Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word today! When I said I would post the first chapter of Breaking the Rules if we hit 3500 fans by tonight, I really thought it was going to be a push to get there. NEVER did I think you’d manage to spread the word and do it in an hour! Rather than make you wait until tomorrow, I’m posting the entire first chapter right now!
Theater companies worldwide affectionately call tech week “Hell Week,” with good reason. It doesn’t matter how smooth everything has gone from casting through rehearsals; everything that can go wrong will in the last week before a show opens. Carly Turner knew everything was going too smoothly with the latest production at the small theater on 42nd Street.
“Turner, get out here,” bellowed the stage manager. “Do you see the problem? How are we supposed to open in three days like this?” Dax shouted, flailing his arms towards the ceiling.
Weaving her way through set pieces, trying to avoid moving anything off its mark, Carly assessed the cause of Dax’s current freak out. Yes, this was obviously a problem, but Carly had no clue what he expected her to do about the two nonworking light rigs hanging above the stage. She wasn’t a lighting tech; she was a gofer working on the show because she was desperate for experience.
Carly nodded. “Yes Dax, I see the problem. What, exactly, are you hoping I will do about it?” Dax Jameson was the only person she wasn’t going to miss when this show closed. She’d worked with difficult stage managers before, but there was something about Dax that made her skin crawl.
“I don’t know; just get the damned lights working,” Dax moaned as he stormed off the stage, leaving Carly alone to solve the latest in a long line of hell week problems.
When Carly finally reached the control room, one of the junior lighting techs was leaning against the doorframe waiting for her. “Here,” he said, flicking a business card at her. “You’re gonna have to call ETS. Cheapskates around here keep putting off fixing shit until it’s too late. Now we have three days to open, and I would bet my check they’ll have to send someone out to fix it. Accounting office is gonna love that.”
“Thanks, Clark,” she said, giving him a peck on the cheek. “You’re a lifesaver.”
Grabbing her purse, Carly ducked out the back door into the alley. If she had to sit on hold and listen to horrible music, she was going to do it while getting some fresh air. And by fresh air, she meant she was going to enjoy a cigarette while surrounded by the smell of rotting garbage from the deli next door.
Just her luck, the music stopped less than halfway through her cigarette. “ETS, this is Adam. How can I help you?” His voice was deep and rich, the type of voice that made Carly go a little bit weak in the knees.
“Hey, Adam. This is Carly Turner with Schumann Theater in New York. I’m hoping you can help me. We’re supposed to open in three days, and we have a dark stage.”
“Well, that would pose a problem.” He laughed, quickly putting Carly on edge. It was easy to see the humor in the situation from behind a desk wherever the hell he was. From where she sat, there was nothing funny about it whatsoever.
Adam started running through a script of troubleshooting questions that Carly didn’t have answers to. Why isn’t someone from lighting making this damn call? Beyond knowing the final result of the problem, Carly was clueless.
She crushed her cigarette out against the side of the building and headed back inside to the booth. “Here, you talk to him.” Carly snapped at Clark as she shoved the phone into his chest. After assuring the ETS rep that they had already gone through the entire process and still couldn’t get the lights to work, he handed the phone back to Carly.
“Told you so. They’re going to send someone out, but we’re going to be dark for tonight’s rehearsal. Their tech will meet someone here at eight tomorrow morning.” Clark laughed. “I feel bad for whatever sap draws the short straw on that one.”
Carly already knew who was going to be stuck opening the doors for the techs. No way in hell would Dax get out of bed before noon when he could tell Carly to come in early.
The morning commute was Carly’s least favorite part of the day. Everyone was rushed to get somewhere, and common courtesy was non-existent, even more so than later in the day. She could feel judgmental eyes boring down on her as she followed the fashion-forward pedestrians wearing cut-off denim shorts and bright orange oversized t-shirt slouching off one shoulder. There was no point in trying to look fabulous when you were going to spend most of the day painting and cleaning.
