Authors: Heather Graham
|Quiet Walks the Tiger|
|Open Road (2013)|
Can Sloan truly love again after losing her young husband?At twenty-nine, the widowed Sloan Tallett thought her best chance at love was gone. It takes every ounce of her strength and concentration to balance her work as a dance teacher at the local college with her responsibilities as a single parent to her three young children. If she was lucky, Friday nights would be free for the occasional date. The dates never added up to much, but her bills did. When Wesley Adams, a handsome, retired all-American quarterback comes to town on business, Sloan is slow to acknowledge his obvious attention to her. When she realizes that this wealthy catch is attracted to her, though, Sloan glimpses what could be a very comfortable life. Desperate to make a better life for her children and herself, Sloan decides to seduce him. She's convinced he'll never discover her love is just an act! But she soon finds herself falling for him and his natural charm. Is it possible for Sloan to truly love...
with many thanks
RACE, POISE, AND MAGIC
...she was all of these, the epitome of all the beauty that the physical body of woman could be. She had been born to dance, her body trained to utilize the natural talent to the utmost. As she swayed and dipped and swirled, the muted lights enhancing the unusual mixture of brunette, red, and gold that mingled in her flowing hair, she was a creature in her element. The music was in her slender form, a goddess sheathed in a shimmering bath of violet-tinged clouds. The love of the music, the instinct to follow it, glowed radiantly in her face. It touched her feet until it seemed she flew, no servant to the laws of gravity. She allured and enticed as she danced, emitting a message as old as pagan ritual, as natural as man himself.
To most who watched her, she was simply a part of the magic of the evening, a striking member of the prestigious Fife Dance Company. They would go home and remember the enchantment of the theater, the fascination of the dance, and then take off their gloves and cloaks and bask in pleasant memory until another night out in dress-up enlivened the monotony of day-to-day life. They would think of those on stage as something more than mortal, incredible beings of sheer physical perfection. They would shake their heads and momentarily wish that they too were so agile, so taut of muscle, so fleet of foot. They would envy without thinking of the endless years of commitment and work, and then they would forget.
One man in the audience would not forget. He knew the woman who had taken center stage, exhibiting the full and intoxicating physical expression that was dance.
He had come because of her. He didn’t plan to try to talk to her, he just came to see her. He knew she was married, and because of the man he was, he truly wished that marriage all the luck in the world. But he was in love with her. They had dated only once, but that one night had hopelessly entangled him. She had invaded his bloodstream and dreams ever since.
He was a bit like an out-of-date Lancelot, he told himself ruefully as he watched the performance. She belonged to another, but she held his heart. And so he was sworn to her, to love and forever cherish her from afar.
He wasn’t at the theater alone, and he knew his companions would have a hell of a laugh if they knew what went on in his mind. He and the two with him were also creatures of physical perfection—a different kind, and at the moment, more famous than any of those on the stage would ever be.
They were football players and the backfield of the team that had just won one of the greatest American quests for glory—the Super Bowl.
And here he was—the macho, rugged leader of the pack—the quarterback, mooning over a slip of a girl who moved like quicksilver over a stage...
The performance ended. The three tuxedoed men in the audience, friendly giants of virility, were asked for as many autographs as the dancers.
Backstage the girl changed. She hadn’t a single thought of the audience on her mind; she was anxious to see her husband. She had marvelous news for him. Intimate, wonderful news. They were expecting their first child.
The football players were heading for a party. He might have sworn his heart to her...but hell, a man had to live...
He wouldn’t remember the name of the woman he was with that night or the color of her hair. But he was gallant. He always was. Charm was as much a part of his nature as power and the innate magnetism that drew respect from men and women alike...He had a good time at the party.
He didn’t see his dancer until five years later. And on that occasion he remained in the background again, although his heart was breaking for her.
She was a solemn figure that day, ramrod straight and proud. Slim and hauntingly beautiful in black.
The last earthly remains of her husband were interned into the earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. She was surrounded by people who loved her, but she would be led away by none. She stayed as the first shovels of earth fell on the coffin. She stood straight and unyielding until she was alone.
Then her knees buckled and she fell to the carpet of green grass that encircled the mound of newly dug earth. Her hands flew to her face, and even from his distance he could hear the terrible sobs wracking her slender frame.
He knew he couldn’t go to her; he knew he couldn’t help her. He just stood there, railing against his helplessness, watching until the sun sank in a burst of crimson behind the hills.
It would be another two years before he would go to her.
HE BAND IN THE
dinner lounge was really very good. They were versatile and had done everything from Sinatra to Blondie and managed to complacently oblige almost any request for a song from the thirties to the eighties—spacing them to please the young hard rockers and the mature dinner clientele.
