Authors: Lauren Layne
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age
Emma had also danced with Cole Sharpe, who, she hadn’t realized, was friends with Mitchell, and who was every bit as sarcastic and charming as she’d been warned. But though he had a devil-may-care smile, damn good hair, and what Riley called sex eyes, and though he flirted wildly, there was nothing between them. Cole didn’t make a move, and Emma didn’t want him to.
By the time the DJ announced the last song of the night, Emma was pleasantly buzzed on champagne, heading toward a blister on her left pinky toe, and almost unbearably happy.
Because the last dance of the night was a slow one—and a song she hadn’t heard in years, but loved.
So as she and the other singles filed off the dance floor and couples of all ages walked hand in hand onto the dance floor, something crept in around the giddiness of the evening.
She told herself she was fine being single—wanted it, even—but when the lights dimmed and the music slowed and the touching started, Emma wanted
. Wanted all of it.
Julie caught Emma’s eye over Mitchell’s shoulder and lifted her eyebrows meaningfully. Assuming that her friend was worried about her, Emma gave her a happy wave and grin before deciding that maybe she wasn’t above hiding out in the bathroom.
She was happy for her friends—she really was—but she didn’t want to be the wallflower right now. Not when she was feeling so damned vulnerable.
But when Emma turned to take the coward’s way out, she ran smack into a hard chest and realized what Julie had been trying to tell her.
Cassidy had been right behind her.
He reached out to grab her arms to steady her, but her emotions were more off-balance than her body, and she reflexively jerked back before he could make contact.
His smile was fleeting, his eyes sad as he let his hands drop.
And it was the sadness that had her reaching out, touching his arm briefly. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “I just—”
“Self-protecting,” he said. “I get it.”
She’d barely seen him throughout the reception—intentionally—and at some point in the evening, he’d lost the tux jacket, but the bow tie had stayed. With the white sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up to his elbows but the tie perfectly tied, perfectly straight, he was a compelling combination of formal and relaxed, and she inexplicably. . . wanted to touch him.
She let her hand drop back to her side when she realized, but at the same moment her hand fell, his came up. He was asking her to dance.
Emma looked at his extended hand then met his eyes. And in the end, it wasn’t the perfect bow tie or the sexy white shirt that made her set her fingers in his.
It was the look in his eyes. Not quite pleading, not even passion . . . just a quiet sense of rightness.
Like they were
to dance this song, on this night. With each other.
And just like that, Emma let it go. For tonight, at least, she let the pain go.
His eyes flared—green tonight—when their palms touched, and he closed his thumb on the back of her hand as though to prevent her from changing her mind.
But Emma didn’t change her mind.
She let him lead her onto the dance floor until they mingled in with the swaying couples. Instead of releasing her hand, he tugged, using the contact to pull her closer so his other arm could move around her waist.
The palm of his hand was hot against the small of her back, and she let out a shuttering breath as she lifted her free hand to his shoulder.
The hand holding hers twisted slightly, gripping hers more tightly.
And then they were dancing.
“You were right, you know,” she heard herself say, as she stared at the pristine collar of his shirt.
He didn’t answer, but she knew he was listening.
“The other night, when you put your hand on my back . . . you said I’d liked it when you touched me there. I did.” Emma swallowed. “I still do.”
In response, his palm pressed even more firmly against her, pulling her in until their hips brushed. Then his head dipped, his lips near her ear, his voice husky.
Emma’s eyes drifted closed as they somehow moved even closer.
Only then did she listen to the lyrics of the song, and she remembered. Back when she’d listened to this song on repeat, she and Cassidy had been together.
He’d known it was her favorite.
Her eyes flew open and she pulled back just enough to look up at his face.
“This song . . . it’s ‘I Told You So.’”
He didn’t smile. “I
have sold my soul to Julie and Mitchell in order to pick the last song. It’s not exactly wedding-night material, but I doubt they’re paying attention to the words.”
Emma’s lips parted, stunned by the admission. “You requested this?”
His smile was slight. “I have fond memories.”
She laughed. “Fond? Really? Seems to me this song was a point of argument more often than not.”
“Ah, but listen,” he said, pointing a finger. “I think you’ll notice something different.”
Emma quieted to listen, just as a female voice joined the male’s. She heard what she hadn’t registered before.
“It’s a duet!”
He smiled. “This version came out a couple years after we broke up.”
Emma shook her head, half-amused, half-baffled . . . baffled that he’d not only remembered a silly seven-year argument, but cared enough to request the song at a friend’s wedding.
Country music wasn’t big in New York—at all—but it had been more popular in North Carolina, and both she and Cassidy had been occasional fans when the mood was right.
Back then, Emma had been particularly partial to Carrie Underwood, and had been over the moon for one of Carrie’s singles: “I Told You So,” a heartbreaking ballad that she’d listened to on near constant repeat.
Cassidy, being a self-proclaimed country purist, had broken the news that the song was hardly an original.
honor belonged to Randy Travis, who’d originally recorded the song back in the eighties.
The result had been a good-natured war in which they each tried to outplay the other, arguing the merits of each version.
Emma hadn’t thought about it in years—hadn’t listened to the song since they broke up.
She shook her head as she listened. “It’s perfect. Both their voices together. The best of both.”
He pulled her closer again, and she let him. His head dipped slightly so they were cheek to cheek. “Guess some things are better together.”
Emma’s fingers clenched on his shoulder at the words. He wasn’t talking about the song. At least not
about the song.
He was talking about people.
He was talking about
Emma closed her eyes and listened to the music, letting herself sink into the moment. Letting herself sink into Cassidy, his smell and his warmth, and, most alarming of all, his familiarity.
She remembered this
. Not just her mind, not just her body, but her soul remembered this.
