“Dancing in heels should count as a superpower.” —Molly W.
January, Two Months Later
When the set of bells chimed on the front door to Dance With Me, her finally-finished dance studio, Shannon felt a burst of satisfaction. Her very first private client had arrived, and right on time, too.
After taking a quick glance at herself in the mirror, she smoothed her dress down on her thighs and strode forward to meet the man who was standing in the small lobby. “Hi, I’m Shannon Murphy,” she said as she held out her hand. “Are you Dylan Lange?”
The man who looked like he could have played quarterback for the Broncos stared at her for a good long moment before clasping her hand in his. “Yeah, I am. It’s nice to meet you.”
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His palm was gargantuan. She was sure two of her hands could neatly fit inside it. Yet, he clasped her hand in a way that was both firm and gentle. That was no small feat, she reckoned. Most men either shook her hand so lightly it felt like she was holding onto a limp trout or with so much pressure it felt more like a vice than a hello.
Thinking that this simple handshake was a sign of good things to come, she smiled up at him. “It’s real nice to meet you, too.”
“Thanks for fitting me into your schedule on such late notice. I really appreciate it.”
“Of course. I’m always happy to help someone learn to dance—especially when I hear that they’re in a bind.”
When he smiled at her, faint lines formed around his blue eyes. He really did have nice eyes. And, yes, she could admit it, she liked how the rest of him looked, too. He had dark-blond hair, a light tan, and those blue eyes . . . And his teeth? Perfectly straight and pure white. Immediately she switched her comparison from pro football lineman to Coppertone model.
As what she was doing hit her, she felt her cheeks heat. She knew better than to start fantasizing about her clients. She liked to keep things professional and organized. For her, it was a needed element since she spent much of her time in such close proximity with her students. Things could get out of hand fast if she allowed anything to become personal while fox-trotting or waltzing in her ballroom.
When she noticed that he was looking around the lobby and the large room off to the side, she knew it was time to get to business.
Walking toward the antique desk she’d bought for a song, and Traci and Kimber had helped her refurbish, she gestured to the pair of chairs next to it. “Dylan, come on in. We’ll have a seat, get all the paperwork done and discuss your goals.” Motioning to the neat line of antique silver hooks that lined the wall, she added, “There’s a place for you to hang up your coat, too.”
“Thanks.” He shrugged out of his black wool peacoat and hung it on a hook. Looking more awkward, he shoved his hands into his pockets instead of sitting down. “It’s pretty cold out, huh?”
“It sure is. There’s no way around it—January is for the birds.”
And, now she had succeeded in sounding like an old woman. What was wrong with her? She needed to get a grip.
Clearing her throat, she gestured to the chairs again. “Please sit down.”
When he did at last, she pushed forward one of the packets of information she’d worked so hard on. She loved how the contents were comprehensive but not too overwhelming. She’d learned over the years that it was a mistake to pass on too much information to a student too quickly. “So, here’s all the information about the classes and fees. We went over all of this on the phone.”
He scanned the page. “Okay . . .”
“Here is a basic health form. If you could fill it out now it would be helpful.”
“I’m a cop. I’m in good shape.”
Oh yes, he certainly was. Still a little embarrassed that she’d been ogling him, Shannon handed him a pen. “This is just in case you have a heart condition or something I need to know about.”
“Is that really a concern?”
“It can be.” Remembering Mr. Gerome back Spartan and how he seemed to be the last person to realize that he wasn’t too steady on his feet, she swallowed. “It’s just a precaution. I’m sure you understand.”
“I understand that you take this dancing stuff pretty seriously.” He smirked.
Ouch. She wasn’t a big fan of his attitude.
She smiled tightly. “I know it seems unlikely, but some of our sessions might be more active than you realize.” When he raised a brow, she shrugged. “All I really need from you is a signature saying that you are aware of the health risks associated with being here.”
Dylan scrawled his name at the bottom, not even pretending to look at her carefully written warning at the top of the page. “Is that it?”
Suddenly her hot client didn’t seem all that attractive anymore. “Almost. The last thing that we need to do is determine your goals.”
He leaned back and folded his arms over his chest. “What goals do I need to have? I already told you that I wanted to learn to dance.”
“Yes, I know, but most people have a reason for taking classes, such as a couple might sign up for classes so they can dance at a wedding or something,” she replied in her most reasonable tone. “These private classes are expensive, and I don’t want to waste your money.”
He rolled his eyes. Rolled his eyes! “Honey, why don’t you let me worry about how I spend my money?”
