a short novel by Mardi
from Ellora’s Cave
an excerpt. Enjoy!
On a frosty New York night less than a week before Christmas, people hungry
for a break from city stress filled the trendy Café Espana. Actually,
overfilled. People, stuck in the long line outside, glared with envy at those
who lingered at tables or competed for attention at the bar.
“Let’s finish our drinks and get out of here,” Rafe McMaster muttered to
his brother Nate. Though he realized the people freezing outside thought he
was lucky, he knew different. Luck was a commodity in short supply.
“What’s the rush?” Nate asked. “Got any place better to be?”
Rafe scowled. “Gotta pack my gear. Early morning flight.”
“Where’re you off to this time?”
“Gig in sunny Spain. That’s why I wanted to meet here. Figured it would
get me psyched.”
The sour expression on Rafe’s face must have been enough answer to that
stupid question. What had Rafe been thinking to drag his brother out for
a drink tonight?
Nate whistled. “Working this close to Christmas? I can see how thrilled
you are. Maybe you can get out of it.”
Rafe shrugged. “Client wants the filming done now. It’s an infomercial-type
ad he wants me to turn into high art.”
“I thought you decided to keep away from that stuff. Devote yourself to
Rafe chose to ignore the sarcasm in his brother’s voice. “Most of the time.
But I’m short on cash, which makes this deal look real good. I’ll work one
day and make enough to fund my own projects for a month.”
Though Nate looked skeptical, he raised his glass. “Here’s to paying the
bills—and to new starts. How’s your love life?”
“Don’t go there.” A month after Rafe and his ex-fiancée Terri had
called it quits, all he wanted was to be left alone. Every member of his big
Irish family, on the other hand, appeared committed to not to letting that
Seductive flamenco music drowned out whatever response Nate was about to
make. Rafe found himself moving to the infectious beat, a momentary distraction
from the gloom that had dogged him since Terri… Just then, a man and woman
sprang up in a spontaneous dance. Conversations stopped. All eyes were riveted
on the gorgeous couple. He had to clamp himself to his chair to keep from
leaping up and joining them. If only he had his camera…
The music was incandescent magic, but what really grabbed him and wouldn’t
let go was the woman. Tall with rounded breasts and hips his fingers ached
to touch. She wore her dark chestnut hair in a traditional bun gracing her
long neck. Dark eyes flashed fire and promised ecstasy and agony, full red
lips, perfect nose and chin. Hell, every man in the place had to want her,
had to be jealous of her partner. Bewitched, Rafe stopped thinking and gave
himself up to pure sensation. He squirmed, painfully aware of an inconvenient
hard-on—and the way the dancer had grabbed hold of his soul.
* * * * *
The music, always the passion of the music. The music compensated for so
much that had gone wrong. When she danced, Elena Sandoval could imagine herself
home, far from this cold, foreign place. Home, where she longed to be at this
most beloved time of the year. She stamped her feet and threw her head back
in time to the reverberating beat, reveling in each click of her heels. For
the first time since arriving in New York, she felt warm and alive. Gracias
a Dios, just one more night until she returned home.
She locked eyes with her dance partner, the man who’d brought her to New
York, Francisco Reyes. Her partner in work and play, her lover.
So caught up in the music and the dance were they both that Elena had just
about forgotten where they were until an explosion of applause burst her dream
bubble. Following Francisco’s lead, she nodded to their impromptu audience
and let him whisk her back to their awaiting friends at a crowded table.
“A fitting prelude for making love tonight, mi amor,” Francisco murmured
so only she could hear.
She flashed a sardonic smile. “Maybe, but only because we are going home
tomorrow. If we had to stay in New York any longer, you’d be sleeping with
your friends’ dogs.” She sat down and turned her face from Francisco.
“Perfect. You two must dance together again.” Lorenzo, their New York business
partner, toasted them both.
“Back home in Sevilla. That’s the only place we will dance.” Elena
took a sip of her drink.
“Our star has grown homesick,” Francisco said.
She swallowed her sherry and cast a sour look in his direction. “Homesick
would be an improvement. Ay, Dios, why didn’t you tell me how unsympathetic
this place is.”
“Unsympathetic? Hardly. Look at this wonderful new bistro, opened a scarce
few weeks ago, just in time to welcome you.” Lorenzo’s gesture encompassed
the large room and the crowd. “And, after your dance, I wager there are plenty
who would be more than happy to proffer a very personal welcome. Let’s make
sure to extend that interest to Sherry Amor.”
Everyone at the table laughed before moving on to other topics. Other dancers
rose to take the floor and the spotlight. The general consensus was that none
came close to the perfection of Elena and Francisco.
Perfection. What a joke on him, on all of them. Francisco would pay
dearly for his energetic display. He’d had to dredge up the strength and will
to dance with Elena, and he’d carried it off. The triumph of modern medicine.
Too bad it had such finite limits.
He didn’t want to think about this right now, tonight, when he was with
Elena in this glittering place, enjoying good friends and food—pleasures
he’d so often taken for granted. Pleasures like being with Elena.
In the coming days, the memory of tonight would keep him warm, bring him
comfort and courage. Would that the same memory could also comfort and encourage
Elena in the harsher times to come.
Basta! No more maudlin thoughts….
2010 Mardi Ballou