One Last Dance Online - Angela Stephens

Chapter One

Sometimes, Sophie wished that she had never learned how to dance.

It was the sensual cadence of the tango that had first made Sophie fall in love. The sound of feet sliding on wood, the rhythmic scuff of soles and taps of heels, the controlled breathing of two people in such close proximity, leaning into each other, utterly dependent on their partners to make the dance work were all things that had once stirred Sophie’s heart. Even now, when the sound was a reminder of the ability she had lost, she was still drawn to it. Sometimes, it almost made her forget. But she could never forget. At just age twenty-five, her career as a dancer was already over.

Her fingers tightened on the handle of her black wood cane. She loathed the thing, would have thrown it into the nearest fire if Darren hadn’t insisted she use it. She refused to walk with it, absolutely refused, but she would acquiesce to her friend in this one instance: she would use the cane when teaching a class, if she wasn’t demonstrating steps, to take some of the weight off her left knee. Now, she used it to tap the beat out against the wood floor. At least it was good for that.

“You have to feel the music and let your body react!” she called to the class. “Listen to it! Don’t think!” She rapped the cane harder against the floor, watching as each pair moved in front of her in the harsh, sterile white light of the dance studio. This evening’s class was an intermediate one, so the dancers were familiar with the steps but not yet fluid in their movement.

“They’re not hopeless,” Darren muttered in her ear. “Well,” he qualified, “not totally.”

Sophie bit back a smile. The classes at this level were reserved for people with a real interest. Of course, when faced with the harder lessons, their interest would often fade. Only a rare few found a real passion for the dance and went on to her advanced classes.

“Okay, stop!” she called, rapping the cane on the floor once, loudly. The couples froze. She scanned the room, doing her best to ignore the stream of people walking by on the sidewalk outside the large front windows. She still wasn’t quite used to the more than occasional gawkers who stopped to watch the dancers on the other side of the glass. Darren was the one who’d suggested the floor to ceiling windows along the front of the studio to gain the business some exposure. He’d been right. Not that all the classes they offered were booked full, but enough of them were that she was operating in the black, due in no small part to their walk-in clientele.

“Men, you have to make her feel confident in your support. If she doesn’t feel that the support is there, she won’t let you bear her. And ladies, you have to learn to let go. Follow your leader. Trust him.” The words sent a small lance of pain under her ribs, but Sophie ignored it. “Now, try it again.”

She watched them closely for the smallest misstep and found it quickly. “Wait, wait.” She waved her hand in exasperation. Once again, the dancers paused. She motioned Darren over.

“I can’t stress enough how important the embrace is,” Sophie said. Darren lifted his arms and she stepped into him but didn’t place her hands in his just yet. “Men, with your left hand you have to be doing your Shakespeare. Darren?”

He rolled his eyes at her but turned his left palm toward himself and intoned solemnly, “‘Oh, that I were a glove upon that hand.’” The sober expression cracked and a broad grin spread across his handsome face, his dirty blond hair tumbling over his dark green eyes. “I would be kid leather and cost a fortune!”

Sophie sighed, shaking her head at him. She loved her friend but his inability to remain serious for any length of time could be trying. “Thank you, Darren. Guys, you see how he’s holding his hand? Your palm should be facing you, wrist turned in. In order for this to be comfortable for your partner, you really have to hold her close. Keep that other hand on her back. Support her.”

Darren slid his right arm around her, his broad hand cupping her shoulder blade. Sophie glanced at the students, making sure they were observing. “You have to have some tension in your arms, guys. If you don’t, your partner won’t know