Ana's hero is trying to teach the cowgirl heroine to waltz.
After several more uncoordinated attempts, he had an idea. “Think of it this way. We’re a cow. I’m the head, and you’re the tail.” He waited a moment to let the description sink in. “This time go backwards. Back, side, together.”
This went better, and she smiled half-heartedly.
“You’re doing great. Now a quarter turn.” Pivoting as he stepped forward, he crashed into her chest. “Whoops! You were thinking, weren’t you?”
“I can’t do this.” She jerked free. “I’ll never be good at dancing.”
“Don’t say that, Stormy.” He reached out again and pulled her back into a waltzing stance. “Just turn off your thoughts. Dancing is all about letting go and feeling.”
“I can’t. I don’t know how.”
He saw defeat in her eyes, but behind it, an ember of hope. He knew he could try to soothe her fears by calling her a capable, beautiful woman, but she was so much more. She was not a taker like Candy. She was genuine, honest, hardworking, and caring. And afraid of another round of public ridicule.
Fear was something he understood all too well. For nine, guilt-ridden years, he worried that he’d broken his mother’s heart by running away from home. When he returned home, she treated him like a stranger, ignoring his hints about being engaged and insisting that Jared escort Miss Candy Kennedy everywhere.
Every day since, he'd lived with the certain fear that if his father learned about Candy’s lies, he’d disown him for being weak and stupid. The Masters’ empire couldn’t be passed on to someone so vulnerable to a hustler’s wiles.
Even worse was his gnawing fear for Patrick, born seven and a half months after Jared married Candy. If Jared ever found out…
He drew a ragged breath. He couldn’t fix his messed up past, but he could change Stormy’s future. Taking his own advice to let go and just feel, he bent down and softly pressed his mouth to hers.
Her lips quivered under his, and he fully expected her to pull back. Maybe even throw a punch. He braced himself, but to his surprise, she rose up on her toes, closed her eyes, and leaned into the kiss.
A feeling unlike any he’d ever experienced flooded through him. Tenderness, whipped by a lust much stronger than he’d ever felt for Candy. He pressed down, trying to let the touch of his lips reassure Stormy without revealing his secrets or demanding her trust.
Her lips responded with a give and take that he ached to explore, but didn’t dare. This wasn’t the time or the place, and he wasn’t sure he could ever unlock his heart again.
Pulling back, he felt the soft rush of her sigh. Her lids fluttered open.
“Let’s try again,” he said. “I’m the man, your superior. You’re a woman, my…”
“You might have the horns, buster boy, but my tail will swat you if you let me fall.” She squeezed his fingers hard. “Got it?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He counted aloud to three and stepped back. She followed, responding to his signals with more ease. Forwards, backwards, glide into a turn.
As they moved, her scowl softened to a smile, and then broadened to a grin. “I haven’t stepped on your toes once. Where did you learn to lead like this?”
“Lessons every Saturday morning.” He scrunched up his face. “My mother made me.”
The musicians finished tuning their instruments and played a lively, engaging tune. Couples drifted onto the grass and stood clapping their hands.
Blade held Stormy back behind the Hawkins’ buckboard. When the number ended, he slipped off her cape and tossed it into the back. “Keep your chin up and smile. You are the prettiest girl here.”
For a moment, he wished they were waiting to be announced at a Saint Louis society ball. Holding her warm hand, he led her into the circle.