We’re only a week away from the release of the first book of the Art of Love series. Dance With Me releases April 8, 2019. I’ll share links to the blog tour, chat, and giveaway on the release day. But for now, here are the first two chapters of the novel.
Enjoy! And remember, you can visit the companion post to the novel, featuring dance videos. This can be viewed before, during, or after reading the novel.
2010; Marlow, Tennessee
A lifetime of ballroom dancing had not only earned me countless awards, but today it was also offering an interview and a grand party to celebrate. I opened the door and held it for Arleen.
She thanked me as she passed through, and together we stopped at the hotel desk, before being ushered into a private office.
Upon entering the office, a young woman stood with a bright smile on her face. We swapped handshakes and introductions before settling down on the offered couch.
Mackenzie Henderson typed out a few notes, then set up her recorder.
“Miss Henderson,” I started, but the woman waved me off.
“No, please just call me Mackenzie.”
I gave her a nod. “With a lifetime of dancing, I’m not even sure where to start.”
“I understand you were both competitors before 1959. I have a list of your accomplishments here in front of me. But what we’d really like to know is what happened in ’59?”
I flipped my gaze to Arleen. That was a loaded question.
Arleen sent me a look that said she, too, was still uncertain of how to begin.
We both looked to Mackenzie for direction.
“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” she said. “Can you share with me your early impressions of Arleen?”
I paused a moment.
Arleen laid her hand on my arm. “Go ahead,” she gently prodded. “I’m not afraid.”
I pulled in a breath and hoped I wasn’t making a mistake. “Alright, the truth is …”
1959; Marlow, Tennessee
The truth was, I knew better than to look twice at Arleen Thatcher. That gal was trouble, if there ever was trouble.
The temptress in heels sashayed past me, bumping me as she did so. She looked over her shoulder to be sure I’d noticed.
I had. I wasn’t dead. But I also wasn’t stupid, which was more than I could say for my chums.
Albert Jones groaned beside me, “That is some doll.”
I rolled my eyes–eyes that were fixed onto the dance floor and not on Queen Arleen. Like I said, I knew better than to look twice.
“If I had just one shot with her–”
“You’d choke,” I cut in.
Albert nudged my side with his elbow. “I betcha I could get farther with her than you.”
I snorted. “I got better things to do.”
“Well, I can’t think of any.”
“What are you fellas talking about?” Ed Dower asked, wedging between us.
“Arleen Thatcher,” Albert said, sounding more and more like a lovesick gal with each passing second.
I didn’t have to look at Ed to know that the mention of Arleen’s name caught his attention. Ed had been her fan for some time now.
“She purposely bumped into Neil a minute ago, but he’s still claiming he’s unaffected.”
Ed jerked his head to me.
I met his look.
“She bumped you?” He sounded more jealous than curious.
I didn’t have to work to downplay the moment. I knew what she was really after, and it wasn’t me. “You know how she is.”
“No, but I’d like to,” Albert said in a throaty moan.
I cut my eyes to him, a scowl tugging on my lips.
“She was just trying to get in my head.”
“I’d let her in my head,” Albert chimed in. “I’d let her in my bed–”
“Give it a rest!” I cut in.
Albert looked taken aback. “You got dibs on her or something?”
I clenched my teeth, nostrils flaring.
“Come on,” Ed said, gripping Albert by the shoulder. “You oughta know by now, he’s a square when it comes to talking about the babes.”
Albert eyed me for a moment. “Well, I’m not a square. I’m gonna go talk to Arleen.”
I watched him saunter off in her direction and rolled my eyes again.
Ed looked at me, at Arleen, then back to me. “I know what you’re thinking, but, foolish or not, I’m going with him.”
“Idiots,” I mumbled under my breath, as Ed jogged to join Albert. Couldn’t they recognize what was plain for everyone to see? Right this moment, Arleen stood on the arm of her current dance partner, Jett Finnegan, while she flirted and teased the throng of men surrounding them. Jett, as her boyfriend, should have been offended, but he wasn’t. The arrogant fool actually stood taller, knowing that everyone here wanted what he had. But he wouldn’t have her for long. She’d be bored of him soon enough, and she’d cut him loose, same as she had all the ones before him.
I didn’t see the logic in getting mixed up with a gal like her. You couldn’t tame her.
I strolled to the refreshment table, accepted a cup of water, and tried to put my focus back on the dance floor. It wasn’t much of a distraction, since we were between heats. A flurry of activity caught my attention from the right. And just like Moses parting the water, Queen Arleen parted the group of men and started in my direction. My instincts said to up and run like Joseph, but I liked to think I was made of stouter stuff, so I stood my ground. Who knows, maybe I was just dumber than Joseph.
