Brooke and Megan stood by the bar, sipping their drinks and watching the dancers. They hadn’t been standing long when Barbara left the dance floor and joined them, her face bright with anger.
“What happened? What did Nate say?” Megan asked.
“He asked if I wanted to leave with him and have our own private party. Can you believe it?”
“I told you he was still a jerk.”
“What did you tell him?” Brooke asked.
“I told him I would have to be drunk to do something stupid like that. He said he would buy me a few drinks.”
“I hope you told him no,” Megan said.
Barbara shrugged. “He’s not bad-looking.”
“Yeah, and he is already dancing with someone else.”
Barbara ordered a fruity mixed drink and they stood near the bar. Wallflowers, Brooke thought, just as they had been in high school.
They were not standing at the bar long when two smart-dressed men walked over to them. They’d been the smartest guys in the class. The taller one had been Brooke’s biggest competition in high school. She beat his GPA by a half point and was named valedictorian. He’d gone to Michigan State on a full scholarship, same as Brooke. She knew he was a successful lawyer at a firm in Chicago.
She and Carl had attended Ben’s wedding. She wondered where his wife was tonight.
“Hi, Brooke. You look fantastic.”
She blushed and tried to take the attention off from herself. “You remember Megan and Barbara, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. You ladies look lovely tonight.”
Ben and the other classmate, Mike, ordered drinks. “What have you been doing with your time, Ben?” Barbara asked, unfazed when she saw the wedding band. Brooke recalled that Barbara had gone to prom with Ben.
“I’m a lawyer now. In Chicago.”
“What is it like living in the Windy City?”
Ben leaned casually against the bar. Brooke didn’t listen to the answer. Ben’s wife would be unhappy if she knew the way he was putting on the charm, trying to impress them. She sipped her iced tea, wishing she was anywhere but here.
“What have you been doing with your life, Mike?” Megan asked. At least, Mike appeared to be single. Brooke didn’t notice a wedding band or a white ring on his finger where one had recently been. Maybe he and Megan would hit it off.
“I’m in computers.”
“I’m not surprised. You were a genius in high school.” Megan’s flattery was a little over the top, but Brooke noticed that Mike ate it up.
Ben turned his attention back to Brooke. “Couldn’t beat Brooke’s GPA, though. She topped all of us.” He looked like he was flirting with her.
Brooke felt her face grow warm. “You were only a half a point behind me.” She looked at his hand, where the expensive diamond-encrusted wedding band was prominent. “Where is Cindy tonight?”
The guilty flush showed her that he had indeed been flirting. “She didn’t want to come. Too shy, she said.”
“That’s too bad. I would have enjoyed seeing her again.”
“She told me to go ahead and dance, as long as I danced with you and no one else.” He raised an eyebrow. “How about a dance?”
Brooke wanted to let him down gently. “I don’t think so. I’m not much of a dancer.” And you are married, she wanted to add.
Barbara stepped up and put a hand on Ben’s forearm. “Do you think your wife would mind if you danced with me?”
Ben grinned. “As long as I don’t tell her, she won’t.”
“Who’s going to tell her?” Barbara looked pointedly at Brooke.
“It isn’t up to me.” Brooke’s tone was cool as she met Ben’s gaze.
“There’s no harm in a few dances with a pretty girl.” He finished his drink and went to dance with Barbara.
Mike and Megan seemed to be getting along well and soon followed Ben and Barbara out onto the dance floor.
Chase watched as Brooke’s friends went to dance, leaving her standing alone by the bar, sipping a drink. He knew her husband had passed away a few years ago. It’d been in the local papers. A plane crash in Alaska.
She looked a little lost. He understood. Without Lisa, he felt out of place.
He walked over to the bar and ordered a cola, then turned towards her. He had the advantage most of the guys here didn’t. At six foot four, he was taller than she was in her heels. He still felt awkward standing next to her.
He tried to cover his nervousness with a smile that had charmed women back in the day. He was rusty, having been married for over a decade. It had been a long time since he’d flirted with anyone. But with Brooke looking as beautiful as she did tonight, he was willing to take a chance.
Her cheeks turned pink, but she smiled.
“Hi, Chase. How are you?”
“Not bad. Are you enjoying yourself?”
She shrugged. “It’s nice to see everyone. It’s interesting how they have changed, yet not really changed.”
“I know what you mean. I see a lot of these guys around town, and they are all putting on a show tonight. Trying to impress everyone, I guess.”
Her hand went to her throat, where the necklace sparkled. She gave a nervous laugh.
Chase realized his mistake. He wasn’t talking about her. “You don’t have to try to impress. You’ve really wowed everyone tonight.”
“I’m a little overdressed for the occasion, I think.”
