Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fever: Book One by Tonya Plank ♥ Spotlight & GIVEAWAY ♥ (Contemporary Romance)


"FEVER is a three-book new adult / sexy contemporary romance series set in the world of ballroom dancing (of which I [Tonya Plank] was a part for many years)! All three books will be part of the larger series, INFECTIOUS RHYTHM, named for the Hollywood dance studio in which they are set."

Rory’s once promising ballet career was destroyed by family tragedy and illness. She turned her life around and became a lawyer. Now at the start of her legal career, she lacks passion in her work and self-confidence in her abilities. But when she meets gorgeous, mysterious Russian ballroom dancer, Sasha, at a firm holiday party, her passions for life and dance are immediately re-kindled.

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.


Chapter 1
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.
Hmmmm.
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, brillianttour 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.
He quickly pulled her into him as if he needed her, couldn’t live without her. What woman in that room didn’t want to be her? Then, he slowly dipped her, and she arched her back and reached away from him, lifting her leg high up behind him, pointing her toe beautifully for definition. But the most poetic step happened at the end, when he lowered himself to his knees and held his arms out as far as he could to each side, and she lowered her body, back first, draping herself over his shoulders. He rose and carried her, like Apollo and Terpsichore, or Romeo and Juliet.
When she was back on her feet, she took a few steps away from him, and he followed her, longingly. When he caught up to her, he swept her up and carried her, cradle-like, offstage, disappearing into the same dark corner he’d emerged from earlier.
The room was dark and heavy for several seconds, before the chandeliers slowly began to light up. The dancers again emerged from the corner, ran back out onto the floor, took a couple bows, then skipped off through a side door. There was an empty pit in my center.
“You didn’t like it, Rory?” James asked me.
“What?” His voice made me jump.
“You’re not clapping, like everyone else,” he said, laughing and motioning about the room. People were really applauding.
I guess I hadn’t joined them. I hadn’t even heard them. I’d been transported somewhere else. I didn’t even know if I could have moved at that point.
“Oh yeah, yes, I did,” I muttered, not really wanting to talk, to be brought back to reality.
“Well, don’t sound so enthused.” He smirked.
I wondered where the dancers had gone, whether they were coming back. A blue funk began to settle over me as I saw myself back in our small house in Mebane, North Carolina, sitting at the table, reading over and over again my letter of acceptance from the prestigious School of American Ballet to their summer program in New York City. A week later at that same table, Mom telling me no, I wouldn’t be going. Times were hard with Daddy gone, and I’d developed anorexia spectrum disorder. Moreover, I’d be transferred from North Carolina School of the Arts, a dance-oriented high school, which I currently attended—and loved—to a “normal” high school. I’d be with normal healthy people, and would go to college and use my brain because, “Contrary to what your father thought, women actually have them.”
“Hey, hey, no talking business here!” an older man shouted, reaching behind James. He slapped the table so hard, it jolted me away from my memory, which wasn’t a bad thing, given it wasn’t such a great one. “Not at our holiday party!” he added, giving the table a smack with each word.
“You’re so right, sir. I’m so sorry,” said James with a chuckle.
I hadn’t realized he and Mitchell had even been talking. James’s constant voice was like white noise to me at this point. That nonstop talking was one of the first things that drew me to him. I was shy and with James I never had to worry about uncomfortable silences. The man laughed heartily. Mitchell grinned too. Then they all sat, silently. Lawyers didn’t always have a lot to say to each other that wasn’t law related.
“Honey, you want another glass of wine?” James said.
I’d already had too many, but I figured it would give James something to do. “Um, sure.”
“Got it!” he said, nearly leaping out of his chair.
“Okay, folks, now it’s your turn,” said a man on the microphone. I hadn’t even realized a small band had been setting up onstage after the dancers left. “I think you’ll like this one.” He sliced his hand through the air at his bandmates and they began playing Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”
“What? Your boyfriend’s gone and left you all alone? I can’t believe that guy!”
I knew the voice, and didn’t want to turn around. It belonged to Philip, a fellow associate at James’s firm, whom I’d met at a prior party, who really enjoyed talking in detail about watching nude scenes in various clients’ films—all of whom remained unnamed, of course—to determine whether the nudity clauses in their contracts were violated.
“Come on, why don’t you let a real man take you for a little spin,” he continued. Was I a car? “If I may say so myself, I’m quite the dancer. Come on, little lady, up off your feet.”
Up off your feet? Didn’t he mean on? I turned around. He was holding his arm out to me, all gentlemanly and debonair. I had wanted to dance. But…not exactly with this one. I felt myself rising, because he was tugging on my hand. Okay, fine.
When we got to the dance floor and he held me in a close, ever-so-close embrace, I realized he was totally drunk.
“Don’t worry, babe. You’re totally safe in Daddy’s arms!”
His chin was resting on my neck, his right arm was wrapped entirely around me, hand placed not over my left shoulder blade, but on the very top of my right butt cheek. His left hand held my right one high, high in the air and he swung our collective arms up and down with exaggerated emphasis. We swayed side to side, not at all in time with the music. I’m sure if I was watching us I’d be cracking up. Suddenly I felt his left arm rise even higher, still clutching mine as if for dear life. But he was practically ripping my shoulder out of its socket. Plus, I could really smell his armpit. It was like he was trying to smash my face into it. Then I felt his right arm, now smack over my butt, pushing me farther into the pit.
