“You’re going to do fine. Besides, you know the brass who flew in on that charter are here to see the splicers, right? To them, you’re just themascot.”
For some reason, it cracks me up to think that in a room full of animal guys—Nyx the naga, Dante the canine, Brock the bear, Warren the wolf, and Forrest the fox who hasn’t misbehaved since that first night when he marked his territory inches in front of Bella—I’mthe one considered a mascot.
“All right, all right.” I put my hands up in a don’t-shoot pose. “Give me a couple of bars. I’m officially done whining.”
As the sun sets, I emerge from the bathroom in my first costume, a gauzy, gold princess number that exposes my tummy and only comes down to my calves. Too bad Lucy is five foot nothing. All her costumes were too short on me and I only had time to re-hem the one for the last number.
“You look…” Ty’s speechless. I’m so self-conscious that his silence would normally worry me, except the expression on his face tells me I’m the prettiest thing he’s ever seen. Even though it’s the farthest thing from the truth, I know he thinks it’s true, which means the world to me.
“You look great,” I reply, letting him see the appreciation on my face.
He’s wearing cobalt blue pants paired with a thin coat that hits him almost at the knee. Trimmed in gold brocade, it matches his gold silk shirt. It’s even more stunning because his orange fur offsets the outfit. Even if tiger-guys were a dime a dozen and were no longer a curiosity, this male would turn heads.
“We’re ready when you are,” Corporal Barton announces after his wrist-comm pings.
I push everything out of my head: the fact that I still get the crossover wrong about half the time, that everyone on the property will be there, and that there will be actual generals and senators as the guests of honor. Jenna was right. They won’t even notice me. They came to see what their millions of dollars have bought and paid for—the splicers.
Ty lifts my hand in his, and with the grace of a feline Fred Astaire, he escorts me out the door. The street, which is lit with recently installed old-fashioned streetlights, is illuminated as the sun sets.
The moment the seven of us are on the wide dirt road, the Bollywood music begins, and my feet take on a life of their own.
Between practicing most of the night and all day today, my mind may be filled with worry, but my body knows just what to do. This number, the closest to the dozens of videos we watched, has the most basic steps.
It’s light and happy and has plenty of opportunities for Ty to circle my waist and look me in the eyes. Each time, he smiles at me, filling me with calm and acceptance. I manage to finish the entire dance before even glancing at the VIPs, who are seated on risers in the middle of the street, behind my group of new friends.
Though the VIPs’ expressions give nothing away, the rest of the crowd goes wild with applause, stomping and chuffing with an occasional bark. The shockingly loud, two-fingered whistles are accomplished by quiet, unassuming Amber Dawn, the hairdresser.
For the next number, we ask the audience to walk toward the south end of town while we duck into my shop to change into our next costumes. These are vaguely reminiscent of the musicalGrease. All the males and I are in black leather from top to bottom.
With the help of the soldiers in the motor pool, we had some junker cars hauled in and arranged along the part of Main Street we haven’t begun renovating yet.
When the music starts, we run to the cars and do a takeoff on a typical Bollywood street scene, although instead of the sleek cars usually featured in the films, our cars are rusty heaps of metal.
This is my favorite number because it requires very little of me. Most of the time I’m in Ty’s arms or being placed on one car roof or another and then sliding onto the car hood. It ends with Ty slipping me through an open window so I’m seated in the driver’s seat. I honk along with the final beats of the melody until the music stops and the streetlights flicker off.
When the lights come on again, we’re in a straight line between the audience and the cars, our heads bowed as we soak up the enthusiastic applause. When I finally get the courage to look up, I see happy smiles on some of the brass’s faces.
Great. One more number to go and this challenge will be far behind me.
Olivia’s been so scared of this performance, as soon as we return to the privacy of the shop for our last costume change, I fold her in my embrace and husk praises into her ear.
“You’ve been amazing. I’m so proud of you.”
Just as I expected, she says, “Thanks, but it’s not over.” She gazes at me with affection and adds, “And you, Ty? You’re amazing. Of course I’ve known that all along.”
Heat flares through me at her appreciative words. I can’t deny what’s blazing between us like wildfire. This female feels true affection for me. Perhaps as much as I feel for her.
I kiss her forehead, not even worried that our guards will intervene. They know things will be changing soon. The Colonel promised new rules about fraternization between humans and splicers.
“I still don’t know what’s coming next.” Olivia frowns. “I don’t know why you’ve kept the next number a secret from me.”
“You know the steps. Just wait for my cue.”
She heads to the bathroom, which she’s been using as a changing room, grumbling all the while about me keeping secrets. I don’t regret my choice, though. She’s going to love the changes I made to this final number.