Except, of course, herself.
“That’s why you left? You couldn’t dance in Maryland?”
“Last time I looked, Broadway was in New York,” she quipped. Then, seeing his impatient look, she relented. Fine, he wanted a peek into her past, she figured she owed him. “My parents were fine with me dancing, per se. It was a nice, ladylike hobby, acceptable among their society friends.”
“I’ve gotta say, I’m having serious trouble picturing you as a meek, ladylike society girl.”
“You and me both.” Lara smiled, resting her chin on the hands she’d folded over his chest. “I loved the dance. Obsessed with it. It’s all I wanted. But the rest? Country club socials, acceptable dates, polite well-rounded dinner conversation? I didn’t quite live up to expectations. By the time I was sixteen, they figured my obsession with dance was getting in the way of my duties.”
“They wanted you to stop?”
“They ordered me to quit. Refused to pay for classes, then grounded me six months later when they found out I was still going. I applied for a scholarship and you’d have thought I’d tried to murder my mother.”
“Because you disobeyed?”
“Hardly. I rarely behaved to their standards anyway.” Lara laughed. “No, she was furious because I’d implied that we needed financial assistance.”
“And your brother?”
“What about him? He never weighed in on the discussion, if that’s what you mean. I’m honestly not sure he realized I was a dancer. I’m positive he never noticed when I left.”
“How is that possible? You lived in the same house, right?”
“Not really. I mean, technically we did. But he went to prep school, then Annapolis. My dance schedule got me out of boarding school, but it wasn’t like I hung out at home watching TV and chatting with the parents.”
“So you took off for Broadway? That’s, like, fancy dancing, isn’t it?”
“I suppose. Ballet, jazz, tap, I did it all.” She smiled against his chest. “I was good.”
“How good?” he asked.
She laughed at the innuendo, then shrugged.
“Really good, actually. I’d been dancing since I was a toddler, so I had a lot of time to work on it. By nineteen I was an up-and-comer. Another year, maybe two, I’d have been out of the corps and dancing solo roles.”
“So how’d you get from there to Broadway to the Silver Dust?”
“Life took me on a trip,” Lara said lightly.
She didn’t want to talk about all her screwups, lousy choices or many failures. Not with a guy who probably had none of the above, and was probably going to turn out to be all of the above for her.
“Enough with tiptoeing through the past,” she said, angling her body so she was over him instead of on his side. “Let’s talk about something more interesting. Like nothing.”
His hands skimmed from her hips upward, briefly cupping her breasts before sliding back down and between her thighs.
Oh, baby, he had talented fingers.
“Okay, but first I have to ask...”
Heart racing, desire curling in her belly and need clawing its way through her system, Lara shrugged.
“Fine. Ask fast, though.”
Unfortunately, though, he apparently couldn’t ask and play at the same time, because he moved his hand from her welcoming heat to her waist.
“You’re up there on stage. Dancing. Almost naked. Thousands of strangers watch you each week.”
Desire forgotten, Lara tensed. Was he seriously going to pull out the judgment card? Now? Her knee twitched as it calculated the distance to his groin.
“Isn’t that hat heavy as hell?” he finally asked.
“You’re so graceful up there. You swerve, you sway, you kick and hop and dance all over. But you’re wearing that big-ass hat. Isn’t it heavy?”
That was it?
The relief pouring through her was almost as strong as the orgasm she’d relished earlier. Deep, penetrating and powerful enough to make her want to cry.
No pithy criticism of her parading near-naked for perverts, friends and strangers alike.
Nobody, ever in her life, had simply accepted her like that.
Lara didn’t know what to think, what to do.
She almost kissed him. But that’d be admitting how much his opinion meant, and she wasn’t stupid.
So she went for light and easy instead, figuring she’d show her gratitude in a silent, easily-misinterpreted-as-lust kind of way.
“Most of my headdresses weigh between eight and twelve pounds,” she told him, tilting her head to one side, then the other as if balancing a hat.