“Under, Rory. Go under my arm. I’m twirling you, silly girl!”
Oh. An underarm turn. I tried to cross one foot over the other so as to make a turn to the right, but his wrist was grabbing mine too hard.
“Um, ah, could you just let loose on my wrist a bit so I can turn?” I mumbled into his armpit. But he couldn’t hear me. He kept pushing. “Um, can you let go of my wrist and I’ll turn under you,” I tried a little louder. I was starting to feel a bit suffocated. “Philip?” I tried to shake my wrist.
Then suddenly I felt myself being pulled down the opposite direction. His hand that had been on my butt was now wrapped all the way around my waist and was pulling me toward the floor. Now his right hand, instead of trying to twist my wrist, was pushing down.
“Stick your leg up!” he shouted.
“What?”
“Diiiiip!”
I then realized the music had ended. He wanted a dramatic ending dip. I turned to the side as much as I could and lifted my right foot slightly off the floor, terrified of trusting him with my whole weight.
“Awesome!” he shouted when I did my little mangled kick, which was wide out, since I knew if I kept my legs close together, I’d have less balance.
Meaning, I had my legs spread awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor. I couldn’t imagine how truly ridiculous I must have looked. And I was sure my pink underwear was clearly on view.
“Hey man, I’ll take over now,” I heard James say with a nervous laugh. “Seriously man, though, thanks for helping out.”
“What? No prob, dude!”
I felt myself being pushed from behind and pulled from the front. I was never so happy to feel both heels solidly on the ground, feel my hand in James’s.
But the first face I saw after I’d been pulled to my feet wasn’t James’s. My focus shot straight through him to the one standing behind him. It was the dancer. He was dancing with Cheryl, Mitchell’s wife. Her back was to me, and over her shoulder I could see his face. I caught him looking back at me. His eyes pierced mine with such intensity I had to catch my footing. Had he just seen me dancing with Philip like a complete idiot? I felt my face burn. I must have looked like a tomato.
The next song was another Sinatra—“My Way.” The beat was a slow waltz. James held me close to him and shifted his weight from side to side. I followed his body but couldn’t stop watching the dancer as he led Cheryl around the floor, rising and falling so elegantly to the rhythm. You could tell she didn’t have dance training by her loose frame and broken lines, yet he made her look so graceful and polished. It was like he was able to guide her and teach her just by holding her in his arms and escorting her around the ballroom.
“Sorry about that,” James said, stepping on my foot.
“Oh, it’s okay.” I laughed back. My high-heeled sandal was open-toed and my big toe throbbed a bit. But I was used to shaking off such pain. “Let’s try again.” I held out my hands and stepped back toward him. Right then, the dancer and Cheryl glided past us, and my eyes again locked with dancer’s. Again, I felt a jolt of electricity charge up through my spine, making me weak-kneed. Why did he keep looking at me, and with such seriousness? Did I make that much of a fool of myself dancing with Philip?
“Honey?” James said.
“What?” That came out more snappish than I intended.
“What’s wrong, Rory?” James stopped moving and backed away a bit to look in my eyes.
“Sorry,” I said. “I just didn’t hear you.”
“Okay.” He chuckled. “I just said I hope you’re having a good time. You’ve been quiet all night. This is such a nice hotel. I mean, it’s The Beverly Hilton, where the Grammy parties are held. The firm went all-out.”
“You know I get nervous sometimes, at these kinds of things. But, yes, I’m definitely having a good time.”
He sighed deeply. “You’re just as good as these people, Rory. You graduated from law school too. A good one, even if it wasn’t Stanford. You really deserve to have more self-confidence. You’re so beautiful and smart, Rory. I’m serious.”
His voice was tinged with irritation, which made me all the more uneasy. I hated it when he got annoyed with me, which seemed to be happening increasingly often. I’d been nervous ever since I moved to the West Coast and started law school. I thought it would get better in L.A., but practicing law was even more nerve-racking. James was a couple years older; he’d gone to Stanford with my sister, Jacqueline. I met him through her. He’d kind of taken me under his wing and made law school all the easier to get through. He really helped me through, calming me and giving me confidence before exams and mock oral arguments. But that was then. Something had changed here in Los Angeles.
“Thanks. I’m sure it will go away.” My stomach was getting queasy. I saw the dancer off in the distance, with a female partner. The next song was “Strangers in the Night,” my favorite Sinatra after seeing Twyla Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite.”
“Should we do one more?” James asked, his arms still around me in a close hold.
I knew he didn’t like dancing. He was awkward and I felt his discomfort.
I saw the dancer gracefully lift the hand of a woman sitting down, give her a gentlemanly nod, lead her to the floor. As he escorted her over to a position very close to us on the floor, our eyes locked once again. Again, the intensity sent shivers down my spine. I swallowed hard. Was I imagining it all?
