Night Child

By: Ann Major

Prologue


The sky was flat gray, the washed-out color of old zinc. The trees were bare and dead looking; the windows shut against the cold. It was a day like any other of the season, a day without the slightest warning that the familiar pattern of her life was about to change, abruptly, completely, irrevocably, forever.

Dawn Hayden's toe shoes banged against oak flooring.

She wore a white leotard and tights. A gold medallion in the shape of a tiny sun flashed at her throat. It was the only piece of jewelry she ever wore. Where it had come from, who might have given it to her, she did not know. She only knew that of all the things she possessed, the necklace was the most precious. She never took it off—even when she performed. Lincoln had objected at first, but even he now regarded it as some sort of talisman, some secret ingredient in the formula of her phenomenal success.

A cold northern light filled the studio and blazed from the cool glass mirrors. Dawn's long black hair was down, soft and caressing against her exquisite neck. She was dancing alone to the crashing discord of rippling piano notes, her shapely legs whirling in a series of endless turns. Other girls in layers of sweaters and leg warmers were lined against the wall, watching her in a state of breathless awe.

No one in the company danced as Dawn danced. No one was like her. No one worked as hard, sacrificed as much for her art. In the studio she worked until she dropped. On stage she was an electric presence. The night before when she had danced Ondine, she'd received numerous curtain calls. Her dressing room had been packed with telegrams and flowers.

Dawn Hayden was Lincoln Wilde's darling.

There was magic in her dancing. When she danced, one had the feeling in the pit of one's stomach that something momentous was happening. Even during rehearsals.

But not a single one of the girls envied her.

Because she had no life, none at all, outside the theater.

"Miss Hayden is the ice princess of dance," one critic had exclaimed, and the label had stuck.

The studio door slammed, and the piano music faltered and then stopped abruptly as a tall golden man in a black turtleneck and slacks strode inside the huge studio and propped himself onto a stool dead center. All the girls sat up a little straighter and cast smiles in Lincoln Wilde's direction, hoping to catch his attention. But he frowned, cocked his head back, crossed his legs and watched Dawn.

Dawn stopped dancing and glared at him for a long moment. Then she limped toward him on her bad ankle.

"So," Lincoln murmured, "the rumors are true. You've gone behind my back and learned my new ballet when I told you I would never give it to you. Who taught you those steps?"

Blazing dark eyes met his, and as always he was struck by her intense charisma. She was a small woman, her bone structure as fragile and delicate as a bird's, and yet she was a creature of infinite grace and loveliness. A power in his theater, on stage and off. She was white skinned, black haired, long necked. Not so different from the other ballerinas and yet completely different. When she danced, she was incomparable. Lincoln had lived his adult life surrounded by beautiful young women, all vying for his favor, but even he had been irresistibly drawn to her ever since she'd come to his ballet school as a lonely child on a scholarship and had thrown herself into ballet with such energy.

She was perspiring, and she whipped the heavy mass of her hair forward over her shoulder and let it tumble loosely over her gently heaving bosom to her waist.

"I watched you showing Marguerite," she said, leaning down and picking up a white sweatshirt.

"You waste your time, and your time belongs to me. You should have been rehearsing for the gala."

One of the girls along the wall hiccuped. There were nervous giggles. These battles between the artistic director and his ballerina were common. With an impatient gesture of his hand Lincoln dismissed the other girls, and they quickly fled. The pianist grabbed her sheet music and scurried after them.

"They scare so easily," Dawn murmured dryly, yanking her sweatshirt over her head.

"And you constantly rebel," he whispered fiercely. "You do so in front of the others to incite them, I think."

She lifted her chin. Her hand touched her necklace and then fell away. "You constantly hold me back."

"Because I, not you, am the artistic director here. I know what you can do better than you do."

"I'm not a child any longer. I can't accept that."

"You never come to my class."

She would not look at him. "I have found my own teacher."

"That broken-down Russian windbag, Princess Sonya. She hasn't danced a leading role in twenty years."

"Sonya was the greatest dancer who ever lived."

"She was only on top for six years."

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