Never had being called ‘honey’ irked her so much. “I’ll gladly let you manage your finances on your own—after you let me know how many classes you’d like to take and what particular dance you’d like to learn.”
“I have to take five classes, and I don’t care which dances we learn.” He winked. “You can choose.”
This whole situation was getting curiouser and curiouser. And it was also beginning to get her pretty irritated. After reminding herself that she was trying to make money and not new friends, she asked, “I’m sorry, but I’m getting confused. Why five? And why don’t you care what you learn?”
He kicked out a very large, tree-trunk sized leg. “Look, I didn’t want to go here, but you’re leaving me no choice. See, the truth is that I’m not actually here to get ready to dance at a wedding.” Blue eyes zeroed directly on her. “I’m here because I lost a bet.”
“We had a pool with my fantasy football league,” he explained. Sounding completely sincere, he added, “The winner got three hundred dollars but the loser had to do penance.”
“Penance,” she repeated, not even trying to hide her dismay.
“Yeah. Two of my key players choked, and another one got hurt. I couldn’t believe my luck.”
He nodded. “I went from eighth place to dead last in two weeks.” Dylan exhaled, just like he was explaining something that was actually important. “I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I mean, I was sure the Raiders’ defensive line was going to be pretty good this year.”
Shannon stared at him. She was a girly-girl, but she’d grown up with a hunting-and-fishing dad in West Virginia, too. She was used to listening to him talk about all kinds of “typical male” things that he found interesting (and that her mother pretended to care about): Friday night high school games, deer blinds, and even wily trout.
But a bet based on made-up football teams? Well, that took the cake.
Not even trying to hide her irritation, she said, “So, if I understand you right, you’re only here to take classes because it’s your punishment?”
For the first time since he’d walked in, Dylan looked uncomfortable. “That’s putting it a little harsh.”
“But . . .”
“But . . . well, yes.”
She was dumbfounded. Here she was, working seven days a week, stressing about her sisters, stressing about owing so much money to the bank, trying like crazy to get her business up and running—but he was treating it as part of his stupid game. “I can’t believe you are wasting my time like this.”
He held his hands up like he was fending off her attack. “Hey, now. I don’t see how I’m wasting your time.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Yeah, I am. As a heart attack.” He grinned like she was supposed to think his joke was original and cute. “You teach dancing and I have to take lessons. And I’m gonna pay you, don’t worry about that. It’s a win-win situation.”
“Not really. You don’t want to be here, and I have a strange desire to teach dance to people who actually want to learn. I don’t think this is the right studio for you.” She folded her hands over her chest. I think you need to leave.”
He blinked, waited a beat, looked at her intently, and then spoke again. “Listen, I think you are taking everything the wrong way.” He winced. “Or, heck, I think I’ve been explaining everything completely wrong. Maybe I should try this again. You see—”
Oh, no. There was no way she wanted to hear about the rules of his stupid fantasy football game again. “Please stop. I get it.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Real sure. Believe me, it’s clear. Crystal clear.”
“What I’m trying to say is that while I might not have ever considered taking lessons before, I’m still going to do my best. I’m not a jerk.”
He sure seemed like one to her.
But, just as she was about to shake her head and point her finger toward the door, she noticed a muscle jump in his cheek. There was a softening in his eyes, too—almost a vulnerability. He actually wanted her to give him a chance. And, if she wasn’t mistaken, it wasn’t because he just wanted to take care of his penance. There was something more going on. She was sure of it.
Maybe she was being stupid, but something about him made her want to give him a chance, too.
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Plus, she could almost hear her sisters remind her that money was money. She had a mortgage to pay, furniture to upgrade, and a reputation to earn. None of that was going to happen if she started judging who wanted to take classes.
She wasn’t changing lives here. She was simply trying to teach people to dance.
Smiling tightly, she decided to get off her high horse and do her job. “You know what, it doesn’t really matter what your reasons are for coming here. I’m sorry I got all defensive.”
“So, we’re good?”
“Can we get started now? Not to be rude, but I’ve to get home soon.”
“I understand.” Even though it sounded a little cheesy, she held out her hand. “All right, Dylan. Shall we dance?”
Folding his own around hers, he grinned. “Shannon Murphy, I thought you’d never ask.”
Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has published over a hundred books. She currently writes Amish and inspirational romances and contemporary women’s fiction. With over a million books in print, translated into more than a dozen languages, her novels have been Holt Medallion winners and Inspirational Readers Choice and Carol finalists. She now lives in southern Colorado near her grown children and writes full time.