Dancing in the Dark

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Chapter 2



|STELLA|

In the past, I had to constantly remind myself that what I was doing was worth the price I was paying. To sell my soul for the security of the ones I loved. I would do it over and over again, without hesitating.

When I looked at my grandfather, now so frail and nearly swallowed up by the blankets in the hospital bed, I knew that I’d go into the arms of any danger if it kept him with me for one more day. He was all I had left for family.

Now I was halfway through my contract with Viktor, and it had become the easiest sacrifice I ever made. The money to support Papa’s medical bills was a godsend. Even if I still owed several thousand, it had helped more than Viktor would ever know.

I knew my decisions would always haunt me, but when I thought of what they gave me, it was easier to live with. This was the best hospital in the entire city and without a doubt they were the reason my grandfather made it as long as he has.

“Papa, what am I supposed to do?” He was asleep, but it still made me feel better to talk to him. To open up in his presence and help ease the burden on my heart. “I’m in love with him, and it’s not even real. None of it’s real.”

I buried my head in my arms at the foot of the hospital bed. Wishing he was awake, or that I could tell Papa the truth about my life. How could I do that to him? It would break his heart if he knew what I was doing to pay his bills.

A live-in fuck toy, I thought to myself. Remembering what Luke, the theater choreographer, had called me, made me sick to my stomach. Though he was right. That’s all I was.

Like an idiot, I had fallen in love with my owner while knowing it was all fake from the beginning. He did well enough to remind me of that last night before Annika showed up.

“Then why am I here?” I had asked.

I heard the second part of his response echoing through my head all night and this morning on my way to the hospital. “It would be a waste of money for me if you were recovering in your tiny apartment across the city.”

A waste of money. Nothing about how he might genuinely want me there just because he enjoyed my company. No, he’s getting his money’s worth out of me.

Although he wasn’t fucking me day and night anymore, he still wanted his pretty little possession on his arm. It felt like the equivalent of wearing an expensive watch even when it stopped working.

Viktor and I have only been intimate twice since the accident. While he was doing his best not to touch me and let me recover, I could admit that I was one who initiated those nights. To be honest, it didn’t take much to get Viktor riled up. All it took was rubbing against him in the right way while we were in bed, and moments later, he was slipping inside of me and filling me in the ways I wanted.

Slow and sensual, touching and moving in the dark. Viktor was being careful with me in my recovery, but I could sense his strain in refraining from what he truly desired. Just as he had refrained last night before we were interrupted.

Viktor was a rough and dominating man who took what he wanted and when he wanted it. But, for my sake, he was now holding back.

How was I supposed to not love him?

He looked at me like I was the only star in the sky. However, I knew once the contract ended, my light would fade, and Viktor would be on to the next. Pushed to the side just like his assistant when she lost her usefulness, and our contract came along.

What would have happened to the woman, Samara, if Viktor had never laid eyes on me? Would their working relationship have become something more?

I didn’t know where she was now, or what Viktor had done, but I felt bad for her. It ruined me that she pushed me down those stairs and took me away from the ballet, but I couldn’t stop myself from pitying her.

Samara had obviously been in love with Viktor too, and he left a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Only when I was alone in this silence as my grandfather slept could I shed my tears, knowing that I was going to be the next broken heart.

Funnily enough, I worried about how Annika would feel when the contract ended, and Viktor and I went our separate ways. I was truly loving her and genuinely enjoyed those days she came to visit me. It was nice to feel like I was a part of a family, but it also hurt to think of them like that.

They weren’t my family, and I’d never see them again after the next six weeks. Looking up at my grandfather’s sleeping face, I reminded myself that this was my family, my only family, and I would do what needed to be done for him.

After my morning visit with Papa, I went to see the doctor about my ankle. Originally, they thought it was worse than it was. There was something to be said about my balance if I could save myself from a worse fate while falling down a flight of marble stairs.

Had it hurt? Terribly. But I was alive and insanely lucky to be recovering so quickly. I wasn’t sore anymore save for a slight twinge in my ankle when I walked. Nothing I couldn’t push myself through. I’d had worse pains just from weeks of practice and I didn’t stop then.

