Aideen's attracted to Rob, and enjoys teaching his daughter Irish step dancing. What will he do when he learns the truth about her? A sequel to "The Competition." 2002 Top Ten Finisher-Best Short Story, Preditors & Editors reader's poll. Published in "Thatch & Holly," an anthology.
“Wow, you really worked up a sweat.” The man’s voice came from behind her, and Aideen spun to see who had intruded on her private rehearsal.
He leaned against a desk near the exit, arms crossed, and his smirk marred what was probably a handsome face. Brownish- blond hair, damp from the weather, clung to his forehead and cheeks. As he stared, his dark eyes seemed to glimmer with amusement.
Aideen grabbed her hand towel from the barre mounted on the wall and wiped her face. Careful of his gaze, she didn’t shove the towel down the front of her leotard, which she really needed to do. “Can I help you?” She didn’t feel threatened by him, but his presence set her teeth on edge.
“Would you be Aideen O’Conner? The dance instructor?”
“Yes. What can I do for you?” She relaxed further at his question, realizing why he must be here. Most all of the students’ fathers were harmless, married men.
Slowly straightening, the man rolled his shoulders, demonstrating how broad they were, how large his entire frame was. When he started to move toward her, close enough for Aideen to smell the snow melting on his coat, her heart raced again.
He crossed to the tile floor of her studio, and Aideen felt dwarfed as he towered over her. But then he smiled. A real, soul-warming smile. And he smelled so good, like sweet snow.
“I’m Rob Novak.” He extended a hand. “Forgive me for not announcing myself right away, but when I came in and saw you over here dancing your heart out, I have to say I was impressed.”
She let him grip her hand for a few seconds before withdrawing. “Thank you. I think. Now, what can I do for you Mr. Novak?”
“My daughter, Lynn, wants to study with you.” Rob ran a hand through his drying hair, implying this was a problem he didn’t know how to solve.
“And you don’t think that’s a good idea?” Aideen felt her blood pressure rising.
“Well, now that you mention it,” Rob didn’t meet her gaze now. “Lynn’s always been a tomboy. You know, she loves softball and has a dirt bike, and won some awards on her skateboard last year.”
Aideen’s face warmed. “And you think Irish step-dancing is too feminine for her? A sissy sport? How old is your daughter, Mr. Novak? “
”Ten next month. December tenth.”
Her jaw dropped. “My daughter’s birthday is that same day.” Then she made herself focus. “But the point is, your daughter is becoming a young lady, and it’s probably a great idea to put her into a dance class, of any kind. Step-dancing is very aerobic. It’s hard work. But it also teaches grace, coordination and team-work.” She crossed her arms. “What does her mother think?”
Rob rubbed the back of his neck. “Lynn’s mother died when she was five. Since then, Lynn’s used to participating in activities where she can win. Or at least be competing.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. But Mr. Novak, just two months ago some of my students were in Galway, Ireland, for the biggest competition of their lives. Dance teams from all over the world competed. My daughter’s team took second place.” Aideen took a deep breath, and saw the skepticism on his face. She wanted to strangle the man. “Those girls had a grueling schedule, Mr. Novak, and had to be in top shape to participate. There are men that dance, too, it’s not just for girls. And spare me that expression.”
He made his face go blank, then dropped his gaze from her face.
Aideen became acutely aware of the way the thin body-suit clung to her breasts, still damp from her workout, in stark contrast to his heavy wool slacks and overcoat. She hadn’t been expecting company in the dance studio tonight, but she hadn’t put out the ‘closed’ sign or locked up after her last class. Now, she stood here, feeling nearly nude, with a potential student’s father, wishing she’d picked a black leotard instead of the pale pink which revealed so much when wet. She hung her towel around her neck, hoping the ends would fall low on her chest.
“Mr. Novak,” she said, drawing his gaze back to her face. “Why don’t you bring Lynn by the studio tomorrow after school, and we’ll evaluate her? Then we can place her in the proper class.” When he continued to stare into her eyes, Aideen briefly considered sending him across town to the school owned by her ex-husband’s wife. He seemed a little. . . dangerous. Whether the danger was to her physically, or to her emotionally, she wasn’t certain.