Ainslie Paton romance author

Getting a Real Taste Test

This was bad.  Getting your talent stuck thirty metres above the stage the day before the first show of their global tour was worse than bad—it was career suicide.  “Is there no way to bring her down, Bodge?”  He knew what he’d have to do, but it wasn’t going to save his job, or his sanity.

“Not without causing a truckload more damage we don’t have time to fix.  It’s a two dollar part, that’s all we need.”

“And we didn’t have spares?”

“No.  One of Tim’s fairy boys borrowed a part and didn’t replace it.  I’m on him like a rash.”

Jake sighed.  There was time for head kicking later.  Assuming he was still around to do it.  Right now he needed to do something to stop his rock goddess sacking the lot of them from her throne on high.  “Is the second trapeze working?”

“Yeah, up but not down.  Same problem with the pulley motor.”  Bodge shrugged.  “What’re you thinking?”

“Someone has to go up there with her and wait it out.”

“That someone is not me, Reedy.”  Bodge shook his head.  “I’m twice as heavy as it’s rated for.”

“I know.” Jake swallowed the fleeing brain matter that was lodged in his throat.  His hands were completely numb now and he couldn’t feel his toes either.  “I’m the guinea pig.  I’m the sacrificial lamb.  It has to be me.”

Bodge gasped.  “You’re not serious, mate?  After what happened in the nose bleeds?”

He nodded.  “Who else is going to satisfy her?”

“I hope this works out but if not, I’ve enjoyed working with you, Reedy.”  Bodge offered his hand to shake, half in jest, half in acknowledgement Jake might find himself looking for a new gig tomorrow.

He swallowed again and closed his eyes.  He tried to steady his stomach, already rioting.  “If I don’t make it back, tell my mother I love her very much,” he said, making Bodge roar with laughter.  Nice someone still could.

“Any of you fuckers doing anything to get me down except standing around having a giggle and a cup of fucking tea,” yelled Rielle, kicking her legs, making the trapeze swing.

She was harnessed by her waist and could pivot three hundred and sixty degrees.  She could hang face down, feet up.  She could lie horizontal on her back, and her front.  She could swing back and forth, but she could not come down without a new part for the pulley motor installed, and she was supposed to be at a radio station interview in thirty minutes.

The good thing was, he’d probably die up there and not have to deal with it any further.

When Jake was strapped in the second harness and gripping the cables so hard the muscles in his shoulders and neck went plastic hard, Bodge said formally, as though this was a suicide rescue mission, “Good luck, mate,” and flicked the switch on the pulley mechanism.

Six seconds later, gut sick and sweating Jake was suspended alongside Rielle and she was still yelling.

“If you’re the cavalry then I’m truly fucked!”  She dropped her legs so they were pointing down to the ground the same as Jake’s.

“I’m just the lamb.”  He locked his eyes on her face.  This was way worse than the cheap seats.  He barely had spit to speak.  His head spun and the crashing sound in his ears he knew wasn’t real, almost drowned out any logical thought.

“You’re a fool, that’s what you are.  How is having you here, you of all fuckwits, helping me?”

Jake didn’t respond.  He closed his eyes, and concentrated on slowing his erratic breathing.  He wasn’t sure what she’d said; words—angry words—but at least they were directed at him, not a spray at the whole crew.

She said something else that sounded more like an animal noise than language and then was quiet.  All he could hear was the roaring in his ears and the click and twang of her harness revolving in its traces as she moved about.

Rielle faced the trembling, tense body of her tour manager.  He wasn’t laughing now.  He had his eyes screwed shut and his skin was a grey colour and slathered in sweat.  This was the second time she’d seen him look like this in two days and both times he’d done it to himself.  She tried to imagine how that felt—to be scared to the point of shutting down, and yet do the thing that terrified you most, and do it in front of people whose respect you needed.

She rotated in the harness to lie flat on her stomach and reached out to touch his shoulder.  He flinched under her hand and his eyes flew open.  “Shit.”

“Yeah,” she said.

They floated like that for a few minutes.  Rielle on her stomach and Jake upright.  His eyes never left hers; though she wasn’t sure he was really seeing her, just not seeing anything else.  “You’re a mad bastard, Jake Reed.  I can’t imagine why you thought coming up here was a good idea.”

He coughed.  It was a desperately unhappy sound from deep in his chest.  “You needed someone to make mince meat of.”

She grinned at him.  “But I could’ve minced you from on high you know.”


