Slow Waltz – Anna Zabo
(A Close Quarter Short Story)
New lovers Rhys Matherton and Silas Quint finally have a chance to breath easy and enjoy a well-earned respite on board a transatlantic cruise to New York City. But the lack of danger gives Rhys too much time to think about the enormity of falling in love with a man who isn’t human. He’s not sure love at first sight can last, especially when your lover is fae. Sure, the sex is fantastic, but that’s not enough to hang the rest of your potentially immortal life upon.
To distract himself, Rhys suggests he and Silas take a set of lessons to learn to waltz. The plan backfires when they are paired with two older women—one of whom reminds Rhys of his recently deceased mother. Instead of being able to ignore thinking about his future with Silas, he’s actively questioned about his lover. And it seems the whole boat knows who he’s sleeping with.
As Rhys learns the steps of the waltz, he has to decide if he’ll continue to dance around what he feels for Silas or if he’ll finally learn to trust in his partner’s love for him.
Rhys brushed past Silas and picked up the list of cruise ship events Silas had tossed on the cabin desk. There was a pile of schedules stacked there—neat now that they’d finally vacated the cabin long enough for the ship’s cleaning staff to do their magic.
They’d spent all of yesterday in Silas’s spacious cabin room, in bed. Or in the shower. Or bent over the breakfast table. Marathon sex had been an excellent way to cap several days of sheer terror. And it was a joy not to worry whether they’d live to see the next day. A true holiday, finally.
Rhys scanned the activities. There had to be something interesting to do besides spend the day by the pool. Or in bed again. “Do you know how to waltz?”
“Yes.” Silas leaned his ass against the edge of the breakfast table. An ancient fae with dark hair and amber eyes, he was entirely Rhys’s. That still gave him goose bumps if he thought about it too long.
“Why?” Silas asked.
“I never learned. And there’s a class. Well, a whole day’s program. Two lessons, then a dinner and a dance. But if you already—”
That single word was so decisive it took Rhys a second to catch his breath. “Yes?”
Silas’s smile was slight but as brilliant as the noon sun. “Let’s take the class. A refresher never hurts.”
There was more to it than that. Rhys could almost feel Silas’s amusement. “And?”
Silas pushed off the table. “It’s a good excuse to see you in a suit. Then peel you out if it.” He closed the distance between them and took the paper from Rhys’s hands. “Besides, I’ve been meaning to show you how well I can dance.” Silas scanned the sheet.
Elemental energy licked off Silas and coiled itself around Rhys. But it was the prickle of heat tracing down his spine that caused him to shudder. “Promise?” They were still several inches apart. Rhys stepped forward and slid his fingers through the belt loops of Silas’s dark blue pants and pulled him forward, crushing the piece of paper between them.
Silas wrapped his arms around Rhys. Those lips still held that sly smile.
Rhys wiped it off by kissing him and was rewarded by Silas’s deep moan. God, how he loved undoing Silas, making him want and beg. The hard line of Silas’s cock pressed against Rhys.
But when Silas broke the kiss, that grin was back. “What time is the lesson?”
It was Rhys’s turn to groan, partly from Silas pressing himself hard into Rhys, but mostly because the red digits of the alarm clock by the bed mocked him: 10:47. “Starts at eleven.”
Silas sucked Rhys’s earlobe, sending desire racing through every last one of his nerves.
“Bastard.” He spoke the word into Silas’s neck.
He felt more than heard the chuckle. “There’s time enough later to fuck you senseless. Though I’m surprised you haven’t tired of me yet.”
“Never.” Rhys slipped his fingers free from the loops of Silas’s pants. “I’m just sick of the inside of this cabin.”
“Oh, I agree.” Silas stepped back, and the rumpled schedule fell to the floor. “Shall we?” He nodded toward the door.
“After you.” It gave Rhys more time to enjoy the curve of Silas’s ass.