“Yes, one more,” I said, my eyes still fixed, just over James’s shoulder, to the dancer. I felt self-conscious since James and I weren’t doing any fancy moves. This time the dancer didn’t whisk his partner all over the floor; he mainly stayed put where he was, doing a little box step with her. He briefly took his eyes from me and shone them down on her. I felt myself seethe with jealousy.
“You okay?” James said, moving his head around to make eye contact with me. “I just felt you clench.”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I said with a nervous laugh. It was ridiculous for me to be jealous. What was I feeling? I had a serious boyfriend and the woman the dancer was dancing with meant nothing to him. I breathed deeply and forced myself to calm down. At the end of the song, he twirled the woman a few times, then dipped her. She wasn’t used to dancing and she got dizzy and nearly fell on the dip. Now I felt a little badly for her, and all the more ridiculous for being jealous. She laughed it off like a good sport.
“Okay, let’s get some hydration,” James said, leading me back to the table.
I whipped my head around so as not to lose eye contact with the dancer. His eyes remained on us as James pulled me away. But an older man approached him, pulling the arm of a young woman toward him, and the dancer averted his attention from me and spoke with the pair.
James rubbed my knee gently. “I didn’t step on too many toes did I?”
“No, of course not. I’m totally fine,” I said.
“I’m gonna go refill our champagne glasses,” he said, reaching around my shoulder to give me a little squeeze, followed by a peck on the lips.
After he left, my eyes shot back to the dance floor. But now the dancer was nowhere to be found. Hmm, where had he gone? I had no one to talk to. Cheryl and Mitchell and everyone else at our table was either dancing or socializing. I didn’t really know anyone here except James. And Philip, whom I didn’t want to run into again tonight. I crossed my knees, and rocked myself a little to the music, gazing out at the crowd. It was peaceful, even if I was alone.
The music stopped. I looked for James. I couldn’t see him in the throng surrounding the bar.
Fingertips lightly brushed my shoulder. I turned around, and looked straight into the eyes of the dancer. His gaze wasn’t as intense now, but more beatific, radiant. My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest. He said nothing but motioned to the dance floor. I nodded and rose, feeling weak-kneed.
I took his offered hand. His fingers felt silky, like he’d used some kind of expensive cream. I was so excited, my insides were turning to hot liquid. But what if I screwed up?
As we reached the floor, the drummer began a slow, sexy, snaky beat. The two back-up singers began snapping their fingers. The male lead singer stepped aside and let one of the female back-ups take the middle of the raised stage. The dancer led me smack to the center of the ballroom floor. Now I really couldn’t screw up. Not that anyone would be looking at me in his presence, of course.
“Never know how much I love you,” began the singer’s voice, low and sultry. It was Peggy Lee’s hyper sexy “Fever.” Could there be a more apt song, I thought, given that my insides were seriously beginning to turn to molten lava?
The dancer wrapped his right arm around my back, gently but firmly pressing down on the bottom of my shoulder blade. He took my right hand in his, wrapping his long, solid, silky fingers over mine. He held me close and with his strong fingers on my back, managed to guide me exactly where he wanted me to go, which was currently to my right, in a box step similar to the one he’d led the other woman.
I couldn’t look at him now, fearing I’d swoon. Plus, his face was quite close to mine. But I could feel his warm, cinnamon breath on my neck. His body smelled of musky aftershave and fresh night air. He must have been outside for a cool-down after all that hot, sweltering dancing, I thought. I wondered if he’d been with his partner. If they were romantic partners as well. I couldn’t detect any feminine scents on his body.
He slowly raised his left arm and pushed ever so slightly with those long fingers of his right hand into my shoulder blade, leading me gently, subtly into an underarm turn. I shifted my weight as far to my toe as possible, making my turn lighter and faster. I turned right as the woman sang “Fever,” and I made the turn as truncated as the word. I felt the lacy bottom edges of my skirt fly. I felt sexy. But I returned a little too fast to him, arriving back in close hold a little before the beat. I’d gotten caught up on the woman’s seductive rendition of the lyrics, and on the sexiness of feeling the air under my skirt, and his strong right arm on my back, guiding me to him.
“Sorry,” I said, my voice breaking. When I looked into his eyes, he had this very sly, devilishly sexy smile on his face, which shot a spark of electricity down my spine and caused me to blush so badly I had to look away.
He led me into another turn, and turned me again with a flick of his left wrist. He turned me again on the “Fever.” But this time he kept rotating his wrist, indicating for me to make several rotations.
Whoa.
He must have whipped me around five times during the singer’s whisper of that one little word. I had to remember how to spot, lest I get dizzy. The first thing I found to focus on was a little line of the tattoo I glimpsed peeking out from under his black undershirt. Spotting and spinning came back to me surprisingly easily. But I couldn’t stop from wondering just what was hidden under that shirt. The design of the tattoo, the biceps, the pecs, the abs.
Stop it, Rory!
I felt myself turn crimson. My eyes began to water. What was wrong with me?
