Looking back on Dance For Me, I thought that it needed more of a wrap-up: we needed to find out what happened to all the characters. The ending of In Harmony was much more elaborate and had an epilogue and that just felt more satisfying to me. So I went back and added this epilogue for the second edition.
One Month Later
The sky was a solid block of slate gray cloud. It was only the first day of fall but already people were talking about a long, cold winter ahead.
I didn’t care. It could get as cold as it liked, because I was deliciously warm.
If you’d asked me a few months before whether I’d sit in a hot tub on a freezing day, I would have laughed—or more likely looked at you as if you were crazy. It would have sounded ridiculous, it would have seemed an insanely extravagant waste of money and I wouldn’t have dared wear a bathing suit.
I’d learned, on the day I’d climbed in fully clothed, that the colder it gets, the better a hot tub feels. Sitting there with only my head and shoulders above the water, feeling the cold on my face, was heavenly. And the pang of guilt about how much it must be costing to keep a tubful of water hot outdoors had blown away with the rising steam. I was relaxing into the feeling of having money…maybe too quickly. Sitting in a restaurant with Darrell, I’d happily order something and then do a double-take at the menu price and panic. He’d reassured me a thousand times that it was okay, but I was still antsy about it. At some stage, I knew I was going to stop panicking and just be used to spending, and that was scary in itself. At that moment, though, with the water lapping around me and Darrell’s strong fingers working the muscles of my shoulders, it was difficult to worry about the cost…or anything else.
Even my scars.
I’d had to go out and buy a bathing suit, because it had been so long since I’d worn one. When I’d tried it on, I’d stood in front of the mirror and almost broken down, my eyes locked on the parallel red lines on my inner thigh. Having them show during sex was one thing, but actually wearing an outfit that put them on display, even if they’d be mostly underwater…. The tights I’d always worn with my leotards might only have been thin, but there’s a world of difference between thin and nothing.
When I’d walked out to the hot tub to get in, Darrell had noticed immediately that something was wrong. I’d stood on the decking, the steam wafting up in front of me, trying to hold it together while he very slowly unbelted my robe and pushed it back over my shoulders. And then, standing in the water, he’d kissed me slowly and earnestly right on my scars, leaving his mouth there for a long time. I’d slid my fingers into the soft curls of his hair and clutched him there and—strange as it sounds—it wasn’t sexual. It was about feeling beautiful again—or at least, not feeling ugly—and it worked. When I finally climbed down into the water, it wasn’t to hide.
I took a deep breath and let it out, blowing a clear channel through the steam for a second.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked. And then he punctuated it with a kiss on my earlobe.
My back was pressed to his chest and we’d reached that contented, deeply connected state where it didn’t seem rude not to turn around to talk to him. It felt like I could say anything to him, which was sort of the problem. Over the last few weeks, we’d started to open up to each other about what we were feeling and, even though I knew it was slowly healing us, sometimes it was like trying to reset broken bones. It hurt, and all I wanted to do was leave it the hell alone, but I knew I’d never be fixed inside if I did.
“When do you think about them?” I asked, staring out at the windswept lawn. “I mean, I know you think about them all the time. But when do you think about them most?”
He didn’t have to think about it. That made it worse—the knowledge that the pain had been bubbling away under the surface, desperate to come out. “Advice. When I need advice.” He was silent for a moment. “All those years, working for Sabre…if I’d been able to talk to my dad, just once, and ask him if what I was doing was right….”
I pushed back against him, grabbed his arms and pulled them tight around me—a reverse hug. He didn’t have to ask me in return—when he relaxed his grip slightly and leaned his head against mine, that was enough. We could communicate without words.
“Christmas,” I whispered, and I felt the memories swirl up inside me. But it didn’t feel like it used to…like they were going to carry me down and consume me. Now it felt like I was setting them free. It still hurt when they came out, but it felt a little better, too. Darrell hugged me close and the pain eased; I’d never felt so protected. His size and strength had always been comforting, but the way he could save me from my own demons made me go liquid inside every time. I wanted to dig my fingers into his flesh, clutch him close and never let go, never be apart from him even for one second—that’s how much I loved him.
