The stage is set for murder
When local crime reporter Emma Fletcher is asked to help identify her friend’s blackmailer, she discovers a link to the recent death of a teacher at Allensbury Dance and Drama School.
Meanwhile, a police investigation is uncovering some dark secrets, and it is clear that someone is seeking revenge for past wrongs. As Emma’s list of suspects continues to grow, the discovery of a second body puts her in the killer’s sights. Warned off the investigation by the police for her own safety, Emma decides the best way to save herself is to find the culprit first. With the help of fellow news reporter Dan Sullivan, Emma must work out who is targeting Allensbury Dance and Drama School before the killer strikes again.
My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for the tour invite. A Deadly Portrayal (#4 in the Allensbury Mysteries series is published by Readthrough Press (13 November 2023) and is available in ebook and paperback formats. For my turn on the first day of the tour, I have an extract to share which I hope you enjoy.
This follows the prologue to the book, in which Natasha gets an email threatening to ruin her reputation and life if she doesn’t admit what she did.
Travers McGovern sat in the darkened theatre, his eyes glued to the stage. It was brightly lit, but with the house lights down, he knew the dancers weren’t aware they had an audience. The group of men and women clad in Lycra were standing in a group on the stage, with one man issuing instructions.
‘Natasha,’ Dominic said, ‘I want you over there.’ He pointed to centre stage. There was a general titter among the group. Even the man laughed. ‘Not like that,’ he said mock-sternly, rolling his eyes at them.
‘At least not anymore, eh, Dominic?’ asked a short, blonde woman, whose hair was scraped back so tightly into a bun that Travers thought it made her look like she’d had a bad face lift. She stepped over to Dominic and ran a hand down his arm. He shook her away and turned towards centre stage.
Natasha showed no sign of having heard the woman’s comment and walked flat-footed in ballet pointe shoes to her place centre stage. She ran a hand over her hair to ensure that no strands had escaped from the tight bun on the back of her head and adjusted the cropped, sleeveless, blue cardigan she was wearing over a grey-and-white leotard and leggings. Her brown skin glowed under the bright stage lights.
The other dancers stood or sat watching from the side of the stage.
The music began, easily recognisable as Swan Lake, and Natasha rose en pointe. Her arms fluttered like wings as she tiptoed across the stage, but when she came to perform a series of pirouettes, she over-rotated, slipped and thudded heavily to the floor, landing on her side. Travers sat forward in his seat. Was she hurt? A fall could be serious.
There were snorts of laughter from some of the other dancers as Natasha sat rubbing her elbow and checking her skin for any scrapes.
‘God, Natasha, that was elegant,’ called a male dancer, seated on the floor, laughing.
‘You’d better not do that during our group piece at the showcase,’ said the blonde woman. ‘You know there’ll be agents there. It won’t look good if you can’t even stay on your feet.’
‘Leave Nat alone,’ said Dominic, striding forward and holding out a hand to help her up. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. She swayed for a moment and Travers growled quietly in his throat as the man held her slender waist to steady her. He had no right to touch her. She rubbed her forehead and then pushed his hands away. Travers sat back in his seat.
‘I’m fine,’ she snapped. A look of annoyance crossed the young man’s face, but he said nothing. ‘I’ll just go again from the top, if that’s OK?’
‘Sorry, Nat.’ Dominic glanced down at his watch. ‘We’ve run out of time for today.’
‘There’s no time to run through my solo?’ the blonde dancer demanded, hands on hips.
Dominic shook his head. ‘No, someone else has the theatre booked out for the rest of the day, so we can’t stay here.’
The female dancer took a couple of steps towards him. ‘We all have to practise,’ she said, jutting out her chin. ‘Not just her.’ She jabbed a finger towards Natasha, who was still rubbing her elbow. ‘If your girlfriend wasn’t dancing like Nellie the Elephant, we’d all get a chance.’ She turned to Natasha, who had sat down on the stage and was unwrapping the ribbons that wound around her ankles to take off her shoes. ‘I swear to God, Natasha, if you balls up my chance by taking up all the rehearsal time, I’ll bloody kill you.’
‘Look,’ Natasha said with mock concern, ‘Tara, I don’t think there’s enough time in the week for the practice you need, and there’s nothing I can do about that.’ She got to her feet and brushed the stage dirt from her leggings. Then, shoving her shoes into her bag, she turned back to Tara, who glared, hands on hips, clearly unable to think of a reply to the dig. Natasha grinned, picked up her bag, and strolled away smugly.
The dancers packed up their belongings and headed out through the wings to the backstage area. Travers waited until they had all gone before he got to his feet. He needed to speak to Natasha alone. She needed to know this wasn’t his fault. He got up and walked quietly out through the back door of the auditorium.
In the shadows, a figure lurked, smiling and watching Travers as he left. They were both rattled, very rattled. But every action has a consequence, and they’d soon pay for what they’d done.
LM Milford is a crime fiction author who writes the Allensbury mysteries, covering the exploits of local newspaper reporter Dan Sullivan.
A former newspaper journalist, Lynne’s experience has influenced her work, although her stories were never as exciting as Dan’s.
Lynne was born and brought up in the north-east of England, but now lives in Kent with her husband and far too many books. She loves cooking, baking and holidays in Spain. She’s partial to a good red wine and plates of cheese.
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