Chapter Six

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Therese wrapped her arms around her upper body and took a deep breath, the cold air filling her sinuses and making her shiver all over again. She didn't know how long she'd been out here. Twenty minutes? An hour? Even with the heat lamps that lined the courtyard, she knew she would have to go back inside at some point. She would drink some more champagne, and chat with strangers, and she would avoid Luca. Because she was a coward. A coward with a body that yearned to feel his fingers trail across her skin.

"Dammit," she muttered, and turned back to the doors.

But Luca was already there, blocking her way.

"Therese," he said, his voice soft.

She dropped her hands down to her sides. "I was about to go back in," she said, and started to walk past him.

"Wait."

He didn't touch her. He didn't do anything to stop her. She could've continued walking away from him, if she'd wanted. But her feet stopped moving, and she turned around to look at him.

In the dim light of the courtyard, he seemed to be made of shadows. The black of his suit, combined with the dark of his hair and his eyes, forced her to glance down at the glimpses of white at his chest to assure herself he was real.

"What are you doing out here?" he asked, a note of concern in his voice.

She shrugged. "I needed some air."

"It's a bit cold tonight."

"Freezing," she clarified, and chanced a smile. He didn't return it. "Well, um, is there something you wanted?"

Luca sighed and rubbed his jaw. She noticed the stubble there, adding even more shadows and smudges to the lines of his face. "I can't... here." He shrugged out of his jacket and stepped forward, closing the distance between them.

His jacket was still warm from the heat of his own body, and as he draped it over her shoulders, she caught the spicy scent of him that clung to the fabric.

"Better?"

Therese nodded as she pulled the jacket tight around her body.

"What I want to say, it's not easy." He licked his lips, and she watched his Adam's apple rise and fall as he paused to swallow. "I'm retiring at the end of this season."

"Oh." At first, she was surprised, but then it began to make sense. A dancer's career was often a short one, most taking jobs as teachers when their bodies couldn't handle the constant stress any longer. "I had heard your contract wasn't going to be renewed."

"At my request," he added. "Though I'm sure you've heard rumors to the contrary."

Therese bit her lip. She wasn't about to divulge the bit of gossip she'd shared with Audrey the other day.

"And I've been offered a job," he continued, his gaze locked with hers. "Here. At your school."

"Oh," she said again, and this time, the shock of it lingered.

"Your artistic director, he's looking for a new ballet master. Rumor is that he'd like to build up a performing company that would be associated with the school."

"I'd heard that. And you... you've been offered the job of ballet master?"

He nodded.

"And have you accepted?"

He was close to her, so close he could've reached out and touched her. But he didn't move, and...

The space between them pulsed with tension. "I haven't decided yet."

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