* * * *
They made their way to the New Orleans Lounge, a room that had more wood, black leather, and gleaming metal than any place not designed for sex should hold. A parquet dance floor sat in the middle of the space, surrounded by chairs and drink tables. All of them were empty. Wrought-iron decorations, reminiscent of Bourbon Street, hung on the walls, mimicking balconies. No plastic beads here, though.
A different kind of energy—cold and sharp—snaked along Rhys as he noticed their fellow passengers congregated at the opposite end of the room. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” He hadn’t felt this uncomfortable since his first day on the ship. He knew none of these people. What would they make of him, of Silas?
Silas nudged him forward. “This is a fine idea. Brilliant, even.” There was no mistaking the laughter in his voice.
Because he couldn’t turn back, Rhys walked forward. Silas trailed just a step behind, probably to make sure Rhys didn’t run.
Seven people stood near the bar, two couples—a man and a woman each—a third man who looked to be the instructor, and two women, both of whom were probably old enough to be Rhys’s mother.
Had his mother still been alive.
He swallowed the unexpected tang of grief. That’s why he’d ended up on this boat—sailing to New York took far longer than flying. His life had been turned upside down by her death and the revelations during the reading of the will, and he’d needed more time to put his head back together. Meeting Silas had set everything aright in completely unexpected ways, but he hadn’t fixed any of the issues that had brought him here.
His mother was still dead. The man he’d thought was his father was still an asshole. He still had no idea who his real father was. He’d also inherited a shitload of money, and everyone he’d ever known wanted a piece of that pie.
Something—maybe his posture or the subtle link of elemental energy that bound them together—must have told Silas of his distress. “Are you all right?” His amusement was gone.
“Yeah. Just remembering. I have to deal with all the stuff I’ve been ignoring soon.”
Silas’s touch was brief but reassuring.
They’d reached the other end of the room. Rhys’s assessment was correct. The man standing apart from the rest of the passengers wore a name tag that said Scott Albrecht, Dance Instructor. Wiry, with short blond hair, he had a professional smile and a cheerful, articulate voice. “Ah! More dancers! Do you have partners, or are you here alone?”
“We’re here together,” Silas said. His delivery was smooth but held a touch more of his undefinable accent than usual.
The instructor’s practiced smile slipped a bit but bounced back into place. “Well, Debbie and Faith are without men, so if you two wouldn’t mind partnering with them?” He gestured to the two women who stood apart from the other couples.
Rhys watched the women. One beamed. The other was much more reserved.
“We won’t bite,” the woman who had been smiling said.
She had the same build has his mom, but fortunately not his mother’s long gray hair. Hers was curly. Also, his mother would never have been caught in a turquoise southwestern-style shirt embroidered with cacti and howling dogs. Rhys’s breath caught for a moment, but he pushed the sadness away.
“Deborah,” the other woman said, “don’t frighten them.” She was tall and thin, with salt-and-pepper hair cut short. She must be Faith, then.
“That’s fine.” Rhys was shocked by the words that came out of his mouth. Especially since he meant them. “We can partner with them.” He turned to Silas. “Right?”
“Of course.” Silas had the comfortably smug look of a cat sitting in sunlight.
“Great! I’m Scott, by the way.” They gave their names, as did the other two couples. After a quick round of handshakes and nods, Scott had them spread out on the dance floor. The couples who were obviously together paired off. Silas had been matched with Faith, while Rhys stood next to Debbie. Or Deborah. “Which name do you prefer?”
“Debbie.” She waved a hand full of turquoise and silver rings—and one plain gold band. “Faith just calls me that because she knows it’ll annoy me.”
Scott clapped his hands. “Okay, now that we have pairs, face your partner.”
Rhys followed his instructions, placing his right hand on Debbie’s shoulder blade and extending his left hand. She mirrored his movements until they stood with her right hand in his left and her left hand on his right shoulder. Scott zipped by to straighten their stance and then moved on to the next couple. Rhys hadn’t danced with a woman since high school and found his reaction the same—flushed cheeks and the awareness of just how weird this was. He was glad Silas was standing somewhere behind him.
