Erin Downing, Author Erin Downing, Author
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Dancing Queen

Ages 12 & up
Simon Pulse: May 2006

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Chapter One

Olivia Phillips’s first-ever celebrity sighting was going all wrong.

She had just landed flat on her butt, her long legs splayed at awkward angles across a busy sidewalk in the middle of central London. She had a discarded cigarette butt stuck to her jeans, her face was splotchy, and her curly brown hair was stuck to her lipgloss. Though she didn’t want to look, she was pretty sure the bottom of one leg of her jeans had crept up above the cuff of her athletic sock and gotten stuck there.

Liv—as her friends called her—couldn’t remember a time in recent history she had looked less fabulous.

Tragically, it was at this very moment that Josh Cameron, International Pop Star and Celeb magazine’s Hottest Guy of 2006, was staring straight at her. The Josh Cameron, whom Liv had fantasized about a million and three times, was standing less than two feet away, casting a shadow from his perfect body onto Liv’s disheveled figure on the sidewalk.

Why, Liv wondered, do things like this always happen to me? She had arrived in London from Ann Arbor, Michigan, less than two hours earlier…and she had already made a complete fool of herself in front of the world’s biggest celebrity. How is this even possible?!

Because Liv was Liv. And she had a tendency to turn ordinary embarrassing moments into extraordinarily embarrassing ones—which meant this moment could get a whole lot worse. And it did.

Looking up at Josh Cameron, Liv was unable to stop a goofy, uncomfortable sort of smile from spreading across her face. She lifted her hand in a little wave and—very much against her will—blurted out, “Cheerio!”

Jumping ahead a few chapters: The next week...

Liv scanned the crowd gathered near the fountain at Piccadilly Circus. As expected, no Josh Cameron. He had told her to meet him at Meat, some new nightclub in Soho.

Liv had secretly hoped that he would surprise her at the subway and escort her there, but she knew she was being totally unreasonable. He was busy and famous. And this was, after all, not a date. She headed across the street and followed the directions Anna had written for her back at the apartment as Liv had strapped herself into The World’s Most Uncomfortable Shoes Ever.

Turning onto the club’s street, she spotted a long line that snaked around a brown rope outside an unimpressive brick building. A small sign verified that she had arrived at Meat. Uncertain of what to do next, she mingled around the crowd, half in line, half out. There didn’t seem to be any real rules or order, since the bouncers were just randomly picking people out of the crowd and ushering them in. Just when Liv’s stomach had begun to curl at the idea of standing on the outside of the rope, smiling and flirting in the hope that she would be chosen to enter, a skinny guy in a suit approached her.

“Olivia.” He stated her name so matter-of-factly that she immediately nodded and smiled. “He’s inside. He asked me to escort you up. Follow, please.” Liv had no idea who this guy was, but just assumed that “he” was none other than Josh Cameron. Liv followed as Skinny Guy made a tunnel through the waiting crowd and toward the door. He snapped twice, and a bouncer quickly pulled the rope aside to let them pass. Liv smiled at the bouncer. He narrowed his eyes and released what Liv could only assume was a growl.

Skinny Guy hustled through the low, narrow entrance to the club, while Liv struggled to stay upright on her shoes. She wondered if her feet were bleeding yet. She looked around, trying to take everything in as she trailed behind the suited stranger into the main room of Meat. There were about thirty brown leather booths packed around the perimeter of the room, each one lit by a bare, plain white light bulb hanging from a cord extending all the way down from the superhigh ceilings. The center of the club held a dark, crowded dance floor. Some sort of R & B music was being piped, quite literally, from pipes that extended out of each corner. A bar at the far end of the room was lit by flickering red light bulbs. The club left Liv feeling creeped out, but she knew she would never admit that to anyone. This was, after all, one of London’s hottest clubs, and the site of her first date with Josh Cameron.

She and Skinny Guy had made their way past the booths and were now standing in the back corner of the club, next to the bar. They were directly under one of the pipes, so when Skinny Guy turned to say something to Liv, all she could hear was “ung, uh uh snu.” She just nodded her agreement (hoping he had asked something reasonable), and followed as he pulled a curtain aside, moved past a bear-sized bouncer, and up an unlit staircase.

They emerged into a dim, thickly carpeted room that reminded Liv of her grandparents’ small downstairs den. She suddenly wished she were there now, watching movies and giggling with her cousin Luke while their parents played cards and drank cheap wine at the folding table upstairs.

But she wasn’t. She was in London. Standing in front of an L-shaped couch packed with no less than fifteen people, all of whom were visibly drunk. Judging from the security guards positioned around the room, and the fact that two of the women on the couch had been on the cover of Us Weekly last month, Liv could only imagine she had entered some sort of VIP section at Meat.

Skinny Guy disappeared, and Liv suddenly felt very alone. She stood in the doorway for a few minutes, letting her eyes adjust to the low light. She could feel beautiful faces scanning her own, trying to determine why she was here, with them. Among the stars. Just when she was about to turn and flee, realizing this must all have been a horrible, cruel joke, she spotted Josh Cameron walking through an archway toward her. She could feel the eyes on the couch watching as he breezed up to her and took her face in his hands, giving her a kiss on each cheek.

“You,” Josh Cameron whispered in her ear, “look stunning. Thank you for joining me.”

© Erin Soderberg Downing

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