“It’s funny,” she said, turning her head so that her cheek brushed his shoulder. “This song fits so much better now than it did back then.”
His cheek brushed her hair. “I’m not sure that’s such a good thing, considering the song’s about heartbreak.”
“True,” she said, on a dreamy sigh. “It’s still beautiful, though. In a hauntingly melancholy kind of way.”
Emma realized that now
was the one talking in double meaning, although she hadn’t realized she was doing it.
The song began to build into the final chorus, and Emma felt a little jolt of panic at the realization that the dance was almost over.
And beyond the panic, a surge of shock, because she didn’t want it to end. Didn’t want to say good night to Cassidy. Didn’t want to go back to being forced, awkward strangers tomorrow.
Cassidy’s hand slid up, his palm moving over her back in a caress, and she heard his breath quicken. Their joined hands shifted again, so his thumb brushed against her palm, and she felt fireworks at the simple touch. Felt his reaction as well.
Emma knew she was in danger then. He wanted her.
And more dangerous still . . . she wanted him, too.
The Plaza wasn’t all that far from her apartment . . . in different circumstances she would have walked. But at one in the morning, after standing all day in high heels and then dancing all night, there was no way her feet were carrying her that many blocks.
There was a line for cabs, and Emma wasn’t surprised when she and Cassidy wordlessly found themselves in line together.
Just like she wasn’t surprised when he slipped his jacket over her shoulders.
Nor was she surprised when he climbed into the cab after her.
She told herself sharing a cab made sense. They were neighbors.
But Emma knew this had nothing to do with practicality or convenience, and everything to do with whatever had passed between them on the dance floor.
They didn’t talk on the cab ride home.
They didn’t touch as the cab headed west on Central Park South toward that fateful moment where they’d stand beside their respective front doors and make a crucial decision.
Emma had been counting on the blast of cold air to jar her back to her senses. Had counted on the inevitable strange food smells one frequently found in New York taxis to cool her ardor.
But it was impossible to think of anything but the man beside her. The man whose tux jacket smelled like him. Spicy and sexy and Cassidy.
She turned her head just slightly under the guise of looking at Central Park, but mostly she just wanted to inhale his scent.
When she turned her head back to face the front, she saw out of the corner of her eye that he was smiling.
He knew what she was up to. But Emma couldn’t be bothered to be embarrassed. She was too fuzzy from champagne, too giddy after seeing her dearest friends tie the knot.
Tonight wasn’t about the regrets and what hadn’t happened between Emma and Cassidy.
Tonight was about romance. . . .
And maybe something else she wasn’t ready to name.
The cab pulled up outside their building. Cassidy paid the fare then helped Emma out of the cab.
When she placed her hand in his, it was the first time they’d touched since leaving the dance floor, and Emma tried to ignore the flutter his touch caused.
He released her hand almost immediately, and she told herself she was glad.
Save a thank-you for the doorman who held the door for them, neither of them spoke as they waited for the elevator. Nor as they rode the elevator up to their floor.
Emma’s heart was now pounding so loud she was sure he could hear it, but what she
sure about was whether he wanted her the way she wanted him.
Maybe even guys could get swept up in the romance of a wedding. Maybe the moment on the dance floor had been a fluke.
But one thing was certain: Emma was
going to set herself up for rejection. She wasn’t opposed to making the first move, but not with Alex Cassidy. She’d taken a risk on him once.
And it had
They came to his door first, and he stopped.
So did Emma’s heart.
He pulled his key fob out of his pocket, jostling it in his hand as he watched her, his expression unreadable.
She faced him, her stomach fluttering with the realization that he was unsure, too, trying to decide whether to make a move.
she silently begged.
And then Emma had a humiliating realization.
He wasn’t waiting to make a move.
He was waiting for his
Oh my God.
Her cheeks burning, she shrugged out of his tux jacket as quickly as possible, all but thrusting it at him, with a fake smile pasted on her face. “Here you go! Thanks for that. I wasn’t counting on it being so cold, although I don’t know why, since it’s November. . . .”
Shut it, Emma. You’ve never been a babbler. Don’t start now.
He hesitated only briefly before reaching out a hand and accepting the jacket.
She managed to shut up, but she couldn’t quite wipe the stupid goofy smile off her face without worrying that she would break into tears. Emma fumbled only slightly with her clutch, hoping he would chalk it up to the champagne and not her embarrassment at so terribly misreading the situation.
All he’d wanted was a harmless dance—a peace offering for the sake of old times.
And she’d been ready for . . . well, a whole different kind of dance entirely.
“Good night,” she said, once her fingers closed on her keys. One step closer to safety.
“Good night,” he said, watching her.
And that was that.
This is what came of two years of dating, an aborted wedding, seven years of cold war, and one very sexy dance.
Two near strangers staring at each other exchanging
in the hallway.
She’d had more animated partings with her pizza guy.
Emma turned, lifting the electronic fob that worked as a key in this fancy building to unlock her door.
Cassidy’s fingers closed around her wrist, and her eyes flew to his. He searched her face before wordlessly pulling her in the opposite direction toward his apartment.
She followed, watching as he unlocked his door. He let go of her wrist then, even as he stepped inside, and she knew what he was doing.
He was giving her a choice.
But she’d never really had a choice. Not when he’d offered his hand to her on the dance floor. And not now.
She dropped her key back into her clutch, and then she stepped toward his door.
Emma held his eyes and walked into the apartment, not quite touching him. Cassidy slowly closed the door, perhaps to give her time to change her mind, but Emma didn’t.
She set her clutch on the small console table, and took a deep breath. “I need to take off my shoes. My feet can’t take another second—”
Cassidy kissed her.