Debbie’s expression was reminiscent of Silas’s sly amusement. “It’s not every day I get to dance with a handsome young man.”
Rhys felt his face heat more. There wasn’t anything he could say.
She winked—actually winked—at him. Thank God for Scott. He clapped again, then began to teach the steps of the dance. The individual steps weren’t hard, but getting them smoothed out and in the proper rhythm without tripping over his own feet—that was the tricky bit.
“Good!” Scott said. “Keep moving, and now turn your partner to the left with each step.”
Lots of luck with that. As they turned, Rhys spied Silas dancing with an ease that betrayed his knowledge of the dance. Faith looked perfect in his arms.
Of course, any person would look perfect with Silas. Something in Silas, maybe the sense of the forest and field in his blood, brought out the best in others. Or the worst, depending on Silas’s mood. But his fae was happy at the moment. Little ribbons of energy twisted around the few potted plants in the room in a different dance.
Rhys, however, was going to look like a waddling duck at the end of this. He stared at his feet.
Debbie clicked her tongue. “Relax. And look up.”
“If I do that, I’ll step on you.”
She laughed. “No, you won’t. Trust me, I’ve done this before.” She stopped moving. “Now eyes up.”
Rhys gave in and did as she asked.
“Now, one, two, three…one, two, three…” She moved him around the floor.
“You already know how to dance.”
“Yeah, Faith too. But there wasn’t anything else interesting on the schedule.” She nodded in Silas’s direction. “Your man seems to know what he’s doing.”
His man. Rhys swallowed. “How did you—”
“The way you two look at each other. It’s obvious, honey.”
“Psh. At my age, you stop caring about what other people think.” She patted him on the shoulder. “This class his idea or yours?”
“Mine. He’s…more worldly than me, I guess. He already knows how to waltz.”
“He’s older than you,” Debbie said. She kept turning Rhys around the floor. One, two, three.
“A bit.” That was a lie. More like two millennia.
She nodded. “And European. It’s in the way he carries himself.”
Rhys stepped in time with the music. This woman was perceptive. Either that or they really were as readable as a kid’s picture book. He suspected the latter.
The music swelled, and Scott walked by. “Excellent! But don’t let your posture fall.”
Debbie had also pulled herself up to her full height, which was probably around five foot five. “You met him here?”
One, two, three.
She looked wistful for a moment. “Love at first sight?”
He chuckled. This wasn’t so bad after all. “Sounds dumb. But yes.”
“Not at all! Everyone scoffs at it, but you hear about couples all the time. Someone looks across a room and bam! There’s the person they’re going to spend the rest of their life with. And they do.” Everything in her expression was open and joyous.
“It’s happened to you,” Rhys said.
She smiled but didn’t say anything. It was only after several more revolutions that she spoke again. “You haven’t tripped once, you know. Or looked at your feet.”
He hadn’t, and they’d been practicing the entire time. His moves had become smooth and easy, the embarrassment and tension from earlier nothing but a memory. A pang of sadness squeezed his heart. Even when his mother had been alive, he’d never been able to talk to her like he had to Debbie. Life was unfair sometimes. Or wonderful, he couldn’t quite decide which.
Scott clapped again. “Well done, everyone! Time to let you go for lunch. Please try to be back by two thirty, and we’ll learn some finishing moves and variants to the dance.”
They broke apart. Debbie patted him on the arm. “You did well, young man.” Again, she winked. This time, he couldn’t help but smile. “And if he’s good to you, you keep that man.” She eyed Silas as he approached. “He looks like he’s worth the work.”
Debbie left them and joined Faith, and the two women headed in the direction of the self-serve buffet.
“I’m worth the work?” Silas’s breath grazed Rhys’s ear, smoky and rich. A spark of heat settled at the base Rhys’s spine.
“Only if you’re good to me.”
A wicked grin was Silas’s answer. “I’m very good to you.”
Rhys matched Silas’s expression. “Hungry?” He wasn’t talking about food.
They headed to the forward elevators.