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Authors: Robyn Amos

Enchanting Melody

BOOK: Enchanting Melody
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Enchanting
MELODY
ROBYN AMOS

I would like to thank my critique partners, Judy Fitzwater, Pat Gagne, Ann Kline and Karen Smith, who have been by my side since the very beginning. Special thanks to my silent critique partner and husband, John Pope. I'd also like to thank my pre-wedding dance instructors, Clifford Kopf, Anne Arundel Community College, and Deborah Joy Malkin, First Dance Impressions.

Chapter 1

M
elody
Rush tossed her waist-length ponytail over her shoulder as she squinted at the drawing board.

“That's not quite what I'm looking for, Bass,” she told her friend, a hulking goth with bloodred streaks in his black hair. “Can you arch your back a little more?”

“If I arch it any more, I'm going to fall on my head. I'm defying gravity as it is,” he moaned. Arms outstretched, head thrown back, Bass struggled to contort his spine as though reeling from a powerful blow.

Melody tried to sketch faster, realizing she was wearing out her model—which is why she didn't typically rely on them to develop her comic-book characters. “I'm sorry, dude, but this was your idea, remember?”

For years, Bass had been begging to be the inspiration for a character in one of her graphic novels. Finally, Delilah, her flashy African-American heroine—supermodel by day, electrically-charged crime fighter by night—had beaten up all the local villains and was in need of a fresh archenemy.

“I remember,” he paused to groan. “But, I thought I'd at least get in a few good licks. So far, in
all
these poses Delilah is kicking my—”

“Bass, I've already told you, the Ambassador's power is primarily cerebral. After this colossal butt-kicking he concocts a mind-control spell to take over the world.”

“Yeah, whatever. Can't I hit her just once?”

Melody shot him a look, pointedly ignoring the question. “Okay, you can relax. I think I've got what I need.” Her pencil flew over the sketch pad in rapid strokes that finally ended in a flourish.

The chains looped through his wide-leg jeans rattled as he straightened. “You ever notice that Delilah's enemies are always men?” he asked, cracking his neck. “If you're not careful, your fans will start to think you're a man-hater.”

“Hah, I'm far from a man-hater,” she said, waving him off.

“I don't know, you're much nicer now that we're not dating. But, I still think you're using Delilah to express your pent-up aggression toward men.” Bass was forced to take a hasty step back as Melody surged to her feet.

“I do not have pent-up aggression.” Sticking one hand on her hip, she waved the index finger of her other hand in the air. “First, I've
always
been nice—you just didn't know how to stand up to me. Second, Delilah is not an extension of me. In fact, she's my polar opposite.”

“Opposite?” Bass snorted. “Come on, she has the same brown skin tone as you, the same unbelievably long hair, and she's tall and curvy, just like you.”

She answered the lascivious arching of his brow with a hard glare. “Physical similarities mean nothing. Delilah's a girly-girl. I'm a tomboy. She wears Prada suits and Jimmy Choo shoes. I wear cargo pants and army boots. I'm sick of people trying to draw a connection between Delilah and me. She's
completely
fabricated.”

Except, maybe, for her hair. It was Melody's only true vanity. She'd given Delilah her trademark waist-length hair because she was so proud of it. Though she most often kept it in a braid or ponytail streaming down her back, she was meticulous when it came to grooming it.

“Fine, don't blame me just because you're bound by the dark chains of denial.”

She rolled her eyes, sitting back down at her desk. “Don't be so melodramatic.”

He took a step toward her. “Never mind. Can I see how I turned out?”

“Not yet,” she said, covering the drawing. “I need to play with it a bit more.”

“Fine, but, for all my effort, you've got to give me something.” Bass, topping six feet with the build of a heavyweight wrestler, rubbed his hands together like an eager little boy. “How about giving the Ambassador X-ray vision? I'm dying to see what Delilah wears under that catsuit.”

Melody started to quip that he wouldn't be able to handle it, but was interrupted by the telephone. She crossed the room and glanced at the caller ID—it was her sister.

As much as she loved her younger sibling, she wasn't in the mood to discuss fabric samples or cake flavors for Stephanie's upcoming wedding.

After the fourth ring, she answered the line. “What's up, Steph?”

“Get ready to buzz me in, I'm a block away from your apartment, and I've got a present for you.”

Melody sighed, hanging up the phone. These days that could mean a lot of things, and none of them good.

“My sister's on her way up here, Bass. You may want to hit the road.” Her sister and her best friend detested each other.

Bass rolled his eyes and grabbed his skate-board. “I'm outta here. Have fun drinking tea with the diva.”

The doorbell rang and Mel buzzed her sister through the security doors in the lobby. Moments later, Stephanie breezed into the apartment, filling it with expensive perfume. Casual only by design, she wore denim capri pants with a short denim jacket as a top. She'd completed her outfit with high-heeled sandals and pearls.

Stephanie Rush had retired from runway modeling to plan her New York wedding full-time. If it weren't for the fact that they lived on opposite sides of the city, Melody would've had to tolerate these pop-ins once a day.

As it was, they came at least once a week—every time Stephanie changed her wedding theme, colors or guest list.

“Hey, girl.” Stephanie leaned in to kiss Melody on the cheek before sitting next to the large portfolio she'd propped against the couch. “I just passed Flounder in the lobby.”

“Bass.”

“Right, I knew it was a fish. How is it that a thirty-year-old man still rides a skateboard?”

“Don't knock it.” Melody had learned to ignore her sister's none-too-subtle digs at her friends. “Skateboards are fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly and good exercise.”

“Whatever. Guess what? I have a surprise for you,” Stephanie said in a singsong voice.

Mel braced herself. “Okay?”