But no time to think about all that because now he was turning me more, again and again. But this time his body was rotating all the while, so he had me turning around him instead of in the same place. I had to really concentrate, focus on the outer line of that ever-so-enticing tattoo. I felt my skirt flying, along with my long hair. We were going faster and faster, creating a wind tunnel around us. We were like a tornado! As much as I didn’t want to lose focus on that tattoo, I bent my head back to stabilize my equilibrium as I spun around him. But wait, I was also in his arms, as I could still feel those long, strong fingers of his right hand breezing along, right underneath my shoulder blade. He wasn’t going to let me fall even if I did get dizzy.
Suddenly, he stopped the turn and whisked me toward him, wrapping his arms around me and holding me closely. But just briefly—way too briefly—as he lowered me right down into a deep dip. I lifted my leg behind him, raising it as high as it would go, pointing my toe to extend my leg line. The dip was so deep my outstretched fingers nearly graced the floor. He pulled me right up as the song ended.
Applause filled the room. What was going on? I got my footing and looked out. Everyone was looking at us, clapping.
I was in shock. I had no idea people were watching. I felt so silly. The dancer wrapped his strong right arm around my waist. I could feel him bending, his hand guiding me down into a bow. I made it into a little curtsy. People applauded even more loudly. I even heard some whistles.
The next song began and I wanted so badly to continue dancing with him. I looked into his eyes. He wore that same sly smile, sending another volt of electricity straight to my belly, filling it with liquid heat.
“Hey, you made James’s Rory into a real dancer!” said another man, patting the dancer on the shoulder, a bit hard in my opinion. “You gotta teach my assistant here some of those moves.” He pushed a blushing, petite blonde toward the dancer.
The dancer nodded politely and took her by the hand, giving me one last nod, accompanied by that same crooked, somewhat even devilish smile. I pivoted and rushed back to the table, afraid I’d wobble and fall if I didn’t sit soon.
“Honey, that was amazing,” James said, handing me my glass of champagne.
“I can’t believe I remembered how to do that.”
“That’s right. I keep forgetting you’ve danced before.”
“James! I could have never done all that if I hadn’t!”
He chuckled and shrugged. I was flattered by the compliment but a little disappointed he’d forgotten I’d once been a dancer, pre-law career. Or a dance student, anyway.
After the next song ended, the emcee directed everyone to sit. “Okay, it’s time for the raffle. As you all know, everyone’s been entered to win a grand prize package at Infectious Rhythm studio in Hollywood, where our wonderful performers are from.”
Raffle? This was news to me.
“The prize consists of ten private lessons for two, and one month of unlimited group classes, a value of over fifteen hundred dollars,” he continued.
The crowd erupted with “ooohs” and “aaahs.”
“I’m just going to pick a name out of this box here. Drumroll, please.” The band, who’d now returned, did as he asked. “The winner is…” he said, picking a piece of paper out of the box. “James Prescott!”
Oh my. I hadn’t even had time for my heart to race during the drumroll since I hadn’t known about the prize. But now that my boyfriend was called the winner I felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest.
“Well, they’ve certainly chosen the most two-left-footed person here. So it’ll be put to good use,” he joked, standing.
***
That night, back in James’s high-rise apartment on Wilshire Boulevard, I couldn’t stop thinking of the dancer, or when we were going to sign up for our lessons. The whole thing was already beginning to feel like a dream.
After I washed off my face and took out my contacts, I surveyed myself in the bathroom mirror. So little of the ballerina in me was left. But some of it remained. I still wore my honey blonde hair long, to mid-back, perfect for pulling up into a big bun. Law school had definitely packed a few pounds on me, but I wasn’t overweight, and I still had long dancer legs. The C-cup too-large-for-ballet breasts that had definitely contributed to my teenage eating disorder would forever haunt me. I looked at my face. My large brownish green eyes framed by long eyelashes and my fleshy cheeks still gave me a girlish ballerina look even though I was now twenty-five. I raised my arm. I still had a little muscle tone. But not enough. I certainly looked nothing like that taut-bodied, impeccably groomed female dancer, who was all sexy woman.
“Now you really seem zoned out. What’s up?” James said as I returned to the bedroom.
“Nothing. I’m fine.” I could hear my own voice. I said that with no conviction whatsoever. For some reason I didn’t want to talk about how I felt about dancing, how I’d been momentarily transported into another universe. Even though he was my boyfriend of over two years now, it was a private thought, one I didn’t wish to share with him. But he seemed to want some kind of explanation. “I guess I was just so taken with those dancers. Didn’t you think they were…just…amazing?”
“I guess,” he said with a shrug. “I mean, they were just dancers.”
This was the reaction I feared I’d get. I hadn’t talked about my childhood dream much around James. It wasn’t part of who I’d become, who I was now. “I was just really impressed with them. That stuff looked hard.”
“Yeah, well, the firm paid for pros. So they should have been impressive.”
I felt childish, and then embarrassed. I was an adult now, a lawyer, in a serious relationship with another lawyer.
But as James turned off the light and began to kiss me, I saw the dancer’s eyes, felt his pupils pierce mine, felt his hand firmly but gently on my back, guiding me, sending more electric currents from my chest to my belly. I really couldn’t wait for those lessons.