The only solace from coming in so early was that she had a few hours before Dax would grace her with his presence. That almost made it worth the unease she felt over being the first person in the building. Ever since Phantom of the Opera, Carly was terrified at the idea of being alone in the theater. Yes, it was irrational, but she had yet to find a way to prevent the fear.
Moving the set was normally a job tackled when there were at least two people working. Too much could go wrong trying to do it alone. Unfortunately, no one thought to move the cumbersome pieces last night, and she would need to move them before the contractor could do his job. Carly cursed her irrational fears as she tripped, shoving the roof of a building directly into one of the heavy, velvet curtains.
“Hello?” A deep voice resonated from backstage. The way the timbre of the man’s voice echoed off the acoustic panels in the empty theater sent a shiver down Carly’s spine. Men whose voices could melt butter surrounded her daily, but something about this particular voice that heightened her senses.
“Out here,” she shouted, still wrestling to pull the set piece out of the curtain without causing any damage Dax would make her fix later. She blew a stray hair away from her eyes as the lighting contractor rounded the corner.
When she looked up, she did a double take. The broad shoulders and angled jaw were all new, but there was no mistaking the icy blue eyes looking down at Carly. They were the same eyes she had seen almost every day of her childhood. “Adam?”
“Carly Turner? What are the odds…?”
When she had moved away from home, Adam Sanders had been a bit gangly and not nearly this tall. She figured he would have grown up to be the man a woman grew to love for his heart despite his awkward appearance. The fact that it looked like he wasn’t opposed to spending time in the gym and he had lost the baby face did nothing to settle her nerves.Carly shook the thoughts out of her head. This was Adam, the little brother Carly never had. Even if she had never felt that familial bond with him, there was clearly a rule about drooling over your best friend’s younger brother.
“Well, I think they’re probably long enough that there’s no point in buying a lottery ticket tonight,” Oh god, did I just compare seeing Adam to winning the lottery?
“What in the hell are these?” Adam laughed, twirling the long blonde pigtails that fell in front of her shoulders. The childish hair restraints didn’t seem like as good of an idea as they had this morning. Carly flinched and felt her glasses sliding down the bridge of her nose. Pushing them back to her face using a knuckle, she looked away. Once again, she chastised herself, this time for imagining Adam’s strong hands on parts of her body other than the pigtails she wore for purely utilitarian purposes. This was, without a doubt, the least put-together Carly had been in a long time, and Adam happened to be around to see it.
Her cheeks heated under his critical gaze. “I’m not really going for the high glamour look when I’m moving set pieces.” She was flustered. It wasn’t a condition Carly was used to which put her even more on edge.
“That’s good because you’re off the mark if that’s what you were trying to achieve.” Adam laughed as he ran his hand down Carly’s back. Her skin felt like it was on fire under his caress, immediately followed by cold emptiness when he removed his hand from the middle of her back. He grabbed his tool bag from the ground and moved to the front of the stage. “Hey Carly, it’s a good look on you.” When he threw a bright smile over his shoulder, Carly noticed he still had the chip in his front tooth that he’d had since they were kids. Even that looked sexy as hell when framed by his square jaw with the slightest shadow of a beard. What others might see as an imperfection only added character to his All-American good looks. Carly had to fight the warmth she felt inside from that single glance.
“Let’s go…” This time she did roll her eyes since he couldn’t see her. She hoped the awkwardness would diminish once he was working. She needed to focus on her checklist, not Julia’s kid brother.
Even though she told herself she would disappear after showing him the light rigs, she lingered on the stage watching him work. “Are you going to be able to get the lights working?”
“That’s the plan.” He jumped off the stage, heading to the control room. The way his jeans stretched over his thighs with every movement was jarring. She wanted to touch him to see if the denim felt as worn and soft as it looked. If there isn’t some sort of rule about annoying kid brothers growing up to be walking, talking sex, there should be. Carly didn’t need to be thinking about what it would feel like to have Adam’s arms wrapped around her, but she couldn’t help it. He was just the kind of man who caught Carly’s eye when she was paying close enough attention to see who was around her.
