When the music stops, the dance begins.
Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep into the woods, the school is overseen by the mysterious and handsome young Master who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate – and in the only life Penny has never known.
But when flashes of memories, memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading, start to appear, Penny begins to question the Grand Teatro and the motivations of the Master. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules that dictate every step she takes. But at every turn, the Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must find a way to escape the school and uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.
“You’re on.” Maria shoved Penny out from behind the curtain.
Trying to pull her fingers from her temples, Penny pirouetted to center stage.
“Smile,” Madame sang out in a patronizing voice.
Penny ignored her. If she made it through the routine without her head exploding, it would be a miracle. She wasn’t about to force her lips into a grin.
The doors to the room were suddenly thrown open. The piano stopped midnote, and Madame startled upright. The girls bounded out from the wings and everyone scurried forward. In unison they all dropped into a curtsy. Even Madame.
Penny and Ana were the only ones left standing upright, but at least Ana realized her mistake and dipped down, a second behind the rest. Penny glanced around, her forehead creased in confusion, and wondered if someone had forgotten to tell her the rules to a game. Then her gaze slipped to the door and settled on the figure standing there.
His presence seemed to fill every inch of the doorway. He was still dressed in traveling clothes, black pants and a velvet-lined jacket cut trim to his figure. His dark hair was slicked back, the skin above his sharp cheekbones was pricked red by the cold, and his emerald eyes were narrowed in her direction.
As if she’d done something wrong.
Like not curtsy.
She gulped and dropped her chin. Her bodice felt tight, and her pulse seemed to hum.
Master made Penny nervous, set her on edge. He was extraordinarily dashing but guarded, his thick lips set in a straight line while his eyes took in everything. And his voice . . . “Good afternoon, girls.” The words were low and smooth as silk. “How have you all been faring?”
It was as if he’d released some hold on them. They leapt from their curtsies to crowd around him, talking over one another in their haste to welcome him home and express dismay that he’d been gone so long. Sara hung on the outer edge, but she was still there, waiting patiently for a turn.
“We’ve missed you so,” Bianca lamented. The whine pierced Penny’s ears. She folded her legs beneath her to sit at the edge of the stage. Her headache still prickled at the edges, like it needed only the slightest motivation to flare into agony again.
Even though Master seemed to acknowledge each girl, answering questions and complimenting them on what he knew was going to be an amazing performance, his gaze never left Penny. He finally excused himself and walked over. His hand cupped her chin, a gesture familiar yet unsettling. “You look unwell,
“I’m fine, sir.” She croaked out the words.
“Are you upset about anything?”
She shook her head.
“Perhaps feeling a little restless?”
Her jaw tightened and she shook her head even faster. It was as if he could read her mind. But that wasn’t possible.
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