Daring Draftsman - Alexa Padgett

Chapter 1

Cassia

I rose on my tiptoes, searching for the familiar face in the crowd while doing my best to ignore the pain shooting up from my ankle to wrap around my knee. Someone in the crush of hot torsos bumped me, and I lost my balance. I clenched my jaw and exhaled a frustrated hiss between my teeth as I stumbled. I lowered down to my flat feet, still craning my neck, searching for my sister.

If my sister Amanda no-showed on me tonight I was never, and I mean never, giving her another chance.

“Hey, are you hurt again or something?” Amanda asked, appearing at my elbow. Her blond hair glinted in the light, framing her delicate features. Her makeup was simple and elegant, her dress cut low enough to show off some cleavage without being too revealing. And, as usual, Amanda had on a pair of stunning, sleek stilettos. My sister was always poised and put together—a skill I could only marvel at and aspire to.

“I’m fine.”

She held out one of the lemon drop martinis she was carrying. I took it with a murmured thanks.

“You’re grimacing. It makes you look constipated. You need to give that foot time to heal.”

I gripped the glass more tightly. “It won’t.”

“Won’t what?”

“Heal.” I drank deep. “Not properly, anyway.”

“Slow down. These drinks are strong. Come on. I have a table reserved.”

Of course she did. I scowled, annoyed that the restaurant she’d asked to meet at was actually a nightclub. At least the location was neutral ground—she’d acquiesced to my insistence on that. I’d worried if she’d come to Grammy’s house, I’d never get her to leave.

I trailed behind her, my aching foot forcing me to move without my typical ease. No doubt I looked like a tromping elephant. I felt like one, too, thanks to Amanda’s cute pixie-ness and…life. After my shattered bones, my shattered career and shattered dreams, I hadn’t spent more than eight hours pirouetting and leaping across the boards, and I was ten pounds heavier than I’d ever been.

Amanda seemed to have a sixth sense for when I was at my weakest; I never would have agreed to meet her if I hadn’t been so lonely and overwhelmed by my life’s rapid changes.

We settled into a booth tucked back in a corner, and I put my half-filled drink on the table in front of me.

Amanda placed her hand on the table, the other on top of the first, and studied me. “How are you doing, Cassia?”

She asked the question like she cared. “Well, I finished my rehab. As I mentioned, my foot didn’t heal. Nothing like turning twenty-eight and retiring at the pinnacle of my career.”

I dropped my attention back to my glass, unwilling to watch pity fill Amanda’s eyes. I detested pity. Envy, jealousy, even hate I could handle—had handled as the principal ballerina for two major companies over the course of my thirteen-year career.

But not pity.

And I’d seen way, way too much of it during the past few months.

“The doctor can’t put pins in it or something?”

I drew a line with my fingertip across the wood tabletop. “No pins. That would further reduce my agility.”

“There aren’t any weird experimental procedures? Like…kelp or 3D printed bones?”

My jaw hardened as I raised my head to meet my older sister’s stare. “No, Amanda. My career as a ballerina is over.”

She settled back against the booth. “Well, that sucks.”

I snorted.

“So, what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I officially moved into the house Grammy left me.” I didn’t add that I had to because Amanda had taken over the home—and bed—I’d shared with my ex-boyfriend. By the tightening of her lips, she surmised the reason all on her own.

“Grammy should have left half the house to me,” Amanda muttered, petulance on full display.

I ignored that comment and continued, “I start meeting with architects this week to review their bids for the studio.”

Her eyes widened. “Architects?”

“Yes. I can’t use the space as it is now. Plus, if I’m going to incorporate the dance camps I want to offer, I need to have wheelchair access.”

Amanda pursed her lips and something flashed in her eyes. “Why didn’t you ask me?”

I raised an eyebrow. “You were…busy.” Busy getting sued. Busy stealing my boyfriend.

Amanda huffed out a laugh. Even though it was sardonic, it tinkled and a couple of men looked over, checking her out. “He dumped me, you know.”

I licked my lips, unsure how to proceed. I downed another gulp of my drink, both enjoying and disliking how the