After a long time, we climbed out of the tub and stood there steaming, shivering in the freezing air but not wanting to put on our robes just yet. I think both of us just wanted to enjoy feeling alive for a while.
We’d really gone to town on preparing the mansion for the party. All of the lights were turned down low and I’d gone crazy at a flea market and bought some old iron candlestick holders. They gave the place a Gothic look, even if the “candles” were flickering LED lights. Maybe I’d brave candles for the next party. Baby steps.
Darrell had invited “the usual crowd”. There seemed to be a group of people who existed only to go to parties, charity dinners and political fundraisers—you put the word out and they all showed up. He’d told me, without me asking, that there’d be no one from Sabre there. He’d cut all ties with the company…and that wasn’t all.
After the hot tub, he’d taken me down to the workshop. All of the workbenches had been draped in white dust sheets. He really had stopped, until he found something other than weapons to make.
He’d hugged me from behind, his mouth to my ear. “No more nights working late. I’ll be right there in bed with you.”
I’d pressed back against him, nestling into his chest, and smiled.
Now, watching him change into his tuxedo, I saw how much happier he was. Relaxed. Eventually, he’d have to go back to work—but it could be for something positive, really building something instead of creating to destroy. He’d be able to work because he wanted to, not because he felt he had to. For now, though, I was happy to enjoy the extra time with him.
It was like watching a reverse strip. As he pulled up his dress pants, I had to focus quickly on his powerful legs, thighs flexing as he drew the fabric up his calves. Then they were hidden from me, and I had to race to drink in the sight of his firm ass beneath his jockey shorts before that, too was hidden. He picked up a crisp white shirt and I gazed at the sculpted perfection of his pecs before they disappeared beneath a covering of white. Just a glimpse of his tight abs showed between the two halves of the shirt and then even that was gone as he buttoned it up. He was hidden from me for the next few hours…but he looked so damn good in the tux that I hardly minded at all.
He stood in front of the mirror doing his bow tie. On the third attempt, I asked him if he needed help.
“No,” he said quickly. Fourth attempt. “I usually do it in the workshop,” he muttered.
“You need a welding torch?” I asked sweetly.
“My PC. There’s a YouTube video.” Sixth attempt. He tied it with a hopeful flourish…but the knot fell apart. He sighed and put his hands down by his sides in defeat.
I slid off the bed and stood behind him, putting my arms around his neck. I couldn’t resist laying a kiss just behind his ear, and then tied the bow tie for him, a glow of victory dancing through me.
The satin slid too far through the knot and the whole thing went wrong.
“That’s not supposed to happen,” I said mournfully. “I’m supposed to be able to—Let me just try—”
I tried it again, and the thing fell apart again.
“Not as easy as it looks, is it?” he asked.
I was silent for a second. It was stupid—it was only a damn bow tie. But him getting it wrong and me doing it for him—that was supposed to be a thing, like in the movies.
“I should be able to fix it,” I said, half to myself.
He clasped my hands in his. “How about we figure it out together?” he asked gently. And he squeezed my fingers.
I nodded and smiled. That sounded good.
Clarissa gave me a hug as soon as she got through the door. She was wearing some long, delicately pink thing that nearly brushed the floor, and set off her long blonde hair. Behind her, Neil was in a tuxedo. My jaw dropped.
“When you get a ‘sec,” Clarissa whispered in my ear, “You should redo Darrell’s bow tie for him. It’s cock-eyed. Neil’s was the same until I did it. OW!”—I’d poked her—“What was that for?”
I gave her a good-natured glare—I was very proud of Darrell and my joint twenty-third attempt at the bow tie. And then I hugged her again, because it was Clarissa. She stepped inside, Neil following behind her.
“You look great,” Neil told me, that smoky California drawl like liquid gold. I’d bought the dress that day—shimmering blue, with a skirt that finished just on the knee. I was starting to feel just a little more comfortable with skirts. I could still feel my scars underneath them, uncomfortably close to being exposed, but the fear was starting to recede.