Without Dax’s constant interruptions, Carly quickly got the prop tables set for the first act. By the time he sauntered in, everything was ready to go for the evening’s rehearsal and Adam had located the problem. They sat side-by-side with their feet hanging over the edge of the stage while Adam waited for a vendor to return his phone call.
“Am I paying you to sit on your ass?” Dax snapped, throwing his purse on the floor. She didn’t care what fancy name Dax tried to give it, the brown leather bag was, without doubt, his purse.
Adam raised one eyebrow causing Carly to stifle a laugh. Dax was in a foul mood this morning, and she wasn’t about to give him ammunition. “My list is done, and he’s waiting on a part. We could sit around talking or sit here in silence. I decided to be personable and keep him company.” She stood and reached a hand out to help Adam up. “Now that you’re here, I’m going next door to grab something to eat. I’ll be back.”
Dax narrowed his eyes, “Where’s he going?”
Just a few more weeks. “He got here right after me, so I figure he might be hungry too. Plus, I’m not leaving him here with you. I don’t want to subject him to your mood. Seriously, you need to take a Valium or something before you start scaring the cast.”
Now it was Adam choking his laughter back. She nodded to him and then motioned to the back door. “Let’s go.”
“That was impressive. I don’t remember you being so mouthy.” Adam chuckled as he opened the door. As soon as they were outside, he threw an arm over his nose and mouth. “Damn, did something die back here?”
Carly shrugged. “You get used to it,” she lied. There was no way a person could get used to the smell of rancid meat and rotting fruit, but there was also no way to change it. It was part of the reality of trying to succeed in New York. Even the shiniest dreams tarnish over time.
Carly led Adam to one of her favorite spots a few blocks away. Carly filed into the grill line. “I’ll grab us a sandwich to split. You get sodas and chips,” she instructed. When they had been walking to the deli, Carly worried that it would be weird having lunch with Julia’s little brother. Instead, it felt perfectly natural as if they had been doing it for years. Even more surprising, Adam pulled a Cherry Coke from the cooler and a bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles off the rack. Somehow, he knew what she wanted. Was that a lucky guess or does he somehow remember my lifelong addictions?
Adam was the first person from home she had seen in six years. Her friends from Wisconsin were all so busy with their own lives that it never worked to meet up, and Gran Turner, the only family member Carly had, didn’t fly and couldn’t sit for long car trips. It was wonderful to be sitting across from someone who understood her. As much as she tried to fit into the New York lifestyle, there were some Midwestern quirks so ingrained in Carly’s personality she would never get rid of them. Unfortunately, her city friends couldn’t understand those oddities.
“So, how’s your sister?” Carly could only think of a few things to ask since she actually knew little about the man sitting across from her. The only thing she knew they had in common was Julia, unless she wanted to bring up how he used to torment the girls when they were younger.
The last she had heard, Julia was living in Nashville and getting ready to file for divorce. A true friend wouldn’t have to ask her brother how she’s doing. A true friend would have kept in touch. Carly preferred to think their lack of communication had more to do with living life on different schedules rather than admit they weren’t as close as they once were.
“She’s good, I guess,” Adam said around a mouthful of corned beef and Swiss. “She’s planning to move back to Wisconsin once the divorce is final. She says she’s okay with it, but I’m not so sure.”
“Julia’s moving back to Wisconsin? Nu-uh,” she exclaimed in disbelief. Carly and Julia swore they would never go back to Wisconsin once they got out. They were dreamers, and their dreams required more than small town living could fulfill. Carly knew Julia had put her own desires on the back burner for her soon-to-be ex and figured she would use her newly found freedom to start finally living her dreams. “Madison or Milwaukee?”
