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Authors: Nora Roberts

Dance to the Piper

BOOK: Dance to the Piper
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Dance to the Piper
Nora Roberts
O'Hurleys - book 2


Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve



During the break between lunch and cocktails, the club was empty. The floors were scarred but clean enough, and the paint on the walls was only a little dull from fighting with cigarette smoke. There was the scent intrinsic to such places—old liquor and stale perfume mixed with coffee that was no longer fresh. To a certain type of person it was as much home as a cozy fire and plump cushions. The O'Hurleys made their home wherever audiences gathered.

When the after-dinner crowd strolled in, the lights would be dimmed, and it wouldn't look so grimy. Now, strong sunlight shone through the two small windows and lighted the dust and dents mercilessly. The mirror in back of a bar lined with bottles spread some of the light around but reflected mostly on the small stage in the center of the room. "That's my girl, Abby, put a nice smile on." Frank O'Hurley took his five-year-old triplets through the short dance routine he wanted to add to the show that night, demonstrating the prissy moves with his wiry body. They were playing a family hotel at a nice, reasonably priced resort in the Poconos. He figured the audience would have a soft spot for three little girls.

"I wish you'd time your brainstorms better, Frank." His wife, Molly, sat at a corner table, hurriedly sewing bows on the white dresses her daughters would wear in a few hours. "I'm not a bloody seamstress, you know."

"You're a trouper, Molly my love, and the best thing that ever happened to Frank O'Hurley."

"There's nothing truer than that," she muttered, but smiled to herself.

"All right, my darlings, let's try it again." He smiled at the three little angels God had blessed him with in one fell swoop. If the Lord saw fit to present him with three babies for the price of one, Frank figured the Lord was entitled to a sense of humor.

Chantel was already a beauty, with a round cherub's face and dark blue eyes. He winked at her, knowing she was more interested in the bows on the dress she'd wear than in the routine. Abby was all amiability. She'd dance because her pop wanted her to and because it would be fun to be onstage with her sisters. Frank urged her to smile again and demonstrated the curtsy he wanted.

Maddy, with an elfin face and hair already hinting toward red, mimicked his move perfectly, her eyes never leaving his. Frank felt his heart swell with love for the three of them. He laid his hand on his son's shoulder.

"Give us a two-bar intro, Trace, my boy. A snappy one."

Trace obligingly ran his fingers over the keys. It was Frank's regret he couldn't afford lessons for the boy. What Trace knew of playing he'd learned from watching and listening. Music rang out, jumpy and bright.

"How's that, Pop?"

"You're a pistol." Frank rubbed a hand over Trace's head. "Okay, girls, let's take it from the top."

He worked them another fifteen minutes, patiently, making them giggle at their mistakes. The five-minute routine would be far from perfect, but he was shrewd enough to recognize the charm of it. They'd expand the act bit by bit as they went on. It was the off-season at the resort now, but if they made a bit of a mark they'd secure a return engagement. Life for Frank was made up of gigs and return engagements. He saw no reason his family shouldn't be of the same mind.

Still, the minute he saw Chantel losing interest he broke off, knowing her sisters wouldn't be far behind.

"Wonderful." He bent to give each of them a smacking kiss, as generous with affection as he'd have liked to be with money. "We're going to knock them dead."

"Is our name going on the poster?" Chantel demanded, and Frank roared with delighted laughter.

"Want billing, do you, my little pigeon? Hear that, Molly?"

"Doesn't surprise me." She set down her sewing to rest her fingers.

"Tell you what, Chantel, you get billing when you can do this." He started a slow, deceptively simple tap routine, holding a hand out to his wife. Smiling, Molly rose to join him. A dozen years of dancing together had them moving in unison from the first step.

Abby slid onto the piano bench beside Trace and watched. He began to improvise a silly little tune that made Abby smile.

"Chantel's going to practice till she can do it," he murmured.

Abby smiled up at him. "Then we'll all get our names on the poster."

"I can show you how," he whispered, listening to his parents' feet strike the wooden stage.