“So do you,” I said. And he did. With his broad shoulders and height, he looked great in the tux…but not comfortable. It looked like he might get angry and Hulk his way out of it at any second. Whereas Darrell, standing beside me, looked cool and relaxed—more like James Bond. “I’m…sort of amazed Clarissa managed to get you into a tuxedo.”
Neil slipped his arm around Clarissa’s waist and pulled her close. “She made me a promise. If I wore it—”
Clarissa’s eyes widened. “Neil!”
He leaned in close to her, his low voice almost a rumble. “You said that if I wore it you’d—”
Clarissa was flushing red. Her breathing was quicker, too, her breasts rising and falling beneath the tight dress. She drew him quickly into a kiss to shut him up, and then led him quickly out of earshot.
Behind them, Jasmine was in a stunning white dress with tiny gems scattered across the neckline. If it had been a little longer, it almost would have looked like—
“Yes,” said Jasmine. “It’s a wedding dress, okay? I found it cheap on ebay and took the skirt up.”
“It’s gorgeous!” I said. For some reason my eyes were welling. “Ohmygod! It’s like—”
She grabbed my hands. “No. No, it isn’t. Don’t you start! When I first tried it on it was still full length and the person selling it had included the veil, and—well, there were tears.”
I nodded and hugged her, and she scampered off in search of champagne.
Next through the door, to my surprise, was Karen. Jasmine had dragged her along as her plus-one. She’d gone for a simple black dress and low heels, her frizzy chestnut hair spilling down over her shoulders. “You look fantastic,” I said encouragingly.
“I feel ridiculous,” she told me. “Jasmine tried to get me into the Heels of Death, but I couldn’t walk in them.”
I looked at her shoes. Sensible and safe—almost Karen’s mantra, bless her. “Well, those will be easier to dance in, anyway,” I told her, trying to put a positive spin on it.
Karen went pale. “There’s going to be dancing?” She hurried off after Jasmine, eyes on the floor.
I sighed. She was so sweet and gorgeous, too. If she’d just relax a little….
Then again, next to the society girls Darrell had invited, I was feeling almost as nervous. And I felt frumpy, too—the dress I’d bought wasn’t cheap, but they dripped with jewelery and carried tiny clutches that cost a month’s rent. “Why are they all women?” I asked Darrell.
“They always were,” he said. “They’re mostly girlfriends and trophy wives of rich guys. This is what they do, while their men are working late. They go to parties and donate to charity. It was the same at the party you came to before—but then they were balanced out by the guys from the defense industry.”
I nodded. I was glad that Darrell’s old life had been excised, but we’d have to work on the ratio for next time and see if we could invite some more single men. If I was going to play hostess, I wanted to get it right.
A half hour later, everyone had arrived and the waiters were gliding elegantly around with trays of champagne flutes (I couldn’t get over the idea of having waiters, even if it was just for the party. I was half expecting a butler and a chambermaid to show up). The band started to play something with a beat and people edged a little closer to the space we’d cleared for dancing. But no one wanted to be the first to start.
Fortunately, dancing was something I didn’t have any qualms about. I took Darrell’s glass from his hand and put it down, then led him towards the middle of the room.
“Oh,” he said, realizing too late what I was about to do. “I don’t—I mean, I don’t really….”
“We’re the hosts,” I told him. “It’s the done thing. Probably.” I slipped his arm around my waist. God, it felt good.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Clarissa trying to do the same thing with Neil, but he’d rooted himself to the spot and it was like trying to move a rhino. Eventually, he leaned over her and whispered in her ear and I actually saw her knees weaken. She nodded her acceptance and he walked onto the dance floor with her. When she glanced across at me, her cheeks were flushed but her eyes were bright with arousal. I really, really wanted to know what she’d just agreed to do.
We started to dance and suddenly I was looking at the top of Darrell’s head. “What are you doing?” I asked, bemused.
“Watching our feet,” he told me, stumbling. “I don’t want to step on you.”
I put a finger under his chin and slowly lifted his head. “Don’t worry about your feet. Look at me, and trust your feet to do the right thing.”