My goal was always to be on stage with the ballet. Undeterred by my feelings and turmoil surrounding Viktor, I had the comfort of knowing that the ballet would be there for me in the end. Ricky and the other dancers would be there.

As soon as I thought about Ricky while walking out of the medical center, my phone vibrated in the black clutch on my arm. One item Viktor had bought to spoil me, and I tried not to think about it.

“Hey,” I answered the phone, stopping on the sidewalk and watching cars zip past me. The scent of the city filled my nose, and a light breeze rustled the leaves of the trees.

“Are we still meeting for lunch?” Ricky chirped through the phone. “You haven’t let me see you since your fall, so you better not cancel on me!”

I didn’t need the reminder. Since my contract with Viktor was a secret, I couldn’t let anyone find me at his home. Perhaps we could have come up with some cover-up story or excuse, but after my fall, I simply didn’t have the energy to pretend.

“I won’t, Ricky. I’m out right now. I’ll meet you there in ten minutes!” Antonio pulled up in the black Cadillac just as I clicked off the phone.

Viktor’s driver, Antonio, popped out of the car and opened the back door for me before I got a greeting out. He always moved so fast; it mirrored his driving skills. Probably one reason Viktor kept him around.

“How was your appointment, Stella?” His smiles were always genuine and warm. It forced you to smile back. “Going to the hospital and the doctor’s office on the same day is a lot. I hope you’re alright.”

Lying to Antonio felt bad, but I didn’t want him getting back to Viktor why I was really at the hospital. Despite my feelings for Viktor, I would keep this close to my heart to protect myself. He simply didn’t need to know.

“I’m fine, Antonio. Thanks for asking. They just wanted to do some scans to check up on my recovery progress. Nothing to worry about.” Gnawed on my bottom lip as the car pulled into the street.

“Good to hear!” He looked at me through the rearview mirror. “So, is it back to the house?”

“Um, actually, I’m meeting a friend for lunch. Do you mind taking me?” Antonio had been driving me around for the past two weeks any time I had an appointment to make, and I still felt strange having a personal driver after years of walking.

“Of course! Viktor would have my head if he found out I let you walk with your ankle still braced up. What’s the location?”

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want that.” I chuckled, then gave Antonio the name of the bistro I was meeting Ricky at. We fell into idle chatter as we rode through the bustling city. Watching the massive skyscrapers pass and the civilians of the city crowding the sidewalks and going about their days, I let my mind wander.

As the black car pulled up to the curb in front of the restaurant, I saw Ricky standing under the red and white striped awning over the bistro’s window. He was looking at his phone and didn’t notice when I got out of the Cadillac and approached him. Knowing Antonio, he was going to stay parked nearby to offer me a ride back to Viktor’s place when I was done here.

Seeing that Ricky was engrossed his phone and not his surroundings, it wasn’t hard to sneak up on him. Leaning in as close to his ear as I could without touching him, I whispered, “Waiting for someone?”

“Ah!” Ricky squealed and jumped around, nearly dropping his phone. If not for his quick reflexes, he might have. “Stella! How dare you!”

Seeing Ricky grasp at the front of his shirt, breathing hard after the scare, made me laugh for the first time all day. Genuine laughter that came up from the pit of your stomach and made you feel lighter as it left your lips.

“Oh, Ricky, it’s so good to see you.” Ignoring his pretend glare, I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him in for a tight hug. He huffed, but a second later, was embracing me in return.

“I’ve hated not seeing you, girl. Gosh, there’s so much to talk about. Come on, let’s get off the street.” He wrapped his hand over mine and tugged me through the bistro front door. A bell over the door chimed, and I was hit by the scent of spiced meats and fresh bread.

We placed our orders, sharing giggles and starting our catch-up with little snippets of small talk. The weather, the local news and how we were feeling.

There was no escaping the tension in Ricky’s stare when we finally settled at a booth in the back corner. No matter how hungry I was, I wound up picking at the bread of my sandwich as Ricky stared holes through me. I could feel his burning questions coming.

