The Daddy Dance by Mindy Klasky

The Daddy Dance

May I have this dance…for the rest of my life?

Injured ballerina Kat Morehouse had come home to convalesce and help out her overburdened mom. And between caring for her niece and restoring her mother’s dance studio, romance was the last thing on Kat’s mind. Until Rye Harmon turned her plans—and her heart—topsy-turvy.

Rye had been her high school crush, and he still made her weak in the knees—not a desirable condition for a dancer! But as their sizzling attraction drew them together, their ambitions pulled them apart. Because Rye’s dreams were taking him away from Eden Falls—just when Kat was starting to suspect that small-town life wouldn’t be so bad…if she could share it with the right person.

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Kat Morehouse pushed her sunglasses higher on her nose as the train chugged away from Eden Falls, leaving her behind on the platform. Heat rose in waves off the tiny station’s cracked parking lot. Plucking at her silk T-shirt, Kat realized for the first time since she’d left New York that solid black might not be the most comfortable wardrobe for her trip home to Virginia. Not this year. Not during this unseasonably hot spring.

But that was ridiculous. She was a dancer from New York—black was what she wore every day of her life. She wasn’t about to buy new clothes just because she was visiting Eden Falls.

Her foot already itched inside her walking boot cast. She resisted the urge to flex her toes, knowing that would only make her injury ache more. Dancer’s Fracture, the doctors had grimly diagnosed, brought on by overuse. The only cure was a walking boot and complete rest from ballet for several weeks.

Looking down at her small roller suitcase, Kat grimaced and reminded herself that she wasn’t going to be in Eden Falls for very long. Just time enough to help her family a bit—give her mother a little assistance as Susan nursed Kat’s father, Mike, who was recovering from a nasty bout of pneumonia. Take care of her niece for a few days while Kat’s irresponsible twin sister roamed somewhere off the beaten track. Look in on her mother’s dance studio, the Morehouse Dance Academy, where Kat had gotten her start so many years ago. She’d be in Eden Falls for five days. Maybe six. A week at most.

Kat glanced at her watch. She might not live in Eden Falls anymore, but she knew the train schedule by heart, had known it ever since she’d first dreamed of making a life for herself in the big city. The southbound Crescent stopped at one-thirty in the afternoon. The northbound Clipper would churn through at two-fifteen.

Now, it was one forty-five, and Susan Morehouse was nowhere in sight. In fact, there was only one other person standing on the edge of the parking lot, a passenger who had disembarked with Kat. That woman was tall, with broad shoulders that looked like they were made for milking cows or kneading bread dough. Her oval face and regular features looked vaguely familiar, and Kat realized she must be one of the Harmons, the oldest family in Eden Falls.

Shrugging, Kat dug her cell phone out of her purse, resigned to calling home. She tapped the screen and waited for the phone to wake from its electronic slumber. A round icon spun for a few seconds. A minute.

More. The phone finally emitted a faint chirp, dutifully informing her that she was out of range of a recognized cell tower. Out of range of civilization.

Kat rolled her eyes. It was one thing to leave New York City for a week of playing Florence Nightingale in Eden Falls, Virginia. It was another to be cut off without the backbone of modern communications technology. Even if Kat was looking forward to helping her mother, a week was really going to stretch out if she didn’t have a working smart phone.

Squinting in the bright sunlight, Kat read a message sent by Haley, her roommate back in New York. The text must have come in during the train ride, before Kat had slipped out of range. OMG, said the text. A + S r here. “A,” Adam. The boyfriend of three years whom Kat had sent packing one week before, after discovering his side relationship with Selene Johnson. That would be “S,” the corp’s newest phenom dancer.

Haley had sent another message, five minutes later. 2 gross.

And a third one, five minutes after that. Hands all over.

All over. Right. Kat and Adam were all over. Adam hadn’t had the decency to admit what was going on with Selene. Not even when Kat showed him the silk panties she’d found beneath his pillow—panties that she had definitely not left behind. Panties that Selene must have intended Kat to find.

Even now, Kat swallowed hard, trying to force her feelings past the raw, empty space in the middle of her chest. She had honestly believed she and Adam were meant for each other. She had thought that he alone understood her, believed in all the crazy sacrifices she had to make as a dancer. He was the first guy—the only guy—she had ever gotten involved with, the only one who had seemed worth sacrificing some of her carefully allocated time and energy.

How could Kat have been so wrong? In reality, Adam had just been waiting for the next younger, more fit, more flexible dancer to come along. Kat hated herself for every minute she had invested in their broken relationship, every second she had stolen from her true focus: her dancing career. She closed her eyes, and once again she could see that slinky thong in Adam’s bed.

