Elena's heart thumped. He'd caught her looking. But then she realized he was watching her, too. Was it possible Michael was interested in her?
Stop it. Grow up. She'd seen backstage romances flare and just as quickly burn out. It was childish to confuse stage passion with the real thing. They were professionals, for God's sake.
Elena concentrated on putting everything she had into the song. As the company reached that soaring final note, she stared at the empty seats and imagined them filled, only a few weeks from now. Her heart soared along with the music at the thought.
Walking from the stage afterward, she felt a hand on her arm and turned to find Michael beside her. Her stomach jolted at his sudden appearance. Being near him was like being caught in an electromagnetic wave of charisma.
"I'm giving you a heads-up now so you don't yell at me later. In the bedroom scene, I'm going to pick you up and carry you to the bed. We're supposed to be passionate and yet we stroll across the stage. It's awkward and weird. But I wouldn't want to take you by surprise with spontaneity and piss you off."
"Did you check with Pender?" Elena felt her blood pressure rising. "Michael, we're two weeks away from opening, and you're altering the staging. You can't keep changing things on a whim."
"Pender hasn't complained lately."
"He gave up. Since you go right on doing what you want anyway, he quit trying to rein you in. That's why I'm stuck doing it."
"Maybe he likes my instincts." Michael's lazy smile made her temper burn, but also started heat blooming in her belly.
"Fine. But this is it. After tonight, no more changes. And if Pender complains about this, it's all on you."
"This will be a lot better. Trust me."
Surprisingly, she did. His instincts were good. And beneath her protest, on a very fundamental level, she wanted him to scoop her up and carry her in his arms.
"You know I'm all about winging it," Michael continued, "but maybe we should practice a couple of times to make sure I can lift you without throwing my back out."
He took Elena's hand, and his warm flesh sliding against hers gave her another of those ridiculous stomach flutters. He led her to an empty dance rehearsal room backstage. There was a mirrored wall with a bar along it and a well-polished wood floor. The smell of old sweat and new varnish perfumed the air.
Elena watched Michael's reflection in the mirror as he spoke. "Okay, take it from your line, 'We shouldn't do this'."
It felt odd without the apartment set around them. She pulled her eyes away from the mirror and looked up at Michael.
"We shouldn't do this. What about Richard?"
Slipping an arm around her back and one behind her thighs, Michael interrupted her next line, lifting her easily off her feet. Her arms automatically went around his neck, and she gave a little gasp of surprise.
"I don't care." Michael's face was close. His breath puffed against her face and she smelled the sharp scent of breath mint. He bent his head to kiss her then stopped.
"Wait a minute. This is awkward. I can't kiss you after I've picked you up. Do it again." He set her down on her feet.
Elena held onto his shoulders for a second as she got her balance. Her body vibrated with excitement, but she managed to snap, "Don't step on my line this time."
She delivered her speech again, finishing with, "He trusts me!"
"Tomorrow you can tell him it's over, but I've got to have you now."
Michael pulled her into his arms, planted a searing kiss on her lips then scooped her off her feet. He carried her a few yards before setting her down again.
They remained locked in an embrace, both a little breathless as though they'd done an entire dance number instead of a simple lift. Elena glimpsed their reflection in the mirror. They looked really good together; Michael's blond-streaked hair and her dark curls, his sleek, swimmer's body and her petite, compact figure, his pale skin and her tan flesh. They made a sexy couple.
"How's it going to work with laying me on the bed? Are you going to just drop me on it?"
"Hang onto my neck and drag me down with you like you're frantic and can't wait. Kathleen and Aaron have been fighting their attraction through three scenes. I think that's enough foreplay, don't you?"
"Mm-hm." Elena's nipples were tight and hard, pressed against his chest. Her sex clenched simply from being kissed and picked up a couple of times. It was annoying how her body betrayed her.
"Okay." Michael finally stepped away from her. "Let's try it that way tonight and see what Pender says." He glanced at his wrist, but he was wearing his character's leather wrist cuff instead of a watch. "It's probably time."
"Uh-huh. Don't want to piss off the stage manager." She felt him following her from the room as if their bodies were connected.
When they reached the stage, everyone was in place. Elena and Michael separated and went to opposite sides of the apartment set. Elena sat on the ratty couch, one leg hooked over the arm, a textbook open on her lap. Her face was turned toward the book, but her eyes watched Michael stalk across the stage like a cat. It was easy to get into character. Like Kathleen, she couldn't keep her eyes off Michael/Aaron.
He stood in profile, his angular face dramatically lit by the stage lights as he gazed out the fake window. His sharp cheekbones, hard jaw and full lips were attractive, but it was his eyes that seized Elena's gut and twisted. They were indigo in shadow, but brilliant as sapphires when they caught the light.
Elena turned her attention back to the textbook and concentrated on using her real attraction to Michael to create Kathleen's unrequited love for Aaron.
The house lights went down and the overture began.