Since being torn from his Siberian family as a child, Sasha’s life ambition has been to be world ballroom champion, a path he was destined for until his former partner pulled the plug on their partnership. She went on to win the world title, leaving him, without a partner equal in ability, forever in second place. The instant he lays eyes on Rory, he recognizes the depth of her passion and talent, and falls hard for her in more ways than one.
But she also reminds him of great pain from his past. He must not only overcome his own demons but convince her to leave her demanding law career, and all that she has worked for in her adult life, to train with him full-time in order for their partnership – both on and off the dance floor – to work.
This is part one in a continuing three-book series.
I first saw him at The Beverly Hilton. Witnessed him, is more like it. It was an early November holiday party thrown by my boyfriend’s entertainment law firm. I was secretly hoping I’d see some of the celebrities the firm represented. But no such luck. The room was filled only with boring lawyers. And, admittedly, I was one of them. I didn’t work at James’s firm, though. I’d just graduated from Hastings Law School in San Francisco and James wanted me to move down to L.A. with him. He was infatuated with L.A.
Tuxedoed waiters had just brought us bowls of chocolate mousse. I nearly inhaled mine, hoping they’d soon open the dance floor. I’d been pretty bored for much of the evening, to be honest. James and Mitchell, the partner seated with us, talked of contract clauses and made veiled references to actors they couldn’t name to outsiders. Gossip isn’t really that fun when you don’t know whom it’s about, is it? I tried to make small talk with Mitchell’s wife, Cheryl, but we had so little in common. She spent her days getting beauty treatments, tanning, and lunching at places I was embarrassed to say I’d never heard of and well knew I couldn’t afford on my small-firm starting salary.
I’d just swallowed my last spoonful of mousse, eyes focused on my empty bowl, when the chandeliers dimmed. Oh good, something was about to happen.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a lush male voice said over a microphone, “we have a special surprise for you tonight.” Whispers filled the room. “Before we open the dance floor, the current national ballroom champions would like to perform for you. First in the U.S. and second in the whole world, please welcome…!”
I couldn’t make out the names, partly because they were foreign-sounding and partly because James’s deep voice continued to vibrate next to me. The man loved to talk.
The room went dark for a few seconds. A low, pulsing drumbeat sounded from afar. James’s relentless baritone was really aggravating me. I smacked him on the arm. He jumped and I could see, even in the dark, his confusion.
“Sorry, Rory,” he said with an embarrassed laugh and a shrug.
I felt bad, and gently put my fingers to my lips, without turning toward him.
The beat—from a conga drum—grew louder and closer. The spotlight shone down on a figure at the far corner of the floor. He wore form-fitting black clothing, his back toward us. He moved his hips to the pulse of the drums, which was getting heavier and faster. He walked backward, toward the center of the floor, taking these tiny steps, placing one foot behind the other, rocking several times back and forth and circling his pelvis around.
James said something in my direction, perhaps to me. But I was too mesmerized to pay attention to him. I nodded, figuring that would be answer enough for whatever he wanted.
The faster the beat went, the faster the dancer moved his hips and pelvis, and the more quickly he got to the center of the room, taking those small steps. He soon stepped and shook with such speed, his body was a blur. He looked like an upright snake. I’d never seen anyone move like that before. Then I noticed a woman doing the same, coming from the other corner. She had long, platinum hair, tied back into a long French braid. She had large eyes, lashes that practically reached her forehead, full lips, and high cheekbones. Her dress was hot fuchsia, and seemed to be made almost entirely of mesh, save for two patches of fabric covering her nipples, and a bikini bottom. Wow, she had guts. That looked like a costume malfunction waiting to happen. And yet she was dancing with the same confidence as he, snaking toward him at the speed of light. Soon, they turned to each other and took long steps to meet in the middle of the floor, hips gyrating even more.
He was the most intriguingly beautiful man I’d ever seen. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties, had jet black hair, slicked back, slightly longish and ending about an inch below the nape of his neck, large dark blue eyes, a well-defined nose, sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw. His spandex shirt had a wide, plunging V-neck, revealing very well-defined pecs. His skin was a glowing light bronze. He reached out and grabbed her, whisking her around, and, bending his knees, seated her on his lap. Now their hips rolled in unison. Instinctively, I sat up in my seat and straightened my back, elongating my spine and holding my arms out into the most elegant port de bras I could do, sure no one was watching me. When I did so I realized how restrictive my suit was. I’d danced ballet all throughout my childhood and teen years and once had dreams of becoming a pro. But wow, this looked so much more fun. Not to mention sexy. I squirmed in my seat.