“Things are probably different in the big city.” Her eyebrows rose as if surprised that he knew that information. “I remember hearing that you live in Detroit.”
“I did, but I got tired of city life.”
Interesting. “Are you thinking of moving back here?”
“I moved here a few weeks ago. I’m renting a house in town.”
That surprised him. “I hadn’t heard that.”
“No, it probably didn’t make the evening news.”
He liked her laugh. “Believe me, that’s a good thing. You don’t want to become a headline around here.”
He was speaking from personal experience. He wasn’t sure if she’d heard any of the gossip about his own life. If not, he wasn’t about to fill her in.
“What made you decide to come back?” he asked.
“I wanted my kids to have the kind of life I had growing up. Small town, public school, my parents close by.”
He relaxed. Talking with her was so easy. “How many kids do you have?”
“Two. Devon is twelve and Brinley is eight.”
“Same ages as my kids.”
“I know. Our moms have been friends for years.” He wondered how much about his life his mom had shared with hers. She seemed to pick up on his fear. “Don’t worry. Your mom never shares any details about your personal life.”
He wanted to see her smile again. “That’s because I don’t have a personal life.”
The smile lit up her face. He had always thought she was cute in high school. They hadn’t had anything to do with each other, though. He was a jock, and hung around a party crowd. She was shy and studious. Still, he’d noticed her back then. She was the only person he’d really cared to see tonight. He knew pretty much how everyone else turned out, as few had left their small town. She’d been one of the successful ones, building a life with her lawyer husband in Detroit.
It’s too bad that he passed away so young.
“I’m sorry to hear about Lisa.” Her words, so closely paralleling his thoughts, were sincere.
He couldn’t hear Lisa’s name without a flash of pain. “Yeah, well, you’ve had a big loss yourself.” She nodded, her mouth curling down.
He wondered if he dared ask her to dance. She’d already turned down two offers, and he didn’t want to get rejected. Besides, he had not danced in a long time.
Still, he decided to take a chance. “I know I will probably get shot down for this, but would you like to dance with me?”
Her eyes widened as if in shock. She didn’t seem to recognize how pretty she, even though two other guys had already asked her to dance.
“I really don’t dance well.”
He gave a half smile, accepting that she was turning him down. He started to turn away, but she put her hand on his sleeve. “If you don’t mind me stepping on your feet, I would like to dance with you.”
“Okay, then.” Heart hammering, he took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. His other arm dropped to her waist. He could feel the warmth of her body through the silky material. What had he been thinking? He hadn’t held a woman this close in years.
It was a slow song that had been popular in high school. He held her at a respectable distance. She moved awkwardly. She hadn’t been kidding when she said she didn’t dance well. He led, and she tried to follow.
“I told you I’m not a good dancer.”
“You’re doing all right.” Even if she wasn’t, he wanted to continue to dance, to hold her and breathe in the light floral scent of her perfume.
He tried to ignore the fact that everyone seemed to be staring at them. Barbara looked angry enough for steam to rise out of her ears. Megan grinned and gave them a thumbs up. Brooke’s cheeks turned pink. Instead of being flattered by their attention, he was more concerned that Brooke was embarrassed.
He moved them out of sight of her friends and right into the line of his. Logan winked at him, and Paige had a big smile on her face. He would hear about this later. Nate was staring him down, though. He would have to answer to him. She’d shot Nate down and then said yes to him.
“Do you get the feeling they think we are back in high school?” Chase spoke near her ear so she could hear him above the music. “You know, not everyone is being mature about this.”
She tilted her head. “About us dancing, you mean?”
“Yeah. Have you noticed that everyone is watching us?” Chase asked.
“No, really? I hadn’t noticed.”
He drew back. Her teasing smile lit up her eyes. They were a shade somewhere between blue and gray, and sparkled in the lights. Chase’s pulse raced. His arm involuntarily tightened around her waist. She fit into his arms as if she had been made just for him. Why hadn’t he danced with her years ago, instead of Lisa? Maybe his marriage would not have ended in disaster.
He shoved thoughts of Lisa out of his mind.
“You know, I never danced with you in high school.”
“I never went to any of the dances.”
“Not even senior prom?”
“No, I wasn’t invited. And my friends were, so I didn’t want to go alone.” Her words were tinged with regret.
“That’s too bad. I wish I had known it.”
“You wouldn’t have asked me. You were with Lisa.”
“Yeah, well—” Look how that had turned out, he wanted to say. Instead, he drew her a little closer to his chest. “I’m dancing with you now.”
The tempo of the songs changed, and he tried to speed up the dance. She stumbled, then laughed.
“I think I need to sit this one out, before I embarrass myself.” He let go of her waist, and followed her off the dance floor.
“Thank you for the dance, Chase.” She smiled over her shoulder and walked to her friends, who’d gathered at the end of the bar.