Chapter 2
I didn’t sleep well. I had a dream that my dad was still alive and he’d come to see me perform with the North Carolina Ballet. Except I wasn’t performing because I’d moved to Los Angeles and become a lawyer. I had to tell him this and I knew he’d be upset. And I couldn’t believe I had to upset him. I loved him so. The dream was so real. I sat up in bed, shaking. When I saw James asleep beside me I realized it wasn’t real. I lay back down and tried to calm myself. But then I couldn’t get the dancer from last night out of my mind. Made me feel guilty because, if I was honest with myself, I was attracted to far more than just his dance skills. The man was fire, passion, sex. The insides of my thighs were beginning to get wet just remembering him. Oh my gosh, stop that, I told myself. My boyfriend of the past two years was sleeping beside me. What was wrong with me?
Although it was early, I got up anyway. It was Friday, the day after the holiday party, and James had told me he’d planned to sleep in. Everyone at his firm would be. I might as well get to work, I thought, though I didn’t have a lot to do yet at my newish job. It was a tiny firm and I found myself spending much of the day walking back and forth among the few partners’ offices asking if anyone needed any research. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected law firm life to be like. I managed to shower and get into my suit—we had no such thing as casual Friday despite the smallness of the firm—without James so much as stirring. He was out cold from all that champagne.
I actually had a decent drive to work. L.A. traffic became nightmarish after about six thirty in the morning, but before that the city was quite lovely. I drove my silver Prius down what people called the high-rise canyon in the Westwood section of Wilshire, where we lived, and took Wilshire all the way to my downtown office. Whoa, I got there in only twenty minutes. It usually took well over an hour when I left at my regular time. I parked, and took my time getting my vanilla latte and Greek yogurt and granola parfait from the Starbucks down the street. I settled at my cubicle and pulled up the legal analysis memo I’d finished yesterday for my main boss, Gunther, an overworked, somewhat curmudgeonly man in his late forties, whom I was struggling to get along with. Even though I’d finished the memo yesterday, I decided to do a spell-check and verify the case citations one more time, seeing as how I had nothing else to do.
I’d finished that little project in all of an hour, and was beginning to twiddle my thumbs waiting for the partners to come in when Gunther stormed through the front door.
“I see you’re in early. You got my message, then?” he said in a huff, passing my office without even looking at me, litigation bag on wheels trailing behind him, crashing into the walls as he flew into his office. It was obvious he was talking to me since there was no one else there. Crap, I hadn’t checked my messages. I was so caught up in the events of last night, I hadn’t even looked at my phone since I’d left the office for the party.
“Ah…” I began, fiddling for my phone in my bag.
“You didn’t get it?” he yelled from down the hall. “It doesn’t matter,” he continued when I hesitated. “Just get down here. Now.”
Typical Gunther. I grabbed the memo, along with a pen and legal pad and hurried down the hall after him. “Here’s the memo,” I said, handing him the stapled-together pages.
“What?” he said, frowning. “Oh, whatever.” He grabbed the papers from my hand and literally tossed them behind him, straight to the floor. “Well, if you would have checked your message you would know that I got assigned a pro bono case last night by the court.”
I swallowed. Note to self: always check messages last thing you do before going to bed and first thing after waking up in the morning. No more letting insanely hot ballroom dancers mess with your mind.
“I can’t possibly handle it with all I have on my plate right now,” Gunther continued. “So I need you to take it over for me.”
What? Take it over completely? But I didn’t say that; I simply sat before him open-mouthed. Nobody here had ever given me anything very serious before and now I had my own case? I was excited but nervous. It couldn’t be too serious. I’d just passed the bar; I had only a few months’ experience.
“You need to go to Compton today to talk to the guy. That’s where he’s being held. He’s poor and can’t make bail, so he’s in a holding facility till trial. He was already arraigned. Former lawyer had some kind of emergency, so I got assigned. Here’s the case file.” Gunther reached into his litigation bag and handed me a folder.
“Um, Compton?” I was pretty new to L.A. I still didn’t know the city very well. I knew Compton was a not-so-good area. Fortunately I had a GPS. But Compton was a big place. “Where…?”
“Shit, I keep forgetting how new you are at this. It’s a criminal case so he’s in the pens in the criminal courthouse there. Honestly, Rory, if you would have checked your messages, you’d have been prepared for this. I explained his case on your voicemail last night. Check the messages before you go. And read the file.”
“Yes, thank you, sir,” I said, nodding. “I’ll do my best…”
“Go along. You have a lot to do,” he said with a flick of his hand. He was now engrossed in paperwork on his desk and didn’t look back up at me. I returned to my office, opened the folder, and checked my voicemail.
I listened to the messages—he’d left four, all saying the same thing—and read over the paperwork as quickly as I could, seeing as how I had to get to Compton—wherever that was—sometime today. The client’s name was Patrick Warren and he was charged with violating an order of protection by calling his estranged wife on the phone and yelling at her, cursing and saying things she didn’t understand. She’d filed for divorce, and for the protective order, after repeated encounters with him during which he yelled nonsensical things at her in a threatening tone and used lots of profanity. He never physically hurt her but she was scared he might. Her sister and mother were with her when he called. They were the only witnesses. His phone records indicated he did place a call to her landline.