Adam shrugged. “Not sure. She’s been pretty vague.”
It bothered her more than it should have that Adam didn’t seem to know particularly much about his sister’s life. The siblings had relied on each other for support after their mom left. Growing up an only child, Carly liked to think that she would have stayed close to her siblings if she’d had any.
Adam excused himself to answer a phone call and Carly once again found herself watching him walk away. His confident swagger made it appear as though he was floating out of the room. No matter what he did, it seemed Carly couldn’t stop herself from staring. She didn’t like that one bit.
“It will be about two hours before the parts get here,” he said when he returned to the table. “You in a hurry to get back?”
Carly shook her head. She knew she should get back to the Schumann and see what menial tasks Dax could find for her, but she knew she would have more than her fill of him tonight. Since she had started work four hours early today, that should buy her some free time in the afternoon. “No. I can show you around for a while. I just need to pop back and let Dax know I’m going to take a longer break.”
Adam laughed. “Believe it or not, I don’t need a tour guide. I probably spend nearly as much time in this part of town as you do.”
“Huh?” She cringed at the unintelligent utterance. At some point, she would gather her wits and be able to produce a complete sentence again.
“It feels like I’m always out here for work. I keep telling them it’d be cheaper than traveling to move me out here, but they haven’t gone for it so far.”
It didn’t make sense that a company the size of ETS didn’t have sub-contractors to take care of repairs like those they sent Adam to make. “Why are you out here so often? Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective for them to hire someone who’s local to do the work?”
Adam laughed again. Carly wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being his primary source of amusement for the day. “I don’t normally do repairs. One of the big-shots knows someone at the Schumann, so he asked me to come out and personally take care of it. Normally, I’m on sales calls.”
“Oh.” It stung to know that someone she knew had been so close so many times. Had either of them known the other was in New York, maybe they would have met up sooner. If she had kept in touch with Julia, Carly might have known that Adam was in the city frequently. She sat there watching him finish his soda. It was one of the few times since moving that she thought about how she had lost touch with just about everyone. Even if they couldn’t visit, she could have made more of an effort to call or e-mail.
As soon as they walked through the stage door at the Schumann, Carly knew a break was out of the question. “Turner, where in the hell have you been?” Dax’s nasally shriek echoed through the empty theater.
“Sounds like someone’s in trouble,” Adam whispered in her ear. Carly swallowed hard. There certainly had to be a rule about getting butterflies over a friend’s younger brother. Oh, to hell with it. I haven’t even talked to Julia in over a year.
Carly rolled her eyes. “He’s just a drama queen. You know how theater people can be. I’d better see what his highness needs.”
“Rain check, then?”
There was no way she would have time before Adam went back to Wisconsin. The thought depressed her more than it should have. “I’m going to be stuck here until late every night this week. Maybe next time you’re in town?”
Adam’s shoulders fell. “Right. Opening week–” In a twisted way, it lifted Carly’s spirits to see that he was upset.
“Turner!” Dax was clearly in a foul mood today.
“I have to get out there. Try to find me when you come back with the part,” she grumbled. She turned back as she neared the stage. “Hey, you said two hours, right? The queen will want to know.”
Adam tried to stifle his laughter. “Yes, tell his majesty I shall return in two hours.” Carly nearly lost it when he bowed flamboyantly before disappearing into the summer sun. Just as the door was about to slam shut, he threw it open again. “Oh, and Carly, it was great seeing you.”
Two hours later, Adam returned with a box that looked far too small to hold anything that had the ability to cripple the intricate lighting plan for their show. “Time to save the princess from the evil king.”
“My hero,” Carly shrieked, throwing her arms around Adam’s broad shoulders. She kissed his cheek and immediately felt the burn as her cheeks turned red. Between feeling the firm ridges under her fingers and inhaling an intoxicating blend of body wash, soap and woodsy cologne, Carly knew she was in trouble.