He tried, but kept going back when I expected him to go forward and forward when I expected him to go back. “Sorry,” he told me. “I’m not like you—I’m not…graceful.”
I looked up into his eyes. “I don’t want you to be. I don’t want to change you. I want you to be just who you are.” I realized I’d been trying to control him as we danced, confusing teaching with leading, and relaxed my hands. “You lead. Show me where to go. I’ll follow.”
He stared at me for a second and then nodded. Looking into my eyes, he slowly started to move, this time taking me where he wanted to go, and it flowed much more smoothly. His size and strength let him direct me easily. He’d actually make a good dancer, given practice—he’d just needed me to trust him…and I did.
To my side, Neil was making up for a lack of technique using raw strength and energy, sweeping Clarissa around like a doll. She was gazing up into his eyes, half enraged by the way he was handling her and half aroused. The thing that bound them together, that tempestuous love/hate, anger/lust, was clearly powerful as hell. I just hoped it lasted long enough for them to move onto something more solid.
By the time the song ended, several other couples had joined us. Our job done, we moved off the dance floor and I hooked up with Clarissa, Jasmine and Karen while the guys went in search of drinks.
“We should dance,” Jasmine was telling Karen. I could see her looking at Clarissa’s flushed face. “Look how much fun they had!”
“Us two?” asked Karen. “Together?”
Jasmine smirked. “The guys will love it. I bet you get a date out of it.”
Karen’s eyes widened. “But I don’t want—”
“I’ll even kiss you at the end.” Jasmine smirked. “They’ll go nuts for that.”
“God, you’re so uptight. Just on the lips. No tongue.”
“Jasmine!” Karen had gone beetroot. Poor girl. Her and Jasmine were complete opposites…which in a weird way made them ideal friends.
Jasmine sighed. “Fine. I’ll find you an eligible bachelor instead.” And she led the reluctant Karen off through the crowd.
I turned to Clarissa, only to find that she’d gone. When Darrell returned, he was alone—Neil had disappeared, too. I thought back to the previous party. Surely they hadn’t…nah, not again!
Darrell and I wandered hand-in-hand through the party and wound up standing in the hallway, forming a little static island in the sea of moving people. I tried to take it all in: the polished floors, the waiters, the chandeliers…. It was going to take a while to get used to. Darrell had already talked about buying me a car to make it easier for me to go back and forth between Fenbrook, my apartment and the mansion, but I’d refused. I wanted to be with him, but I wanted to make sure I maintained my independence, too.
He gently spun me around and pulled me up against him, my back to his chest, and we stood together watching everyone mill around. It was one of those perfect moments you don’t want to end—not for what we had around us, but for what we had inside. We’d both finally found someone we could share ourselves with—not just the good parts, but the most broken, scarred corners of our souls, the parts we wouldn’t dare show anyone else. We were in the middle of a happy throng of people, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was the end of the world, as long as we had each other.
“Will you dance for me, one last time?” he asked. “When everyone’s gone home?”
I turned to him. “What’s with the one last time?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Well…I love to watch you dance, but I figured with the project done—”
I put a finger to his lips. “I’ll always dance for you.”
He bent down and kissed me, pressing me back against the staircase. Lips brushing gently at first and then opening hungrily, wanting, needing, my eyes closing as—
That was weird. I swore the wall behind me moved.
Maybe it was just the kiss. My hands roved over his muscled back—
The wall moved again. A definite movement, this time. My eyes opened, but nothing else was happening around me—no earthquake. I closed my eyes again and gave myself up to the kiss.
“God…Darrell,” I whispered as our lips parted for a second.
“Natasha!” A whisper, but it didn’t sound like Darrell’s voice. And it was coming from behind me. “Natasha! Move your ass!”
I broke the kiss and turned around, stepping away from the staircase. I’d been leaning against a narrow door, barely visible amongst the dark paneled wood, and now it was opening. Clarissa climbed out, her hair mussed. I saw brooms and mops inside.
“What were you doing in—” I started, and then Neil climbed out after her. His bow tie was undone, and he was still zipping his pants. I rolled my eyes.
