Paige was barely breathing. She hovered over the drinking fountain, her head tilted just enough to follow Tony Moreno’s every movement in the mirrored ballroom. The staccato beat of Tony’s Cuban heels reverberated across the floorboards, his movements precise and powerful. No one could embody the passion of the Paso Doble like Tony. White shirt open, his elaborate gold cross gleamed against his competition-ready, spray-tanned chest. Chin high, teeth bared in a Matador’s snarl, he arched his back and swirled an imaginary cape, stopping mid-step to appraise his line in the mirror. Paige looked up, caught off guard by the sudden silence. With a wicked thrust of his pelvis, Tony winked directly into the reflection of her wide-eyed stare.
Her brain froze. She prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, for quick-witted quip. Flustered, Paige began gulping back water like a drought survivor. Please God, just let him walk past me.
Tony picked up his sweat towel as he strode across the ballroom. Predatory white teeth gleaming, he admired Paige’s bent posture, which treated Tony to tight butt cheeks exposed under her dance shorts.
She spun, water droplets flying off her chin, creating a perfect arc in the air. A delicate spray of water hit Tony on the shoulder and dribbled across his chest.
“Hey Sweetness, slow down.”
Tony steadied Paige, his grip firm on her shoulder. He dabbed at her dripping chin with a corner of his towel. The scent of clean male sweat mingled with a delicious, spicy aftershave muddled her senses. Through her embarrassed daze, Paige became conscious of Tony’s voice.
“Paige,” said Tony, lightly massaging her shoulder. “Before you literally drowned out my words… .” Tony’s melting-chocolate voice made Paige weak-kneed. She flushed under his touch, his words not registering.
“Paige.” He murmured, like a parent waking a drowsy child.
Tony’s lips twitched; he enjoyed his power over women. Paige raised her face to his eyes, still flushed but paying attention.
“The custom-made costumes for the Dance Expo arrived. Even Sylvie hasn’t seen them yet.” Tony placed a practiced finger under Paige’s delicate chin, tilting her head back. His eyes held her immobile. Paige’s frightened-rabbit feeling melt away: trust replaced trepidation. Tony watched her pupils dilate. He leaned forward and, in a conspirator’s whisper, said, “Wanna be the first to see them?”
“Follow me.” Tony tossed the words over his shoulder, already halfway down the hall. Paige trotted behind him, her words spilling and stumbling, “Yes…of course. Yes, Tony. I’d love to…Thank you—.”
Tony abruptly drew Paige into the curtained dressing room. He tossed his sweat-dampened towel onto a chair. Racks of sequined, beaded dresses stood next to a table strewn with makeup, hair ornaments, and brushes. On one rack hung two, tantalizing, opaque garment bags. Paige shot Tony a questioning look. He nodded permission.
Paige unzipped the closest bag. The man’s silver shirt was almost transparent. Small ruffles defined the deeply cut V front. Paige stroked the fabric, picturing Tony’s ripped chest. Fingers trembling, she unzipped the second bag.
“Ohhhhh.” she sighed. She traced the delicate, white fabric of the Latin costume with her fingertip. Studded with silver Swarovski crystals, the dress sparkled like a Christmas ornament in candlelight. Paige’s eyes glistened.
“Try it on.” Tony urged, pointing towards the changing screen.
She hesitated, unsure.
“You can trust me, Paige. Would I steer you wrong? It’s OK. Sylvie won’t care, and if you’re quick, she won’t know.” Tony released the costume from the garment bag and motioned Paige behind the screen.
Paige’s reticence dissipated like morning fog under a desert sun. She snatched the hanger from Tony and disappeared behind the screen, the dress a white comet’s tail trailing behind her. Her practice clothes fell to the floor. She stepped into the confection of a costume, tugging hard to force a fit around her breasts. Paige was heavier than Sylvie, and her breasts never needed padding.
She slid out from behind the screen and stood, open-mouthed in front of the mirror. Tony’s eyes grazed her body. His casual possessiveness sent a tremor down her spine. The dress bared one arm, the other incased in a transparent, crystal-encrusted sleeve. Diamond-shaped cutouts revealed her taut midriff. The padded bra presented Paige’s breasts like an offering to the Gods. A flick of her hips sent the ten-inch, beaded skirt swinging.
“Come here.” Tony’s radio announcer voice had gone husky. He pulled Paige into the close hold of a sensuous Rumba. She followed his lead into a flirtatious Cuban walk. The silver, beaded fringe flew. Paige draped one arm over her head, imitating Sylvie’s seductive arm-styling. She felt sexy, powerful, and more confident than she had ever felt in her young life.
Metallic curtain rings clanged against the steel rod. The drapes ripped apart, and Sylvie materialized before the startled dancers.
“WHAT THE HELL!” Her green eyes radiated waves of palpable fury; her tiny five-foot-two frame was stretched tall, like a wild animal trying to terrify its prey.
“Oh my God, Sylvie. Please don’t be mad. It was just so beautiful and Tony…” Paige turned pleading eyes to her hero.
“Tony, you son-of-a-bitch-in-heat.” Sylvie shrieked. Her green eyes narrowed to Tigress slits, her face a mask of anger. “That’s my $3,000 costume you let this little nothing squeeze her fat ass into.” Sylvie lunged towards Paige.
“Sylvie, NO!” Tony stepped between the two women. The full force of Hurricane Sylvie hit him in the chest. Tony staggered off balance. Red dagger fingernails just missed his chiseled cheekbone.
Swifter than lightning, Sylvie slapped Tony across the face. The force lifted the hair off his brow, revealing a purplish stain on his hairline: the telltale mark of black hair dye. Tony instinctively raised a protective arm, giving Sylvie the opening she needed to seize a petrified and crying Paige. Sylvie’s toned triceps rippled; her nails dug hard into Paige’s upper arm. Paige yelped in shock and fear.
“Get it off, you damn cow!” Sylvie screamed, yanking at the clear strap that ran across the back of the delicate costume. Paige wrenched free, and darted toward the changing screen to wiggle out of the clinging dress. Sylvie dove after her, catching a long fingernail in the costume’s intricate beading. The clatter of hundreds of crystal beads tumbling onto the hard wood floor, bouncing and scattering, filled the room.
Silence. Dead, awful, silence—
Broken by Paige’s sharp intake of breath, Sylvie’s wounded-animal howl, and punctuated by Tony’s retreating footsteps.
© Copyright 2012 Lynn Nicholas. All rights reserved.
Lynn Nicholas, a retired technical editor, writes these days to stretch her creative wings. She has ‘won’ National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) three times: 2007, 2008, 2011. Her story was chosen for the NaNoWriMo True-Life Tale in September 2009. She also posts and reviews on FanStory. Lynn is an avid ballroom dancer, who lives in Tucson with her husband and their Australian Terrier and black cat.