After I’d read through everything, I returned to Gunther’s office. He didn’t seem to see me at the door, focused as he was on his computer. I noticed my memo was still on the floor behind his desk. Though the door was open, I knocked.
“What is it, Rory?” he said without looking up, apparently knowing I was there.
Was he just going to ignore me till I went away if I hadn’t knocked, I wondered? “Um, yes. I read, I read over everything…” Could I please stop stuttering? This man had made me nervous with his shortness ever since I met him.
“And…?” He sounded annoyed.
“And, um, I just wanted you to know I’m off to Compton now.”
“Good,” Gunther said with a snicker. “You didn’t need to stop by and tell me that, Rory.”
“I just wanted to ask if there were, you know, any specific things I was to ask him or tell him?” I figured I should ask him about the charges in general in order to craft a defense but I wasn’t sure of all the procedural things an attorney had to go through with a client at the beginning of a case. I’d expected Gunther to go through it all with me.
Gunther finally looked up at me, a deepening frown etching the outline of his face.
“What do you mean? You do what you always do at the beginning of a case. You find out as much information as you can. Did you really read the whole file?”
“Yes, yes, I just…this is my first time doing this, sir.”
He grunted and shook his head. “Just ask him everything you need to know to represent him effectively.” His eyes returned to his computer screen, indicating he was done with me.
I was thrilled to be getting my own case. I just thought I would get more assistance as a newbie. My closest friend from law school, Maya, was working at the Public Defender’s Office in Oakland. Thus far, she’d only gotten to watch the lawyers handle the cases, and only misdemeanors at that. I was just being thrown into it. Well, it’s good experience, I told myself. Great experience, actually. I just hoped I handled everything correctly.
I looked up the address of the criminal courthouse in Compton and typed it into my GPS. The area didn’t look that bad. Of course, I took the freeway, not surface streets. So I really wasn’t getting a significant view of the neighborhood.
When I arrived, there was a long line, comprised mostly of black and Latino women and children. I took my place at the end. Dressed in a navy suit and matching leather pumps, and carrying a briefcase, I received more than a few up and down looks.
After waiting fifteen minutes, the line seemed to be going nowhere. I needed to see our client today. I wondered what I would put for my billable hours for the day. I’d spent considerable time driving, and now waiting in line. I withdrew a stack of papers from my briefcase and began to reread them, trying to make the best use of the wait.
“Ma’am?”
I looked up to see a security guard standing before me. “Yes?”
“Are you here for a personal visit?”
“Oh no!” I laughed nervously, then immediately regretted it since that’s exactly what everyone else in this line was doing. “I mean, I’m here for a client. I’m his law…yer.” Could I sound more unconfident?
Get it together, Rory.
“You don’t need to wait in this line. This is for family and friends. There’s where you need to be.” She pointed to an entrance marked “court personnel.” I’d seen it but I wasn’t court personnel.
“But I don’t have a court I.D. or anything,” I said.
“It’s for everyone here on official business,” she said, walking away.
I felt stupid. I clearly had “newbie” written all over my face. But the people in line had more serious problems than I did. I promptly put the papers back into my briefcase and breezed through the official entrance.
The guard led me down a long hallway, then through a door that opened into a small room with two metal chairs sitting across from a window covered with metal bars.
“I’ll be right outside,” he said with a serious look that unnerved me a bit.
“Patrick Warren!” A guard screamed from the other side of the gated partition. “Warren! Patrick Warren!” he called out again.
Out of the darkness, I saw a small, shriveled man shuffle toward me, his hands front-handcuffed together. He slowly sat down on the other side of the gate without looking at me. He appeared much older than his forty years. His gray-streaked hair looked like it hadn’t been washed for the better part of a month and was completely unruly, scraps of it covering his eyes. Small-boned as he was, he had big knotty, boxer-like hands. Slowly, his small dark eyes peeked out from his greasy strands of hair with unadulterated anger and contempt. I hoped not for me.
“Hi, Mr. Warren. I’m Rory Laudner from Gunther Vanderson’s office. We’re your assigned attorneys.”
He said nothing. I looked into his eyes, and realized they were staring not at me, but straight through me. It was odd and unsettling. Like he didn’t see me.
“Well, um, I’m here to prepare for trial,” I continued. “I mean, if you decide you want to do that. We can also enter a plea bargain if the D.A. gives us a good offer. But we’ll cross that bridge later. First, I need you to tell me what exactly happened on the afternoon of August 24, when you allegedly called your estranged wife.”
He continued to stare through me. His lips began to quiver. But he said nothing.
“Mr. Warren?”
He began to frown, and his frown grew more intense. Good, at least some reaction.
“Mr. Warren? I need you to talk to me about your case so I can help you,” I tried again.
His frown deepened further, but a sparkle of thought flashed in his eyes. “You help me.” He said these words slowly, enunciating each syllable. He looked straight ahead, still not at me. Then he burst out laughing, and shook his head.
What?
“Yes, as your attorney, I’m here to help,” I said, very confused by his behavior. I placed his file on the table in front of me, thinking this would make my role somehow more evident to him.
“What’s that?”
“It’s your file, Mr. Warren.”
