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Authors: Jennifer Comeaux

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BOOK: Crossing the Ice
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I turned and went out to the bar, pushing aside thoughts of bodies pressed together, gyrating to the beat. No such dancing would be happening here. This was going to be a simple lesson on technique… during which Josh would be touching me and standing very close to me.

The suddenly quick pitter-patter of my heart stopped me in my tracks, and Josh looked at me curiously as I did a one-eighty and hurried back into the kitchen. I aimed straight for my purse and gazed into my compact mirror. No spinach in my teeth. No breadcrumbs on my chin. I stashed the compact and popped a mint into my mouth. I couldn’t have sandwich breath while sharing dance space with Josh.

I smoothed my tie and my ponytail and returned to the bar with a smile. “Sorry, I had to check on something.”

Josh followed me through the wood-paneled dining room to the French doors leading outside. The marsh grass surrounding the deck swished in the breeze, and the late afternoon sun reflected off Nantucket Sound. It would’ve been beautifully serene if not for the ridiculous anxiety that had begun to churn in my stomach.

“So… the tango,” Josh said. “It’s a bit different from the usual ballroom hold. Have you done any ballroom dancing?”

I shook my head. Slow dancing at my prom was the extent of my partner dancing, and that had been more swaying while standing still than anything.

“Good. Then you won’t know the difference.” He smiled. “If you’ve watched videos, you’ve seen the tango has a close hold.”

He took a tentative step toward me but kept his arms at his sides. “But I’m not sure how close Emily and Sergei want you and Mark to be.”

I got a stronger whiff of his cologne, which smelled expensive. And sweet. Like him.
Oh, dear God.

“Um… we need to be pretty close in some parts of the program,” I said.

He shifted nearer, sliding his hand around to my lower back, and the heat from his touch radiated through my cotton shirt, my skin, and into the deepest cells of my body. I didn’t dare look up because there would be only a narrow space between our faces. Between our mouths…

Tango! Focus on the tango.

Thinking I should demonstrate what I did know about the dance, I clutched Josh’s right shoulder and extended my other arm out to the side like I’d seen the pros do.

“Let’s move this a little lower,” he said.

He gently pried my hand from his shoulder and placed it around the top of his bicep. The muscle was solid under my fingers, and I resisted the strong urge to squeeze it.

“How tight should I hold onto you?” I asked.

He took a noticeable swallow and glanced at my grip. “That’s… that’s good.”

“Em was telling me to have more tension in my arms, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hold on tighter or just hold my arms straighter or…”
Nice rambling.

“You’ll want to keep your right arm tense because it helps you follow your partner’s lead.” He grasped my right hand, pressing our palms together, and my pulse sped even faster. “I know you’re not actually doing the full dance on the ice, but I’ll show you how it would look and feel.”

It feels terrifying yet totally amazing.

He was a head taller than me, so I was still staring at his shoulder, and I remembered seeing some of the women in the videos tilting their heads toward their partners. “Should I look straight ahead or…”

“You can turn your head slightly to the right. Just make sure your posture stays straight.”

I looked inward at his chest, not moving anything anywhere else. I had no problem keeping the required tension in my body. I was one humungous ball of tension.

Josh pulled me a little closer to him, and his chest expanded and contracted at a swifter pace. Was he feeling nervous, too? I wished I could put my hand against his heart to see if it was beating as fast as mine.

“The first step I’ll go forward with my left foot and you’ll go back with your right,” he said. “Then I’ll go forward with my right and you back with your left.”

His hand lightly squeezed mine as he led me through the steps and showed me the next ones, counting out, “Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.” I followed his lead, keeping my posture mega stiff, but every slight movement of his hand on my back, even just the faintest brush of his fingertips, made me tingle. It threatened to turn my stiffness into total mush.

We completed a full circle and repeated the pattern, moving faster with each repetition. Josh was a commanding lead, but there was also a softness to the way he pressed my hand and glided me around the deck. His little bits of instruction as we danced were also delivered softly and patiently.