“So, where have you been?” There it was. His piercing eyes locked me down and I couldn’t look away from my friend’s worried expression.

“I love you, Ricky, but I can’t really go into detail right now.” A heavy exhale pushed from my lips and my shoulders sagged. “I’ve been staying with someone while I recover and he’s very private.”

“He?” Ricky’s brows shot up and he leaned forward. Reaching across the table, he grabbed my forearm and gingerly squeezed. “A boyfriend?”

“God, no,” I scoffed, rolling my eyes. I took Ricky’s hand on my arm and twined my fingers with his. “He’s just helping me out right now. If it was anything serious, I would tell you.”

“Alright, I’ll believe you for now, but I kind of don’t.” He clicked his teeth and rolled his head. “I just really wanted to see you after we found out you fell at that event. It was such a huge freaking deal. I was so worried about you. And when I told Devin he got all weepy and wanted to bring you flowers, but you told us no!”

“I’m fine, my ankle is almost better already.” Then I rubbed my free hand through my hair and looked out the glass window. The sky was darkening as heavy clouds pregnant with rain rolled over the city. It would storm by the end of the day.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t see you sooner and apologize to Devin for me, too. I won’t be staying with my, uh, friend, for too much longer. It was just with my ankle and the mild concussion I was advised not to be alone.” All this lying was making me feel icky.

“I get it, babes, I really do. I’ve just missed you. And like, they gave your spot to Bethany!” Hearing him tell me that made me cringe. “Her cloven hooves have been stepping all over my delicate toes for two weeks now, Stella!”

It was hard not to laugh at the pitiful pout Ricky was flashing. I imagined that pout got him anything he wanted when it was directed at Devin.

“Your poor toes,” I teased. “We’ll have to get you some new toes by the time I’m back in the studio. Maybe new feet altogether!”

“It better be sooner than later or I’ll be laid up right alongside you.” He let go of my hand to cross his arms over his chest. Leaning back against the worn red booth, Ricky’s eyes scanned the storm clouds rolling in and his lip curled in disgust.

“Two more weeks and then I’m back in the studio. I have an entire list of ankle exercises I have to do daily. So, I’m working on it.” There weren’t any words for how badly I missed it, but Ricky would know how I felt.

“That’s good to hear, and I’m so glad you’re alright. That must have been scary. Having someone push you down a flight of stairs like that.” His face fell, and he skirted his fingers along the edge of the table. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“It was an accident,” I lied again. “There was an open bar, and the drinks were poured with a heavy hand. Just a stupid mistake.”

But I wasn’t thinking about being pushed down those stairs. Instead, my mind went to those moments in the dark alcove with Viktor and the clamps he made me wear under my dress. It was the wrong time to have those thoughts, but I was pushing my knees together under the table, regardless.

“That’s still terrible. We’re too close to the end of the season to lose the Prima like this. At least you’ll be back in time for the last show, and you’ll be better than ever!” Ricky squirmed in his seat, too full of excitement to contain himself.

“Well, I wouldn’t miss the last show for the end of the world. Nothing will keep me from being on stage that night.” That was a promise I was making to myself, and one I was determined to keep.

“Love hearing that,” Ricky picked at the bread on his sandwich, “because, honestly, we need Stella Sokolov in the lead role. With the critics and sponsors that will be there, it would hurt us if Bethany was the Odette clomping across the stage.”

“Leave poor Bethany alone! She’s my understudy for a reason. She’s earned it. Let her have the center stage for a few weeks.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love her to bits. But there will never be another Swan Queen for me, and there will never be another Prima in this city quite like Stella Sokolov.” Both of his hands swept across the table and took mine. I jerked at the sudden movement and serious change in Ricky’s tone. “Promise me that you’re okay? Not as your fellow dancer, but as your friend.”

“Of course, Ricky,” I breathed out, feeling the steady drum of my heartbeat. “I’ll always be okay.”

No matter what happened at the end of the next six weeks, I would be okay. I had to be, because Ricky was right. The Ballet needed me, and I needed it. Dancing was what I worked hard for my entire life, and a broken heart wouldn’t take that away from me.




~~~


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