’

‘Is it?’

And then she looked up at him, and knew she was in trouble. He was gazing at her with such gentle understanding, such tender compassion, that she felt completely exposed and accepted at the same time. It was such a weird feeling, such an overwhelming feeling, that it was almost painful. She swallowed. ‘Luke…’ Her voice came out husky, and she saw his pupils flare. Felt the very air tauten. This tender moment was turning into something else, something Aurelie knew and understood.

Excerpt From: IN THE HEAT OF THE SPOTLIGHT by Kate Hewitt
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Hewitt
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. All rights reserved.

January 2008