“2 gross” was right.

Kat dropped her useless cell phone into her purse and wiped her palms against her jet-black jeans, feeling the afternoon sun shimmer off the denim. At least her hair was up, off her neck in this heat. Small mercy. She started to rummage deep in her bag, digging for her wallet. A place like Eden Falls had to have pay phones somewhere. She could call her mother, figure out where their wires had crossed. Reach out to her cousin Amanda, if she needed to. Amanda was always good for a ride, whenever Kat made one of her rare weekend appearances.

Before she could find a couple of quarters, though, a huge silver pickup truck rolled to a stop in the parking lot. The Harmon woman smiled as she held out her thumb, pretending to hitch a ride. The driver—another Harmon, by the broad set of his shoulders, by his shock of chestnut hair—laughed as he walked around the front of his truck. He gave his sister a bear hug, swinging her around in a circle that swept her feet off the dusty asphalt. The woman whooped and punched at his shoulder, demanding to be set down. The guy obliged, opening the truck’s passenger door before he hefted her huge suitcase into the vehicle’s gleaming bed.

He was heading back to the driver’s side when he noticed Kat. “Hey!” he called across the small lot, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Kat, right? Kat More-house?”

Startled by the easy note of recognition in the man’s voice, Kat darted a glance to his face, really studying him for the first time. No. It couldn’t be. There was no possible way Rye Harmon was the first guy she was seeing, here in Eden Falls. He started to walk toward her, and Kat started to forget the English language.

But those were definitely Rye Harmon’s eyes, coal black and warm as a panther’s flank. And that was Rye Harmon’s smile, generous and kind amid a few days’ worth of unshaved stubble. And that was Rye Harmon’s hand, strong and sinewy, extended toward her in a common gesture of civil greeting.

Kat’s belly completed a fouette, flipping so rapidly that she could barely catch her breath.

Rye Harmon had played Curly in the high school production of Oklahoma the year Kat had left for New York. Kat had still been in middle school, too young to audition for the musical. Nevertheless, the high school drama teacher had actually recruited her to dance the part of Laurey in the show’s famous dream sequence. The role had been ideal for a budding young ballerina, and Kat had loved her first true chance to perform. There had been costumes and makeup and lights—and there had been Rye Harmon.

Rye had been the star pitcher on the high school baseball team, with a reasonable baritone voice and an easy manner that translated well to the high school auditorium stage. Sure, he didn’t know the first thing about dancing, but with careful choreography, the audience never discovered the truth. Week after week, Kat had nurtured a silly crush on her partner, even though she knew it could never amount to anything. Not when she was a precocious middle-school brat, and he was a high school hero. Not when she had her entire New York career ahead of herself, and he was Eden Falls incarnate—born, bred and content to stay in town forever.

In the intervening years, Kat had danced on stages around the world. She had kissed and been kissed a thousand times—in ballets and in real life, too. She was a grown, competent, mature woman, come back to town to help her family when they needed her most.

But she was also the child who had lived in Eden Falls, the shy girl who had craved attention from the unattainable senior.

And so she reacted the way a classically trained New York ballerina would act. She raised her chin. She narrowed her eyes. She tilted her head slightly to the right. And she said, “I’m sorry. Have we met?”

Rye stopped short as Kat Morehouse pinned him with her silver-gray eyes. He had no doubt that he was looking at Kat and not her twin, Rachel. Kat had always been the sister with the cool reserve, with the poised pride, even before she’d left Eden Falls. When was that? Ten years ago? Rye had just graduated from high school, but he’d still been impressed with all the gossip about one of Eden Falls’s own heading up to New York City to make her fortune at some fancy ballet school.

Of course, Rye had seen plenty of Kat’s sister, Rachel, around town over the past decade. Done more than see her, six years ago. He’d actually dated her for three of the most tempestuous weeks of his life. She’d been six months out of high school then, and she had flirted with him mercilessly, showing up at job sites, throwing pebbles at his window until he came down to see her in the middle of the night. It had taken him a while to figure out that she was just bent on getting revenge against one of Rye’s fraternity brothers, Josh Barton. Barton had dumped her, saying she was nuts.

It had taken Rye just a few weeks to reach the same conclusion, then a few more to extricate himself from Rachel’s crazy, melodramatic life. Just as well—a couple of months later, Rachel had turned up pregnant. Rye could still remember the frozen wave of disbelief that had washed over him when she told him the news…

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