I got lost in the flow of the steps and felt more at ease until Josh stopped and we were just standing there, holding onto each other. Then the rush of nervousness returned. Josh inched nearer, and his fingertips grazed my spine, sending a thrilling wave of heat through me. Too thrilling.

“Was that okay?” I asked as I let go of him.

“Yeah, you did… you did great.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Did you get a good feel for it?”

I nodded. “I think I was definitely too rigid before. I mean, there has to be some rigidness, but I was like a robot. It helped to do the dance with someone who’s comfortable with it.”

“I’m glad I could help.” He smiled. “I love teaching this kind of stuff.”

“Maybe you can moonlight as a dance teacher when you’re in law school.”

His smile faded into a thin line. “Or maybe I could just ditch law school,” he muttered.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to his sudden mood change and the revealing comment he’d made, but I wanted to know more.

“Is working with your dad not something you want to do?”

“It’s what I’ve always been expected to do, so…”

“But if there are other things you’d rather pursue—”

“I should get going. I have to meet Steph.” He stepped back and moved toward the door. “Let me know if you want to practice again. Anytime.”

He gave me a smile and was gone before I could even reply. I stood looking at the door with what must’ve been a befuddled expression because the first thing Meredith said when she came outside was, “What’s that face all about? Did it not go well?”

“No, it was fine. He…” My body recalled the sensation of being held in Josh’s strong arms, and a tiny shiver shook me. “He gives good tango.”

“Oh, really?” She flashed a knowing grin. “So, he’s hot and a great dancer. That’s a pretty sweet combination.”

“And one that I will not be getting all mixed up with.” I held up both my hands.

“Why not? Because you compete against him? I watched you for a minute when you were dancing, and I saw a little somethin’ somethin’ between you.”

I’d felt a little
somethin’
somethin’,
but it was a moot point. “There’s a long list of reasons why nothing will be happening between Josh and me, and yes, him being a competitor is one of them. Not that there’s interest from either of us in going there.”

“You know if he was a regular guy you met here in town you’d be all over it. From what you’ve told me, he is so your type.”

Meredith was right. Whenever she and I went to the movies, I always fawned over the quiet, not-so-suave heroes while she went for the cocky, smooth-talking ones. I had to think of Josh like a character in a movie — completely unattainable.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s my type because we’re just acquaintances.”

“Hmm…” Meredith put her arm around me and steered me toward the door. “That’s a shame because you’d be awfully cute together.”

I shook my head at her, but I couldn’t help conjure up the image of Josh and me hand-in-hand as a couple. My head leaning against his shoulder and his crinkly-eyed smile beaming at me. Damn, we
would
be cute together.

Now I mentally shook my head at myself. Why did I always have to crush on the wrong guys?

Chapter Six

 

With my leg stretched across the bleachers, I shifted the ice pack on my knee and winced at the bite of cold on my skin. I’d somehow managed to land on my knee during a nasty fall on a triple toe loop, and Sergei had made me call it quits for the day. Mark continued to practice our jumps without me, but he wasn’t my focus as I watched the action on the ice.

Em was working with Josh and Stephanie on their long program, and Josh was helping create much of the choreography. Usually Em took charge of designing our programs, but I noticed her taking many of Josh’s suggestions. The ballet music of
Daphnis and Chloe
was perfect for Josh and Stephanie’s gorgeous lines, and they were planning to show them off with lots of spirals and other beautiful positions I wished I looked half as good doing.

“Hey, Kid.”

I hadn’t even seen Em’s former partner Chris enter the rink, and there he was standing at the bottom of the bleachers.

“Long time no see.” I started to get up to hug him, but he stopped me.

“I’ll come to you.” He climbed up and wrapped me in a bear hug. “Looks like you had a fun morning.”

“Slipped off my toe and had an awkward splat. It should be okay Monday, I think.”

“Want me to take a look at it?” he asked.

Chris was studying to be a sports trainer, and he liked to diagnose all our aches and pains when he visited, but I didn’t think this was anything worse than a bad bruise.

“That’s okay. It’s already feeling better with the ice.” I patted the pack of cubes. “Are you and Aubrey down for the weekend?”