“My file?” He looked both confused and suspicious.
“Yes. It lists the charges against you.” I was confused as to his confusion.
“My file. You have my file. Yeah, I’m sure you do. And that tells you everything, does it.” He said this more as a statement than a question. He was still talking really slowly, enunciating everything. He smirked. He definitely seemed suspicious of me.
“Um, it has a list of witnesses and the evidence against you. But no, it definitely doesn’t tell me everything. That’s why I’m here—”
“Those are lies, all lies,” he shouted, pounding his fist on the table, which made me bounce in my seat.
“So you didn’t make the phone call?” I said, trying to hide my now quivering voice.
“The whole damn thing is one big lie!” he shouted, again beating his fist on his side of the table.
“Everything okay in there?” asked the guard on the other side of the door.
“Yes, thank you,” I stuttered. Okay, let’s start again, I told myself, taking a deep breath. “Mr. Warren, they’ve produced your phone records that show you made a call to a number listed as hers. If you’re telling me you didn’t, do you have any idea how this is on your phone record?”
All I got in response was more laughter and head-shaking. I really didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t being at all logical or reasonable, to put it mildly.
“Okay, why don’t we start at the beginning. Why don’t you tell me about your wife. About your relationship.”
He continued to shake his head and laugh. Until anger apparently overcame him and he shouted again. “Lies!”
I flinched again at the suddenness of his raised voice. I would need to learn to control my body language around him. I didn’t want him, or anyone else, to think I was scared. “So more than one lie? Specifically what is a lie, Mr. Warren? Did you not call her at all that day?”
“No! No!” He pounded, now on the bar separating us.
I wasn’t sure if he was just screaming that word or answering my question.
The door opened behind us. “Warren, you need to stop that shouting and pounding or your visit with your lawyer is terminated,” the guard said.
But now Mr. Warren was back to laughing and head-shaking.
“You hear me, Warren?”
No response.
The guard snickered as if he’d been through this before, and backed through the door, closing it behind him.
“We were talking about your wife. Did you call her that day?” I continued.
“You’re not listening! None of you listen! He gave her drugs. He drugged her and then he raped her!”
“Wait, what? I’m sorry, Mr. Warren, I don’t know anything about a rape or drugs. That’s not in your fil…” I didn’t want to set him off by mentioning the file again.
“Stop talking about a fuckin’ call. What is it with you fuckin’ people! You look past the most egregious facts to the side issues.” Now he was talking much more quickly, and with a slight Southern accent I hadn’t noticed before.
I took a breath to calm myself. “You’re saying you called her but it wasn’t to threaten her. It was about her being raped and drugged? Or are you saying you didn’t call her at all? I don’t understand what you’re telling me, Mr. Warren.”
He shook his head and sneered, looking off in the distance. His eyes seemed to grow more vacant whenever he looked into the distance.
“I’m asking because we will contest whichever piece of evidence they’ve presented that you say is a lie. I just need to be clear on which pieces of evidence—”
He burst out laughing again. “Yeah, that’s a good one. You go ahead and contest,” he said, slapping the bar again. Suddenly, his eyes opened widely. It seemed like he was looking at something behind me. “No, no, no,” he whispered.
I turned around, thinking the guard had come back in without me hearing. But it wasn’t him. There was no one there.
“No, I can’t. No, don’t. Please.”
“Mr. Warren, who are you talking to?”
But he just continued saying “no” and “please don’t.”
“Mr. Warren, have you ever seen a psychiatrist or a psychologist?”
Now he looked straight at me, eyes piercing mine, widening, seeming to fill with fear. He began scratching his head vigorously. So vigorously I was afraid he’d draw blood.
“Mr. Warren, please stop…”
“I am not crazy,” he said very slowly again, Southern accent gone. “You’re just like them…you’re just trying to get rid of me. Just like them.” He took his hands from his head and grabbed the bars.
I was right: there was a bit of blood under his fingernails. He had drawn blood from scratching so hard.
Suddenly he began to shake the bars. “Please, please,” he said to me as his shaking grew more intense. “Please.” Now he seemed not angry, but truly scared.
“That’s it, three strikes, Warren. Time’s over,” said the guard, bursting into the room.
“Oh, no. Please, I need more time with him,” I said to the guard.
“I’m sorry. This is for your safety. He’s violating the rules, miss.”
“But he didn’t hurt—”
“Time’s over. Sorry.”
A female guard came up behind Mr. Warren and began pulling him up, forcefully. He didn’t resist her as I’d expected him to.
“Mr. Warren, I’ll call you. And write, okay. Please answer my messages,” I called out.
But his body was now droopy and doll-like and his eyes were deep, seemingly in another thought. It was as if he didn’t see me; as if he’d given up struggling. The guard pulled his limp body down the hall.
I drove back to the office, flummoxed. I had no idea what to make of our client, other than that he might well be mentally ill. I couldn’t imagine trying to communicate with him again.
When I got to the office, I tried to see Gunther, but his assistant told me he was in court for the rest of the day, and planned to go home straight from there. I called the holding facility to see if Mr. Warren had any medical records there or was receiving any medication. They said no to both.