Arleen reached the table. She cast me a glance out of the corner of her eye and requested a cup of water from the uniformed attendant. Arleen stood in heels and a calf-length dress. Lavender tulle made an impressive bell shape that started around her slender waist. A tight bodice topped it off. Her dark brown hair was swept back, curls pinned in sparkling clips, and tiny white flowers woven through her locks like a crown. She eyed me with–if I were willing to be honest–the sharpest, most stunning shade of blue eyes I had yet seen. Her makeup, thick around the eyes, forced the color to practically pounce on you from across the room, competing only with the most kissable shade of red lips known to man. It was little wonder she had a following, but I was determined not to be numbered among them.
“Where’s your partner?” she asked, eyes traveling across the room. I started to answer, but she added, “I sure hope she corrected that final spin.”
I laughed, a short sort of laugh with my mouth closed and lips only tipped up on one side. “You’ll find out soon enough. What about your partner?”
“What about him?” she asked, one brown brow perked up.
“He looked a little shaky on his feet during your jive. Do you think he’s ready to waltz?”
It might have been a musical sound if I was willing to let myself fall for her charms, which I wasn’t.
“Say, where is he anyway? I’ve never known you to be without male company for so long.”
Arleen eyed me coyly. “I’m not without male company. I’m with you, aren’t I?” She batted her long lashes at me.
“So you are. Why is that exactly?” Something sure smelled fishy.
She shrugged her shoulder, an innocent–overly innocent–look in her eyes.
My gut dropped. “They wouldn’t …”
She grinned and wagged her head. With polished nails, she patted me on the chest, her touch burning, not comforting. “Now, now. Don’t have a cow. You know we agreed never to prank during a competition. Finnegan’s Studio likes to win fair and square.” Arleen gave a slight nudge of her head toward the back door. “The guys are out back having a smoke, and I thought I’d take the water with you instead,” she said, raising her paper cup in the air.
Right. Smokes. That made sense. Arleen didn’t smoke. She was known for staying glued to a man’s arm the entire time, except when he smoked. I only knew that because I didn’t smoke either and often saw her when the room cleared. It was almost comical, really. People often smoked in the room, but somehow Queen Arleen had coaxed them into smoking outdoors. For the past five years, there hadn’t been a single smoke at one of these quarterly competitions. Like the Pied Piper, she had entranced them all into doing her bidding, and they did it happily. Not that I was complaining. I sure breathed easier since they had changed their smoking locations.
I angled my cup to the attendant, and he refilled it and handed it back. “So, which one of you left the dead fish in our studio last week?”
Arleen’s eyes sparkled. “Couldn’t say.”
Despite myself, I laughed and shook my head. It was always the same between our studios. No one gave up the guilty. If we had lived in Chicago or New York City, our two studios might not have noticed one another. But in a small town such as Marlow, we couldn’t help but compete. Our rivaling studios were always trying to steal better dancers from one another, and, when that didn’t work, some other prank did.
Arleen set her paper cup down and turned to me, sucking in a sharp breath. “Good luck out there.” We were both up for the waltz next.
“You don’t have to pretend with me,” I said with a smirk.
“Oh, I wasn’t pretending.” She leaned in. “When I beat you, I want to know I was beating you at your best.”
I tipped my head back and laughed. “Darling, we’re about to sweep the floor with you and that lavender gown of yours.”
Her trilling laughter followed after me as we parted ways, both to our respective corners and back to our partners. I had a competition to win.
2010; Marlow, Tennessee
Mackenzie stared at me, mouth agape. Clearly, that wasn’t what she was expecting.
Arleen grinned. “He’s only telling you his half of the story, don’t forget. I’m here to tell you the rest.”
Mackenzie nodded her head numbly. “Well, let’s hear it.”
Dance With Me
Copyright © 2019 A.M. Heath
All rights reserved.
Will a new partnership tear their worlds apart … or will it be the piece they never knew was missing?
In 1959, Arleen Thatcher and Neil Fox are fierce competitors on the dance floor, so they’re the least likely pair to enter a televised competition together. But when rivaling studio owners decide to team up, the two find a partnership they never thought possible.
Arleen’s reputation around town is reason enough for Neil to keep his distance from his new partner. But as Neil gets to know Arleen, he discovers a side of her few others have seen, one of dark family secrets and carefully-constructed facades.
God’s plan for their partnership may involve more than a single dance; it may be the key to the healing Arleen so desperately needs.
The Art of Love series is compiled of stand-alone novels where the characters tell their own stories and love means so much more than passion.