Sloan Tallett had been on the dance floor, twirling beneath the lights, for the majority of the evening. She was a beautiful woman, never more regal than when on a dance floor, and with her escort being the head of the dance department from the college where she taught, she had provided the patrons of the lounge with visual entertainment as well as acoustical. Eyes riveted and stayed upon the handsome couple, which was what Jim Baskins intended. They were the best advertising he could manage for the College of Fine Arts.
The number, a breath-stealing piece from the late sixties, came to a halt. Sloan laughed gaily to Jim as they wove their way to their table, hand in hand. She was flushed as she sat, her blue eyes as radiant as sapphires. Someone stopped by to issue a compliment, and she smiled with lazy thanks, the full-lipped, seductive smile of a temptress.
She had been born to dance—her friend and escort was thinking—but she had also been born to captivate. Only someone close could ever see the hard line of reserve and pain that lurked beneath the stars in her eyes and the radiance of her smile.
“Another scotch and soda?” Jim asked.
“No!” She chuckled, but her answer was firm. She glanced at her black-banded wristwatch with a frown. “It’s too close to pumpkin time, I’m afraid. I’d love a plain soda, though, with a twist of lime.”
“I’d probably better order the same,” Jim said with a grimace, motioning to their waitress. “You’re good for me, Sloan, do you know that?” he said after putting their order in. “You keep me on the straight and narrow.”
Sloan smiled at her companion. Jim Baskins was twenty years her senior, and she was sure he had traveled the straight and narrow all his life. He was her immediate supervisor, and a more gentle, understanding man couldn’t be found. A confirmed bachelor, Jim had dedicated his life to two demanding mistresses—dance and teaching. Approaching fifty, he had the look of a much younger man. An inch or so over Sloan’s five feet seven inches, he was thin and wiry, the touches of silver in his thick blond hair adding an air of distinguished maturity. Most people who saw them together decided there was a romantic interest between the two—which wasn’t true. They were co-workers and friends who enjoyed one another’s company.
“I think it’s the other way around,” Sloan told him. “You keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“Two damn straight and narrow, if you ask me,” Jim replied. “You should be dating, Sloan. You’re a young woman, and it’s been two years...” His voice trailed away; he hadn’t meant to remind her of the husband he had never met.
Clouds passed over the sapphire of her eyes, but Sloan kept smiling. “It’s all right, Jim. It has been two years since Terry died. And I do date occasionally. When I’m interested. But society has picked up a little too much for me. Every time I date someone a second time, they seem to think I’ve said yes to hop into bed.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to have an affair,” Jim advised, surveying her over his soda. “And you should consider a second marriage—”
“I don’t want to marry again,” Sloan interrupted softly. She had had a good marriage, and anything shallow to follow would be sacrilege. She looked at Jim to see him, miserable, before her and realized she was extending her own unhappiness to him. And she wasn’t really unhappy. She had her job, she had the children. “Why would I want to marry?” she queried cheerfully. “I have enough of my own problems! I don’t need someone else’s!”
Jim didn’t look quite so miserable. “Bad attitude, Sloan. You share the good along with the bad.”
Sloan laughed easily. “Jim—it’s not something I have to decide immediately. I don’t exactly have a score of suitors pounding down my door. You’d have to be a rich man to contemplate marriage to a struggling thirtyish widow with three children age six and under. Come to think of it, you’d have to be a lunatic as well.”
“I’d marry you, Sloan,” Jim said softly.
Sloan chuckled softly and stretched slender fingers across the table to envelop his hand. “You are a lunatic,” she told him with warm affection. “And I do believe you mean it.” Jim was aware that her life was rough—finances were low, and her job schedule, while trying to be a good mother to three young children, was grueling. “But I love you as a very dear friend, as you love me—and like I said, I don’t want to get married. I’m a very independent lady—I run my own life.”
Jim shook his head sadly. “You’re a beautiful woman, Sloan. Someday some man is going to come along and crumble that shell of yours—and I hope I’m around to see the day.”
“Only if he has a fortune!” Sloan teased. “Come on, boss,” she added, rising. “Walk me to my car. I don’t like to keep Cassie waiting. She expects me home no later than ten.”
Sloan’s sister kept her children on Friday nights so that Sloan could have an evening out. Usually, it was dinner and dancing with Jim or the occasional date that intrigued her. Friday nights were her only fling. She needed them to remind herself that she was still shy of thirty, still young. She enjoyed her evenings with Jim and the few “real” dates she accepted, but that was as far as she would venture from the wall she had carefully built around herself after Terry’s death. Life was too serious a thing for her to take the time to really unscramble her feelings on love, sex, and affairs. It was—at this point—a fight for survival.
“Okay, gorgeous,” Jim said amicably, signaling for the check. “We’ll get you in for curfew. It’s supposed to be twelve, though—not ten,” he teased, dropping a few bills on the table and rising to assist her from her chair. “But I guess it’s about the same. ‘Beautiful, sexy, seductive dancer goes home and turns back into household drudge!’”