Stephanie reached into her Louis Vuitton bag and handed Melody a white envelope. Mel took it and pulled out what looked like a gift certificate.

“This coupon entitles you to six ballroom-dancing lessons from the Moonlight Dance Studio.”

Mel looked from her sister to the coupon then back to her sister. “What fresh hell is this?”

“Now hear me out, Mel. When you agreed to be maid of honor in my wedding you knew there would be certain expectations.”

Melody stuck her hand on her hip. “Yes, wearing an ugly dress, throwing you a couple of parties and buying you a ridiculously-expensive gift.
Those
are the duties I've agreed to fulfill.”

“A Keenan Okofi original is hardly ugly,” Stephanie said with a huff.

Mel rolled her eyes, knowing better than to insult the designs of her sister's husband-to-be. He was swiftly becoming one of the hottest new names in fashion, or so Stephanie claimed.

“I'm sorry, but you know what I mean. I don't see where dance lessons fit into this whole deal.”

“Mel, it's a formal candlelight wedding with a twelve-piece orchestra. There will be a lot of dancing, including the bridal party dance.”

“I don't need lessons to rock and sway around the floor a few times with Keenan's sixteen-year-old brother.”

“I'll have you know that Samir goes to boarding school in London where ballroom dance is a part of the daily curriculum.”

“Poor kid,” she scoffed.

“Mel, there will be a lot of important people there. Don't you want to make a good impression?”

Melody felt an icy tingle of suspicion at those words. They were all too familiar. “Did Mother put you up to this?”

Stephanie winced, dropping her gaze to the floor.

There wasn't any use in denying it, Melody thought. Their mother had never given up trying to mold her eldest daughter into the perfect image of African-American high society—no matter how futile the effort.

Stephanie reached out to squeeze Melody's arm. “Okay, she might have made the suggestion, but you know I
never
would have gone along with it if it hadn't been a good one. Our wedding guests aren't just important to me, but to Keenan's career as well. Some of them may ask you to dance, and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable.”

“Oh, this is about
my
comfort? Because if it is…” She pointed to her red Converse All-Stars.

“Melody, please. It's just five lessons. They'll teach you three different styles of dance. Just enough to get you through the wedding reception. Say you'll do it…please, please, please?”

Melody sighed. She was the black sheep in her family of New York socialites—and she was proud of it. Left to her own devices, she would have loved to send a message to her mother: her eclectic lifestyle wasn't a phase, her friends weren't going to morph into well-placed celebrities, and she was never going to marry rich.

But, for a change, this wasn't between just Melody and her mother. She was close to her sisters—both Stephanie and their youngest sibling, Vicky. And she'd already promised to do whatever chores were necessary to make Stephanie's dream wedding a success. Apparently that included clopping around the dance floor like a horse in ballet slippers.

“You're lucky I love you, Steph, because I wouldn't risk this kind of humiliation for just anyone.”

“Thank you, big sis,” Stephanie screeched, crushing her in a tight hug. “Now wait until you see Keenan's latest designs for the bridesmaids' dresses. I've changed my mind about the black-and-white ball gowns. We're thinking of going with these authentic African robes in red and gold….”

 

Will Coleman glanced at his watch. It was time to start class and there was still one student on the roster who hadn't arrived. Someone always bailed at the last minute.

Rubbing his hands together, he moved to the center of the studio floor. “Good evening, everyone. This is Beginners Ballroom Dance, and I'm your instructor, Will. In this class you'll learn the fox-trot, swing and waltz. Are you ready to get started?”

The class mumbled a faint response. “Okay, I'd like everyone to line up across from their partners. Followers on the right, leaders on the left.”

Will turned around to close the curtain that sectioned off the large dance floor, and a movement in the doorway caught his eye. A young woman was trying to sneak away.

“Excuse me for one second,” he said to the class and walked over to poke his head into the hallway.

“Miss? Miss, are you looking for Beginners Ballroom Dance?”

The woman turned slowly, clearly embarrassed. For a second Will thought he might have made a mistake. This woman didn't look anything like his typical dance students.

She was dressed in tan cargo pants, low black boots and a scanty black tank top that revealed a tattoo of a Chinese character on the small of her back.

“Um, I didn't realize I needed a partner, so…” She shrugged and took a step backward, clutching the end of her long braid in her fist.

He motioned her forward. “You don't need a partner. Come on in.”

She hovered in place, clearly unsure what to do. Will reached out and took her by the wrist, gently pulling her into the room. She came willingly at first, but began to resist when she saw the lineup of the class.

“Everyone's paired up already,” she whispered to him.

Will smiled, trying to put her at ease. “Don't worry about that. We do a lot of rotating, but you can start out as my partner.”

A look of pure horror contorted her face, and he laughed out loud. “Trust me,” he said, leading her over to where the other ladies were already lined up. “This will be completely painless.”

Will was intrigued with his new student, but all eyes were on him, waiting patiently for instruction, so he couldn't indulge his fascination with her.

“Today we're going to learn the fox-trot. This is one of the most common patterns associated with ballroom dancing. It's the one that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made famous. The rhythm for the fox-trot is slow, slow, side step. Slow, slow, side step.”

He demonstrated the steps first for the men and then for the women. “Okay, now has everyone got that?”

Across the room, he could already see that his pretty new student was having trouble. She was struggling to shift her weight and not trip on the side step.

“Let me emphasize for the ladies that you'll be stepping back with your right foot. So it's right, left, side step. Good, now let's partner up and give it a try.”

He motioned for his reluctant partner to join him in the center of the room. “What's your name?”

“Mel…uh, short for Melody,” she answered softly.

“Okay, class, Melody is going to help me demonstrate proper frame. Square up with your partner like this.” Will explained the basics of frames and maintaining proper resistance between partners.

BOOK: Enchanting Melody
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