Chapter Three

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Therese set her coffee on top of the CD player and dropped her bag on the floor at her feet. She took a deep breath, in and out, and then again, before rolling her shoulders backwards. A few weeks. That's how long Luca would be here. And then the performances would be over, and he would be gone from her life, probably forever.

She shook her head, chiding herself. As if he'd ever really been a part of her life to begin with.

Her notes were in a crumpled ball at the bottom of her bag. She dug them out, smoothed the pages, and spread them flat beside her coffee cup. Then, she reached for a bottle of Tylenol, shook a few into her hand, and washed them down with another scalding sip of coffee. Her knee had already begun to twinge this morning, and the first class hadn't even started yet. Probably stress, she thought. A career-ending injury had a tendency to flare up at times like these. And when it was cold. Or damp. Or any day of the week ending in a "y."

Behind her, the students finished up their pre-class stretches and conversations. Therese was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn't hear one of the students say her name.

"Miss Therese?"

She glanced over her shoulder and saw a group of girls, advanced students, trying to snag her attention.

"What is it?" she asked as she walked over to them.

The girls looked at each other, all of them sharing a smile and a few of them giggling before their spokesperson, Rebecca, swatted playfully at the others and stepped forward.

"Miss Therese, is it true you danced with Mr. Durante?"

Here we go...

"Yes," Therese said, and stifled a sigh before it could drag down her shoulders. "Yes, I did. But only once."

"Well, what happened?"

Therese licked her lips. It had been such a long time ago, or so she told herself, even while every detail remained crystal clear. "There was a workshop," she began. "I was eighteen years old, an apprentice with the National Ballet Company, but one of the leads got sick—fever, chills, the whole deal—and I...I was asked to step in."

"Why you?" one of the other girls, Sarah, ventured to ask. "If you were just an apprentice..."

Therese shrugged. That part had always remained a mystery to her, as well. "I don't know. But I knew the part. I had rehearsed it in class a hundred times. We all had, but for some reason, they asked me."

Rebecca leaned forward. "And so you and Mr. Durante...?"

"Yes." Therese nodded once. "Romeo and Juliet. I knew the solo variations, but I had never learned the pas de deux. You know the one, from the famous balcony scene? So I was called in to an emergency rehearsal, and they taught it to me in a few hours. And then it was showtime."

"And?" This, from Rebecca. "That can't be it. What was it like to dance with him?"

What could she say? They had heard all the stories, that Luca Durante had a temper, that he was notoriously difficult to work with, that there were some female dancers who absolutely refused to share the same stage with him.

But that hadn't been her experience. From the first moment she'd stepped toward him, his hands gliding across her skin, her body curving against his...

"It was nothing remarkable," she said, and watched the girls' excitement deflate at her words. "In fact, I hardly remember much about it."

"And then you hurt your knee, right?" Rebecca's question sounded so innocent, so matter-of-fact. But Therese's breath still hitched.

"Yes," she said. "In class, a few days later. And because of that, I am now your teacher and not some famous ballerina currently performing in Paris or Rome." She attempted a smile, and tried to inject as much humor into her voice as she could manage. "So go to the barre. It's almost time to start."

It was then she realized how quiet the classroom around her had become. She knew, before she even turned around, that he was there. A glance over her shoulder confirmed it. Luca stood at the side of the room, her side of the room, a black gym bag slung over his shoulder.

He was dressed for class, she realized. Gone was the designer coat and the expensive shoes. Clad in old sweats and warm-up clothes, he looked like any other student in the room. Except... he didn't. No one else had that same aura of self-assurance, of easy confidence that Luca wore as comfortably as a second skin.

A dozen thoughts flitted through her head as she watched him set down his bag and prepare for class. The most prominent one was that he wasn't even supposed to be here. Hadn't Audrey said he wouldn't be in until later this afternoon? His first rehearsal wasn't scheduled until four o'clock, so why would he show up now, and in her class?

She returned to the front of the room, jammed the CD into the tray, and jabbed at the buttons on the remote. "First position," she said without preamble. Another button pressed, and the music began.

The students knew all the combinations. She went through nothing for Luca's benefit, leaving him to follow the kids on either side of him. It was cruel of her, she knew it, but his unexpected presence in her class had so rattled her that she didn't trust herself to even run through the sequences correctly.

For the first ten minutes, she kept to the left side of the classroom, away from Luca. The other students had given him a large amount of space in which to work, and so it was easy for her to simply avoid him. But when she saw Rebecca, only one place away from Luca at the barre, struggling over a complicated step, she drew in a deep breath and moved to the other side of the room.

"Here, like this," Therese said, as she went through the combination again with Rebecca. She watched the girl's progress as she reversed the step, but all the time, she could feel Luca's eyes on her, like a faint prickling of awareness that raised the hairs on the back of her neck. "Okay, other side."

She remained where she was, near Rebecca, but this time, Luca had his back to her, allowing her to watch him.

He had stripped out of his sweats and gym pants, she realized, and was down to only a pair of bike shorts and a sleeveless shirt. The thin white cotton of the shirt stretched across the muscles of his back and shoulders as he moved, and her gaze latched onto the tattoos she hadn't seen yesterday, hidden by his heavy coat and scarf.

One circled his left bicep, while another, a design she couldn't quite identify, peaked out above the collar of his shirt, between his shoulderblades. Her eyes traveled down then, along the narrowing of his waist, over his hips, and along the taut muscles of his thighs. She swallowed quickly, and wondered how anyone could think of ballet being a feminine art, when it took only a single glance at Luca to recognize the amount of control that was necessary to keep so much strength and power in check.

The music ended, and the dancers relaxed. Therese heard their rapid breathing and saw several of them reach for water bottles or for towels to wipe the sweat off their necks and faces. Luca turned around, his own dark hair soaked with perspiration, his shirt clinging to the lines of his chest. She waited for him to say something, anything, but the only change in him was a slight lift of his right eyebrow as he looked at her.

"Right," she said, her mouth dry. "Let's see that one again."


Thank you for your reads, votes, adds, and so on. They are all wonderful and motivating, especially as I try to crawl my way out of the chaos of having a new baby to care for. 

I will be posting the remaining parts of this story later today (it's not a long story, only about 10k words) and then marking it as complete. And there might be a sequel in the works. Or a prequel. I'm still attempting to figure out where my mind wants to go with this one!

Quenby Olson

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