Nathaniel sighed so heavily that I felt the movement against my body. "I haven't gotten stronger, she has." He sounded so sad, so disappointed in himself.
I leaned in against his shoulder, enough that Micah was able to literally hug us both at the same time. "I'm your Nimir-Ra, I'm supposed to be stronger, right?"
He gave me a faint smile.
I laid my head on his shoulder, curving my face into the bend of his neck, and getting that whiff of vanilla. He'd always smelled like vanilla to me. I'd thought once it was shampoo, or soap, but it wasn't. It was his scent for me. I hadn't had the courage yet to ask Micah if Nathaniel's skin smelled like vanilla to him, too. Because I wasn't sure what it would mean if I was the only one who found Nathaniel's scent so very sweet.
"You want to ask Anita something," Jason said.
Nathaniel tensed against me, then in a small voice, he asked, "Do I still get my dance?"
It was my turn to tense. I couldn't control it, it was involuntary. Nathaniel got very still beside me, because he'd felt it, too. I didn't want to dance, that was true, but I also had a very clear memory of thinking, just minutes ago with Micah, that I'd rather have been dancing. I'd messed up once tonight, I didn't want to do it twice. "Sure, dancing sounds great."
That made Micah and Nathaniel pull back enough to look at me. Jason was just staring down at me. "What did you say?" Nathaniel said.
"I said, dancing sounds great." Their astonishment almost made it worthwhile.
"Where is Anita, and what have you done with her?" Jason asked, face mock serious.
I didn't try to explain. I couldn't figure out a slick way of saying to Micah, I'd rather have danced, and it's my fault we missed it, without spilling his secrets in front of Nathaniel and Jason. So I just stood, and offered my hand to Nathaniel.
After a second of staring at it, and me, he took it, almost tentatively, as if he were afraid I'd take it back. I think he'd come ready for an argument about the dancing, and not getting one had thrown him.
I smiled at the surprise on his face. "Let's go inside."
He gave me one of his rare full-out smiles, the one that made his entire face light up. For that one smile, I'd have given him a lot more than just a dance.
Of course, my good intentions lasted about as long as it took to be escorted onto the dance floor. Then suddenly I was expected to dance. In front of people. In front of people that were mostly cops. Cops that I worked with on a regular basis. No one is as merciless if you give them ammunition, no pun intended, as a bunch of policemen. If I danced badly, I'd be teased. If I danced well, I'd be teased worse. If they realized I was dancing well with a stripper, the teasing would be endless. If they realized I was dancing badly with a stripper, the jokes would be, well, bad. Either way you cut it, I was so screwed.
I felt fourteen again, and awkward as hell. But it was almost impossible to be awkward with Nathaniel as your partner. Maybe it was his day job, but he knew how to bring out the best in someone on the dance floor. All I had to do was let go of my inhibitions and follow his body. Easy, maybe, but not for me. I like the few inhibitions I have left, thank you, and I'm going to cling to them as long as I can.
What I was clinging to now was Nathaniel. Not much scares me, not really, but airplane rides, and dancing in public are on that short list. My heart was in my throat, and I kept fighting the urge to stare at my feet. The men had spent an afternoon proving that I could dance, at home, with only people who were my friends watching. But suddenly, in public in front of a less than friendly audience, all my lessons seemed to have fled. I was reduced to clinging to Nathaniel's hand and shoulder, turning in those useless circles that have nothing to do with the song, and everything to do with fear, and the inability to dance.
"Anita," Nathaniel said.
I kept staring at my feet, and trying to not see that we were being watched from around the room.
"Anita, look at me, please."
I raised my face, and whatever he saw in my eyes made him smile, and filled his own eyes with a sort of soft wonderment. "You really are afraid." He said it like he hadn't believed it before.
"Would I ever admit to being afraid, if I wasn't?"
He smiled. "Good point." His voice was soft. "Just look at my face, my eyes, no one else matters but the person you're dancing with. Just don't look at anyone else."