“Yeah, we’re both taking a full class load in summer school, so we can only make it here on weekends. I think everyone else in Boston had the same plan with the traffic we were in this morning.”

“How are the wedding plans going? I think a New Year’s Eve wedding is uber romantic, by the way.”

“Well, it was the night we had our first kiss, so as Mr. Romance I had to insist we get married then.” He smiled, showing off his matching dimples.

“I’m glad you did. I’m going to need a party around that time to take my mind off the biggest competition of my life.”

“You and Mark are gonna kill it at nationals. Em’s told me how hard you’re working.”

I was glad to hear Em recognized the added intensity in our training. “Our programs are really coming together. It took a while for us to get comfortable with the tango for our short, but I feel so much better about it now.”

I hadn’t mentioned to anyone
why
I felt more comfortable with it. In the three weeks that had passed since my lesson with Josh, I’d continued to watch videos online, but the experience of doing the dance with him had made it much easier to grasp. It had also given me the memory of being close to him, feeling his strong hands guiding me. A memory that had been hard to shake.

“Just keep pounding it,” Chris said, bringing my attention back to the rink. “Day after day until it feels like you were born to do the programs. Then when it’s time for nationals, it’ll happen just like you practice every day.”

“I thought we were in position to do that four years ago, and we fell apart. I wanted it so bad that I completely locked up. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how I was so close to reaching the dream I’d had all my life.”

“I had that same feeling the first time Em and I were trying to make the Olympic team. It was like I was so tight I couldn’t breathe. But I just kept reminding myself that I could do the program in my sleep, and all I had to do was stop fighting myself. And we nailed it.” He grinned.

I looked up at the huge blue banner with Em and Chris’s names that hung above the rink. It was only one of a few banners bearing their names and accomplishments, but it was the biggest. The one with the Olympic rings emblazoned on it.

“Was being at the Olympics as amazing as you thought it would be?” I asked. “I mean, I know winning the gold medal had to be super amazing, but what about just the experience of being there? Em doesn’t talk to us about it much because she wants us to focus more on the process of getting there.”

He glanced at Em working on the ice and scooted closer to me. “You can’t tell her I told you this.”

I made a cross over my heart and mimed zipping my lips.

“Top three experiences of my life,” he said quietly. “Number one — falling in love with Aubrey.”

“Aww.”

“Number two — winning gold in Torino. And number three — walking in the Opening Ceremony at our first Olympics. It felt like… like I had the power to do anything in that moment. I know it sounds cliché, but I really was on top of the world.” His voice relayed the awe he’d experienced. “Trust me when I say it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more.”

My throat tightened, and my eyes went back to the banner. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

 

****

 

My bruised knee had me hobbling that night at the restaurant, and I was still walking gingerly on Saturday. I was relieved when the usual dinner crowd trickled in slowly. Josh showed up as one of the early arrivals and perched on what had become his barstool. He’d been arriving earlier and earlier when he came to the restaurant, which was a couple times a week, and he’d also been staying later and later. I enjoyed talking to him, but it wasn’t helping my crush situation. Especially when he came in looking all sexy-but-not-knowing-it like tonight. He had on a black blazer, sleeves pushed up, over a white Beatles T-shirt. Dark jeans and Converse rounded out his outfit. Any guy who wore Converse scored extra points in my book.

I wiped my hands on my apron and carried the water pitcher over to Josh to refill his glass. He thanked me and peered over the bar.

“How’s your knee?” he asked.

“It’s still a little sore, but I’ll be back on the ice Monday. It sucked sitting out yesterday when we were having a really good practice before I fell.”

“You’ve been looking great on the tango.”

I smiled. “Thanks to my awesome teacher.”

His cheeks reddened, and he returned my smile. “I just got you started. You’ve done all the rest.”

Meredith breezed by with an order for a vodka sour, so I grabbed the cocktail shaker and scooped some ice. After filling it with vodka, sugar syrup, and lemon juice, I went back to Josh as I shook the mixture.

BOOK: Crossing the Ice
6.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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