I read more closely the wife’s statements made to police when she filed the report. She said things were fine between them until several months ago when he began saying things that made no sense. Sometimes he even spoke in other languages she didn’t understand. They separated, but he kept going to her new residence and bothering her. He never hurt her, but with each visit he seemed to be getting both more threatening and more nonsensical, by raising his voice and using profanity. She grew scared of him and sought the protective order. He had no criminal record, and no history of violence.
According to the first attorney’s notes, Warren hadn’t been seeing any doctors for any medical condition, and he had no living immediate family. He’d been fired from his job as a gas station attendant six months ago for repeatedly failing to show up for work without explanation. His boss said he’d been a good employee but suddenly became irresponsible, without explanation. I called the prior attorney’s office. They said the attorney was on indefinite medical leave and everything known about the case was in the folder. I was on my own.
***
I walked into the restaurant, never so happy to see James. Certainly he’d de-stress me from my insane day. And we could talk about those ballroom lessons we’d won! My pulse began to steady the second he rose to greet me.
“Anywhere you like, guys,” said the hostess with a dimpled smile.
“Lakers!” said James, walking toward a side table in the very raucous bar area filled with UCLA students.
Living in Westwood felt like still being in college, which was sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad one. In this instance it was the latter. “Can we sit in the back room? It’s a little quieter.” I tried to emulate the hostess’s sweet smile.
James looked in the direction of the large HD TV hanging over the bar with a forlorn expression. He really did love his sports.
“All right,” he said, shrugging, without any hint of a smile.
“No, it’s okay, we’ll sit in here.”
“You sure?” His face brightened.
I couldn’t deprive him of his basketball. “Yep,” I said, sliding past a group of bar-goers and scooting into a tiny booth. “So how was work?” I asked once we were seated. I had to shout over the crowd, which was why I hadn’t wanted to sit here.
“Ugh, don’t even ask. One of the big clients is leaving and we’re closing out a case. Tomorrow’s going to be a nightmare…”
“Oh, you’re going in?” I was a little dejected. After today, I was hoping we might be able to start those dance lessons over the weekend.
“Of course, Rory. When have I not had to go in on a Saturday at this job?” he snapped.
It was true. Right about the time I moved here, he switched from a big firm to this smaller one that specialized in entertainment law, thinking it would be more interesting and the hours wouldn’t be as bad. But so far the latter projection had been very off.
“I know,” I said under my breath, trying to hide my disappointment by concentrating on my menu.
“Hey, you guys!”
I looked up from my menu to see bouncing toward us a petite bubbly blonde waitress with wide-set blue eyes, full, pouty lips, and a ski-jump nose, who I figured for an actress, or a UCLA student, or both.
“Hey, how are you!” James laughed, completely changing his tone.
“What can I get you all to drink?” she said to him.
“Maker’s Mark Manhattan for me.”
“With a cherry?” She giggled.
“Um…yeah!” he said laughing with her.
She looked at me and raised her eyebrows, without saying anything.
“Pomegranate margarita,” I said.
“Get those for you right away!” she boomed and took off.
“Do you know her?” I asked him.
“What? Who? Oh damn.” He scowled at the TV.
“It just seemed like she knew you. I don’t remember seeing her before. But you and your friends come here more often, so…” I decided to let it go. He was too involved with the game and whatever bad thing had just happened, anyway. I returned to the menu.
“Here you go,” the waitress said, bouncing up with our drinks.
“That was fast!” James easily took his eyes from the TV to look at her.
She smiled. “You guys have a chance to look at the menu yet? Or you want me to give you a little time?”
“I think we’re ready,” he said without looking at me. I usually didn’t take long to decide though, and I had been looking at the menu for a while now.
“Lemme guess, the rock shrimp? Or the braised ribs?”
So he did know her, I thought.
“You read minds well!” he laughed. “I’ll have the ribs.”
“I try.” She giggled. “And you?” she said to me.

       
    



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Tonya Plank grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, but spent most of her adult life in New York, working as a criminal appeals attorney. After she’d had enough of that, she moved back out West to focus on writing. She currently lives in Southern California and writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction.

While working as a lawyer, Tonya developed a passion for ballroom dancing, which rekindled her childhood love of ballet. For several years, she wrote a dance blog, Swan Lake Samba Girl, journaling her experiences learning to ballroom dance, and reviewing various ballet and modern dance performances in NYC. The blog received accolades from James Wolcott on his Vanity Fair blog, and Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal.

Tonya’s first novel, Swallow, an edgy chick-lit comedy about a lawyer with the psychosomatic disorder, Globus Hystericus, won gold medals in the Independent Publisher and Living Now Book Awards and was a finalist in the ForeWord Book of the Year and National Indie Excellence Awards.

When not writing, Tonya loves taking road trips with her rescue dog, Sofia, shopping for clothes used in movies at “It’s A Wrap” in Burbank, devouring Mexican food and Cadillac margaritas, sweating to dance-based workouts, curling up with her cats and a good novel, and, of course, watching dance performances of all kinds. Her favorite places on earth are Lincoln Center in New York, the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Francisco, and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.
      


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