"You sound like you've given this advice before."
He shrugged. "A lot of women are uncomfortable on stage, at first."
I gave him raised eyebrows.
"I used to do an act in formal wear, and I'd pick someone from the audience to dance with. Very formal, very Fred Astaire."
Somehow, Fred Astaire was not a name that came to mind when I thought of Guilty Pleasures. I said as much.
His smile was less gentle and more his own. "If you ever came down to the club to watch one of us work instead of just giving us a ride, you'd know what we did."
I gave him a look.
"You're dancing," he said.
Of course, once he pointed out that I'd been dancing, I stopped. It was like walking on water, if you thought about it, you couldn't do it.
Nathaniel pulled gently on my hand and pushed gently on my shoulder and got us going again. I finally settled for staring at his chest, watching his body movements as if he'd been a bad guy and it was a fight. Watch the central body for the first telltale movements.
"At home you moved to the rhythm of the song, not just where I moved you."
"That was at home," I said, staring at his chest and letting him move me around the floor. It was damn passive for me, but I couldn't lead, because I couldn't dance. To lead you have to know what you're doing.
The song stopped. I'd made it through one song in public. Yeah! I looked up and met Nathaniel's gaze. I expected him to look pleased, or happy, or a lot of things, but that wasn't what was on his face. In fact, I couldn't read the expression on his face. It was serious again, but other than that... we stood there, staring at each other, while I tried to figure out what was happening, and I think he tried to work up to saying something. But what? What had him all serious-faced?
I had time to ask, "What, what's wrong?" then the next song came on. It was fast, with a beat, and I was so out of there. I let go of Nathaniel, stepped back, and had turned, and actually gotten a step away, before he grabbed my hand. Grabbed my hand and pulled me in against him so hard and so fast that I stumbled. If I hadn't caught myself with one arm around his body, I'd have fallen. I was suddenly acutely aware of the firmness of his back against my arm, the curve of his side cupped in the hollow of my hand. I was holding him so close to the front of my body that it seemed every inch of us from chest to groin pressed against one another. His face was painfully close to mine. His mouth so close it seemed a shame not to lay a kiss upon those lips.
His eyes were half-startled, as if I'd grabbed him, and I had, but I hadn't meant to. Then he swayed to one side and took me with him. And just like that we were dancing, but it was different from any dancing I'd ever done. I didn't follow his movements with my eyes, I followed them with my body. He moved, and I moved with him, not because I was supposed to, but for the same reason a tree bends in the wind, because it must.
I moved because he moved. I moved because I finally understood what they'd all been talking about; rhythm, beat, but it wasn't the beat of the music I was hearing, it was the rhythm of Nathaniel's body, pressed so close that all I could feel was him. His body, his hands, his face. His mouth was temptingly close, but I did not close that distance. I gave myself over to his body, the warm strength in his hands, but I did not take the kiss he offered. For he was offering himself in the way that Nathaniel had, no demand, just the open-ended offer of his flesh for the taking. I ignored that kiss the way I'd ignored so many others.
He leaned into me, and I had a moment, just a moment, before his lips touched mine, to say, no, stop. But I didn't say it. I wanted that kiss. That much I could admit to myself.
His lips brushed mine, gentle, then the kiss became part of the swaying of our bodies, so that as our bodies rocked, so the kiss moved with us. He kissed me as his body moved, and I turned my face up to him and gave myself to the movement of his mouth as I'd given myself to the movement of his body. The brush of lips became a full-blown kiss, and it was his tongue that pierced my lips, that filled my mouth, his mouth that filled mine. But it was my hand that left his back and traced his face, cupped his cheek, pressed my body deeper against his, so that I felt him stretched tight and firm under his clothes. The feel of him pressed so tight against my clothes and my body brought a small sound from my mouth, and the knowledge that the ardeur had risen early. Hours early. A distant part of me thought, Fuck. The rest of me agreed, but not in the way I meant it.