Watch Me (Stepping Up #3) by Lisa Renee Jones





                                      Watch Me

                Lisa Renee Jones





                                      1

                SCREAMS FILLED THE AIR, jolting Meagan Tippan, the producer of the new dance reality show America’s Stepping Up, from a dead sleep to a startled, heart-pounding sitting position. That was about two seconds before the sprinkler system in the restored Victorian beachfront mansion kicked into gear. Meagan arched her back against the icy fingers of wetness that seeped through her thin T-shirt.

                The very real possibility of a fire pierced the momentary shock of Meagan’s abrupt awakening. Quickly, she shoved away her soaked blankets and darted across the room. There were twelve hopeful dancers in the house who’d come here to chase a dream, not to live a nightmare, and she had to get them, and her crew, to safety.

                Flinging open her door, Meagan found Ginger Scott, one of the two choreographers for the show and “House Mom,” in the hallway, rushing the six female dancers in the competition down the stairs.

                “Is anyone hurt?” Meagan shouted loudly, because the water seemed to be muffling everything but the panicked voices echoing around her.

                “Just scared,” Ginger said, shoving a wet mop of blond hair from her face, as Meagan did the same to her light brown hair. “And I don’t see a fire. DJ says he doesn’t see one downstairs, either.” DJ being her twin brother and male counterpart in the house.

                “I called 9-1-1,” DJ shouted, rushing up to meet them. “Could be electrical though. Big trouble for a house this old.”

                Right, Meagan thought grimly. Wouldn’t that be peachy? After ten weeks spent casting across the country, with one mishap after another—enough to prompt whispers of a “curse” that she’d hoped to put to rest—only to discover they’d also managed to move into a place with electrical problems, and have it catch on fire their first night there.

                “Is everyone okay?” came the voice of another male dancer at the bottom of the stairs. “Do you need help?”

                “No! Stay where you are,” Meagan yelled, taking in water as she spoke. “We don’t need help up here, and there is no fire.” That they knew about, but she didn’t say that. She didn’t want to freak anyone out any more than they already were.

                “Get everyone on the lawn where we can get a headcount,” Meagan said, shooing Ginger and DJ down the stairs. The sooner they had this situation under control, the better. Control? After thirty-two years, and her own dance career destroyed by a knee injury, she should know control was a facade. Just when you thought you had it, it slipped away.

                Eventually, Meagan finally had all her hot-bodied, dripping-wet dancers on the front lawn, looking as if they were posing for a kinky spread in an X-rated magazine. She could only imagine editing this segment. Their stationary cameras had no doubt caught everything and the studio execs would want this mishap included in behind-the-scenes footage. After all, they’d insisted on broadcasting every other disaster—from falling sets and broken-down buses, to a crazed fan who’d set the hotel lobby on fire.

                A thought hit Meagan like a huge brick. Oh, God. It was a very bad thought.

                Meagan whirled around to face the house, as if it were possessed, glaring at the monster that was about to ruin everything, even her own career. The chance to pitch the idea for this show had come after years of working as the producer for a top news show in Dallas, Texas. Leaving that job on the long shot that this could survive the ratings war had been a big risk. She knew the chips would be stacked against her. Tonight that stack had gotten bigger. Not only were the cameras getting wet, but the house, where they’d intended to spend the next twelve weeks, was being destroyed by the water. And she had enough experience with fickle network executives to know that her show, her darn dream-fulfilling show, was turning into a nightmare that might well be called “cancelled.”