“Turner, what in the hell do you think you’re doing? Even if there weren’t a hundred things to do, you can’t screw the vendors.” Carly’s embarrassment from Dax having caught her changed quickly to laughter at Dax’s stunned expression. Anger quickly followed her laughter as Carly hit her breaking point with his mood.
“Screw you, Dax,” she shouted toward the stage, her arms frozen around Adam’s neck. Not usually one to feel a need to explain her actions, Carly followed him. “For your information, Adam is a family friend. I have no intentions of screwing him backstage or anywhere else. And even if I was going to screw him, you’re just pissed that he would be one more gorgeous man you’re not getting.” Maybe one of these days Dax would realize that Carly’s tolerance for his bullshit directly correlated to the time she was required to roll out of bed in the morning.
Dax didn’t respond to Carly’s dramatic monologue. In fact, he acted as if he hadn’t heard a single thing she had said. That was actually a good thing because she needed to make it through this run so she would have one more show on her resume. She couldn’t wait until he had to find another whipping post.
When Carly turned to apologize to Adam, he was nowhere to be found. Her fingers brushed across her lower lip. The taste of Adam lingered on her skin from just that slight touch and her lips tingled, remembering the feel of his whiskers brushing against them. She reached into her bright green leather purse, grabbing a cigarette and her iPhone. When she stepped outside, she crouched against the side of the brick building and tapped out a quick email.
Do you ever talk to Julia? I heard a rumor she’s moving back to WI, but not where. Let me know. We need to catch up.
In high school, Carly didn’t go anywhere without Julia on one side and Annie on the other. If anyone would know what was going on with Julia, it would be Annie. Asking about Julia wasn’t what Carly actually wanted to talk to her about, but she figured it was better wading into the conversation rather than jumping directly into the deep end by asking for information about Adam.
“You know those will kill you,” Adam said, plucking the cigarette out of her mouth and taking a long drag. The way his lips curled around the butt of the cigarette made Carly wonder what they would feel like on her skin. When he exhaled, a perfect ring of smoke ascended into the air from his lips. She briefly wondered what other oral talents he possessed. This had to stop. Nothing but trouble could come from thinking about Adam this way.
“Have you seen what I have to deal with?” She deadpanned, waving her hand toward the stage door. “I figure it’s me or them. I can’t go to prison for killing myself. And wouldn’t the same go for you? I highly doubt you’re immune to their toxic effects.”
Adam extended a hand and pulled Carly so that she was standing close enough to smell his cologne over the rotting garbage. “True,” he agreed, tapping her on the nose. Carly felt the corners of her mouth turn up slightly. “But it’d be a waste for you to kill yourself. Plus, you’re going to be one of those scary broads whose voice sounds like a dude someday. That will seriously kill the cute little sex kitten thing you have going on now. I, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about sounding like a guy or killing my sex appeal.”
Deflecting the attention off herself, Carly smacked Adam in the chest. “Stop it. You’re the creepy little brother; you don’t get to call me sexy.”
For a moment, Adam looked almost hurt by the statement. “Creepy, huh?” Carly worried that she’d offended him until he started laughing.
“I… Uh…” Once again, words failed her. She rolled her eyes. “Shut up, you know what I mean. So, are you done? Does his highness have light once again?”
“Yes, all is well in the kingdom.” He bowed before her and she broke out laughing. Having someone laid back to talk to was fun. “Guess I’d better let you get back to it.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said without trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Even though they wouldn’t have time to get together during this trip of his, she hoped there would be a next time. It would be wonderful to have someone laid back, and down-to-earth to talk to from time to time. “Next time you’re–”
“Turner,” Dax threw the door open, almost hitting Carly in the face. “We’re getting ready to have a rehearsal in here. Care to join us?”
“Coming,” she snapped. When she turned to give Adam her phone number, he was turning onto the street at the end of the alley. She had obviously misread any vibe she thought she had gotten from him.