Clarissa at least had the decency to blush; Neil just grinned. “No dungeon in there, either,” Clarissa whispered in my ear, and then pulled Neil quickly away.
Darrell kissed my cheek as we watched them leave. “What was it she said?” he asked.
He tickled me—he knew exactly where to do it—right on my ribs, low down on the right side. He was getting to be an expert. “Stop! Nothing! Really!” I gasped. “Okay, okay! She thinks all billionaires have a dungeon hidden away somewhere.”
He stopped tickling me.
“You don’t, right?” I asked.
Hours later, I was sitting on the stage tying on my pointe shoes. It was eerily silent, with all the machines and computers shut down and covered in dust sheets, as if the room was holding its breath.
Darrell still wouldn’t give me a yes or no on the dungeon thing, but I was certain he was just messing with me. Well, almost certain.
“What would you like me to dance?” I asked, and saying it took me back to the very start, to that first time in the workshop, the day after I’d met him. The initial attraction had been so strong, almost frighteningly so, as if fate had known that there was so much that wanted to tear us apart, we’d need something incredible to keep us together.
That attraction was still there, a physical force in the air between us. And now there was nothing in the way.
“You choose,” he told me.
“The balcony pas de deux, from Romeo and Juliet,” I told him. “Climb up here with me.”
“Because I’m going to need your help.”
There’s a very particular part in Macmillan’s choreography. We needed something new, now that we were together. Something to bind us as one, forever.
“What do I have to do?” Darrell asked. “Because if you’re going to ask me to pirouette, I’m pretty sure—”
“No pirouettes. Kneel down right there.” I showed him the spot and he knelt. I backed off to the other side of the stage.
I saw him realize what I was planning. “Are you sure about this?” he asked. “I’m not a dancer.”
“Do you know what the most important thing is between two dancers?”
He shook his head.
“Trust. And I’ve never trusted anyone more.” And I ran at him, quick steps that ended with me en pointe in front of him, balanced precariously on one foot. And then I allowed myself to tip forward.
And he caught me. I lay there in the air, balanced on the warm cradle of his hands. “Now lift,” I whispered.
He lifted me, rising up on his knees, and as he did it I arched my back into a bow, arms and legs outstretched, and it felt like I was flying. I heard the intake of breath as he felt himself become part of something—he was the power, the engine that made the move possible. I didn’t have to tell him to lower me—the shape of my body as my arms and legs sank down was enough to cue him. And when he sat back on his heels, my body arched over him, and we stared into each other’s eyes, I didn’t need to tell him to lift me again.
We were in tune as never before—he was plugged into what I felt when I danced, that joyous sensation of being one hundred percent in the moment, pure physicality without distraction. I could only give it to him for a minute, but for someone who’s never experienced it before, a minute is an eternity. We were utterly together—our breathing was one, our heartbeats were one.
When he lowered me for the third time, I tipped back, coming down off his hands and back onto pointe. I stepped lightly away from him and began to dance, pirouetting just out of reach, returning again and again for brief, teasing contact before flitting away. I finally returned to him, twisting at the last second and falling backwards towards him, trusting him to catch me.
Warm hands pressed against my back, supporting me. They felt like they could hold me forever.
I flipped over so that we were face to face and hung there for a second, my body stiff as a board, balanced on my toes and supported only by the press of his hands just below my breasts. I was utterly under his control.
He lowered me, slowly and surely, leaning back as he did it so that our lips came together. He stopped when they were a half inch apart.
“Do you know,” he asked, “that I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you?” His voice was tight with emotion. “I didn’t want to say it because I knew it sounded crazy, but it’s true.”
I felt the warmth blossom and flare inside me. Karen had been right—it had been fast. It was that sort of love. But sometimes love’s like that, and you can either grab hold or miss your chance forever. Maybe what we had was fragile, but it was going to grow stronger every day.
He lowered me the rest of the way and our lips met, and I was complete.
I hope you enjoyed reading this extra material, and thank you for buying the book when it first came out! Your support is what made it possible for me to write In Harmony and everything that follows after it!