As I fixed on those dark, soulful eyes, it seemed like he peered right back at me, into me, his piercing gaze sending an electric current up my spine. But I knew very well he couldn’t see me. I’d known, very briefly, what it was like to be on a stage with lights shining down on you and how you’re unable to see anything in the audience. I knew this was what gave a dancer charisma, or that nearly impossible-to-attain thing called presence, that allowed the dancer to connect with the audience in a way that made it seem like he or she was dancing just for you. But in a nanosecond his intense expression lightened into a smile, revealing dimples that made him ooze with boyish charm.
He suddenly straightened and gave his partner a swift little bop to her butt with his pelvis. This was apparently her cue to move, as she took off in a long-stepped, fast-footed snaky walk away from him. He followed behind her, his hip and pelvic movements so much fuller and sexier than hers. I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair, watching him walk like that. He caught up with her and grabbed her from behind. He then beautifully shadowed her with his body by wrapping one arm around her waist and, with the other, grasping her hand and holding it high above her head. Together they bent over at the waist, brushing their arms over and out, then lifted themselves up and arched back—way back—then down again, the whole time moving their hips and feet in these tiny circles, around and around.
The drums stopped and the music changed to Spanish guitars playing slower, dramatic, gypsy-sounding music that soon sped up and began to take on a more playful bullfighter flair. My dancer slowly raised a large, red cape off the floor and held it high above his head. He arched his back and lifted his chest, making the shirt fall open even farther, revealing more of those bronzed pecs, along with major eight-pack abs. I could also spot the outlines of some kind of tattoo, which looked like it snaked all the way around his back, wrapping slightly around each shoulder.
Using only the strength of his right arm, he whirled that cape high above his head in a full figure-eight motion. It was like a flash of fire in the black sky. The material looked heavy and I thought he must be damn strong to be able to move it so fully and precisely like that with only one arm.
As the music slowed, so did his arm. The cape came down and he tossed it aside.
“Olé!” shouted one of the guitarists. The music sped up, and the dancer took a deep breath, lifted his chest, eyed his partner, and, with a vigorous snap of his fingers, went dashing toward her. When he met her, he whisked her into the air, her legs flying up and around him, before lowering her into a deep, dramatic dip. He was gentle, yet strong and precise. So trustworthy. After releasing her, he backed away, then ran back to her and did a huge turning jump high in the air, landing in a deep lunge, hand on his knee, chest up and out, a smug smile on his face. What an enormous, brilliant tour jeté! My favorite male athletic feat from ballet. What a truly endearing bravura show-off this guy was!
Just then, the music changed into a soft, slow violin piece. Very romantic, and actually quite ballet-like. I loved it. I wanted so badly to stand up and dance with him, my legs ached. He slowly bent down and held out his hand. She took it and he lifted her, not to her feet but all the way up to his waist, as she spread her legs into a forward split. He made her look weightless, like she was walking on air.
As soon as he set her down, she stood on one leg, lifting the other high in back of her, while he lunged onto one knee like he was proposing. I could do that arabesque penchée; I loved those in ballet. One thing I’d always had in class was hyper-flexibility. My years of dance training—my life before college and law school—flooded my thoughts. The dream I’d had to give up after Daddy died and I got sick. I felt my face get hot. The dancer rose to his feet and spun his partner around him, whipping her into multiple turns. Another step I could do in my sleep, and fast, very fast. I’d learned how to hold my head back and stabilize my equilibrium so I could spin faster, without spotting, like an ice skater. I found myself bouncing in my seat, I wanted so badly to get up and dance with him.
After working for many years as a criminal appeals attorney in New York, Tonya Plank now lives and writes in Southern California. A former amateur ballroom dancer, she wrote the dance blog, Swan Lake Samba Girl. Her first novel, Swallow, won several awards, including gold medals in the Independent Publisher and the Living Now Book Awards, and was a finalist in ForeWord’s Book of the Year and the National Indie Excellence Awards.
When not writing, she enjoys taking road trips with her rescue dog, Sofia, devouring Mexican food and Cadillac margaritas, sweating to dance-based workouts, cuddling up with her cats and a good book, and seeing dance performances of any kind. Her favorite places in the world are Lincoln Center in New York City, the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Francisco, and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.
To connect with her, please find her at www.tonyaplank.com where she tries to blog regularly.