“So?”  He was mad.  He was the willing sacrifice to her rage.  The lion tamer without a whip and his feet in cement, the bull rider without a glove to hold the rope and no rodeo clown to run interference.  No one did that.  They all let her growl and claw and maul and buck and no one except Rand got in her way.  Who was this guy?

“I thought it’d be more satisfying for you to do it face to face.”

“You’re pathetic!”  He wasn’t pathetic, but sweating and shaking, jaw clenched and white knuckled, he was something she’d not come across before.

“I thought of that as well,” he said.

Rielle barked out a laugh and pushed away from him, making both their trapezes sway backwards.

Jake yelped and grabbed for her but his motion tipped him backwards in the harness, rotating him until he was head down, legs up.  He yelled and gripped the upright cables, but had no idea how to right himself.  Rielle’s laughter got caught in her windpipe the second she realised she’d tipped Jake over.  She put her hand on his calf and pushed him and when his legs swung down, she was ready to stop him rotating again.  She caught him with both hands on his shoulders, and braced against him.  She pulled her trapeze and his closer together.  Now he couldn’t tip, unless she let go.

“Jake, I’m sorry.”  She felt terrible she’d caused him this additional terror.  “You won’t fall.  I’ve got you.  I’m not falling either.  We’re okay.”  He was unresponsive, so she said, “Jake, can you hear me?” putting her hand on his forehead.  He was burning up and his chest was pumping with quick breaths.  He’d fused both hands to the cables.

“Give me your hand.  Jake, I want you to slow down, breathe deeper.  Give me your hand.”  She pried his right hand off the cable and held tight.  His other hand grabbed for her, his fingers digging into her bicep.

She took his right hand and placed it over her chest.  “Jake, breathe with me.”

They stayed like that.  Rielle’s arm numbing, bruising from Jake’s grip.  His other hand spread across the top of her chest, feeling her steady intake and exhale of breath, until he stopped panting, breathed in time with her, and opened his eyes.

At least Jake wasn’t a bore.  He was a freak, that’s for sure.  But he did have crazy courage.  Completely useless, foolish courage; something she understood.  So she couldn’t sack him now.  She was stuck with him, unless he did something truly awful, and if he could put himself willingly through this for the tour, he could probably handle anything.

“Pathetic,” she said, but she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held him steady.

“Totally.”  He gasped.

“You’re no Godzilla, but you’re not sacked, so you’re going to have to recover.”  He didn’t look like that would ever be possible.  He looked like a candidate for heart surgery, followed by a padded cell.  She tucked his head down onto her shoulder.  “You’re an idiot, Jake Reed.”

“That’s now official,” he mumbled into her cotton shirt.

“I want the person who screwed up.”

“That’s me.  My tour.  My screw up.”

“God, you’re stupid.”  Did they think she didn’t know what happened?  “I want the guy who took the part and didn’t replace it.”

“Okay.”  Jake wasn’t sure what he’d just agreed to, but he’d give Rielle anything right now, so long as she kept on holding him.  She was this tiny fairy girl but she was holding him up, holding him together.

He had no inkling how long they floated up there; it might’ve been years.  He was exhausted, but when the trapezes started moving, he lifted his head and pulled away from Rielle, holding her at arm’s length.  She’d long since stopped yelling, but he knew this wasn’t over.

He opened his mouth to apologise.  To say something that would make this mess seem less careless and unprofessional, but she put her hand over his it.  “Shut up, Jake.”

There was a smattering of applause from roadies at work on the stage when their feet touched the ground.  Jake’s legs were rubber but they held him upright, and as Bodge undid the harnesses, he started to come to himself again.  His t-shirt was wet through and sticking to him.  He’d sweated, just about sobbed; it’d been so hard to breath, all over Rielle up there—gross.  He felt stupid and humiliated, but he was still employed at least.

He heard Rielle demand, “Bodge, bring me that roadie.  He’s dead meat.”

He turned to her.  “We’ll test this rig until it’s solid.  If I have to go up there again myself; it will be right for the show.”

She came up close, stood almost pressed against him.  “I’m counting on it, Jake.”  The look she gave him could’ve stripped paint, undercoat first.  Her straight-backed posture, chin up, chest out, shoulders back, feet planted apart.  The low huskiness of her voice, and the raw energy in her as she shaped up to him, like a pumped up flyweight boxer before a prize fight bout, was almost as scary as the trapeze.

Hello, what are you thinking?

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