"Will you show us all how?"

As an old man of ten, Trace was amused by the way his little sisters stuck together. He'd have gotten the same response from any of them. "I just might."

Content, she settled back against his shoulder. Her parents were laughing, enjoying the exertion, the rhythm. It seemed to Abby that her parents were always laughing. Even when her mother got that cross look on her face, Pop would make her laugh. Chantel was watching, her eyes narrowed, experimenting a bit but not quite catching the movements. She'd get mad, Abby knew. But when she got mad, she made sure she got what she wanted.

"I want to do it," Maddy said from the corner of the stage.

Frank laughed. With his arms around Molly's waist, the two of them circled the stage, feet tapping, sliding, shuffling. "Do you now, little turnip?"

do it," she told him, and with a stubborn look on her face she began to tap her feet—heel, toe, toe, heel—until she was moving center stage.

Caught off balance, Frank stopped on a dime, and Molly bumped heavily into him. "Look at that, will you, Molly."

Pushing her hair out of her eyes, Molly watched her youngest daughter struggling to capture the basics of their tap routine. And she was doing it. She felt a mixture of pride and regret only a mother would understand. "Looks like we'll be buying another set of taps, Frank."

"That it does." Frank felt twice the pride and none of the regret. He released his wife to concentrate on his daughter. "No, try this now." He took the moves slowly. Hop, shuffle, stamp. Brush, step, brush, step, and step to the side. He took Maddy's hand and, careful to keep his steps small to match hers, moved again. She moved right with him.

"Now this." His excitement growing, he looked at his son. "Give me a downbeat. Listen to the count, Maddy. One and two and three and four. Tap. No body weight here. Toe stab front, then back. Now a riff." Again he demonstrated, and again she imitated the steps.

"We'll put it all together now and end with a step slide, arms like this, see?" He brought his arms out to the side in a sharp, glitzy move, then winked at her. "You're going to sell it."

"Sell it," she repeated, frowning in concentration.

"Give us the count, Trace." Frank took her hand again, feeling the pleasure build as she moved in unison with him. "We've got ourselves a dancer here, Molly!" Frank hefted Maddy into his arms and let her fly. She squealed, not because she feared he wouldn't catch her but because she knew he would.

The sensation of dropping through the air was every bit as thrilling as the dance itself had been. She wanted more.

Chapter One


Five, six, seven, eight!

Twenty-four feet hit the wooden floor in unison. The echo was wonderful. Twelve bodies twisted, swooped and plunged as one. Mirrors threw their images right back at them. Arms flowed out on signal, legs lifted, heads tilted, turned, then fell back.

Sweat rolled. And the scent was the theater.

The piano banged out notes, and the melody swelled in the old rehearsal hall. Music had echoed there before, feet had responded, heartbeats had raced and muscles had ached. It would happen again and again, year after year, for as long as the building stood.

Many stars had rehearsed in that room. Show-business legends had polished routines on the same boards. Countless unknown and unremembered line dancers had worked there until their muscles had gone stringy with fatigue. It was a Broadway that the paying public rarely saw.

The assistant choreographer, his glasses fogging a bit in the steamy heat, clapped out the beat constantly as he shouted the moves. Beside him the choreographer, the man who had sculpted the dance, stood watching with eyes as dark and alert as a bird's.

"Hold it!"

The piano music stopped. Movement stopped. The dancers drooped with a combination of exhaustion and relief.

"It drags there."


The dancers, still a unit, rolled their eyes and tried to ignore their aching muscles. The choreographer studied them, then gave the signal to take five. Twelve bodies dropped against the wall, shifting together so that heads fell on convenient shoulders or abdomens. Calves were massaged. Feet flexed, relaxed, and flexed again. They talked little. Breath was an important commodity, to be hoarded whenever possible. Beneath them, the floor was battle-scarred, covered with masking tape that had set the marks for dozens of other shows. But there was only one show that mattered now: this one.

BOOK: Dance to the Piper
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