Slave to the Rhythm (The Rhythm, #1) - Jane Harvey-Berrick

To every artist who has smiled through the blood, sweat and tears

hoc feci

HEAT AND NOISE.

The deep bass reverberated through the floor, through the table and chairs, the empty bottles on the table trembling as the music pulsed.

The dry, desert air was humid inside the sealed room, a room that never saw daylight.

The casino was alive 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Men and women with the bloodshot eyes of those who had been at the slot machines for too many hours were replaced with the young and young at heart who wanted to dance the night away, the sweat stains and smudged makeup hidden in the pockets of darkness among the strobing lights.

My friends were on the dance floor, lost in the music, rolling their hips, stroking the air above their heads with languid arms, grinding against each other to the determined, demanding music. I could see the eyes following their movements, the loose jaws, the wet lips.

A part of me envied them—the part that always envied people who could be so free, and if I’d loved them less, envy might have turned to resentment.

The reunion had been planned for eight months, and even though the timing had turned out to be a cosmic joke, I refused to miss out. Despite everything, it was good to see them. Old friends who had seen me at my best and worst.

I stared longingly at the bar, wishing that a Mimosa would materialize in front of me. But none of the scantily dressed waitresses even noticed me sitting by myself.

I was used to being alone. I worked from home and rarely saw the people I called colleagues, and that suited me just fine. But it’s one thing to choose to be by yourself; it’s completely different to be alone in a crowd.

I glanced back to the heaving dance floor, smiling as a cowboy with a large Stetson and no rhythm limbered up behind Vanessa, trying to attract her attention with his awkward but well-meaning gyrations.

My eyes skated away with embarrassment at his lumbering gait, and that’s when my gaze was drawn to another man. And this one caught and held my attention as surely as I caught and held my breath.

He was dressed in black, a snug shirt tucked into dress pants, an easy elegance that made him seem like a thoroughbred among carthorses.

His movements were sinuous with suggestive grace, one fluid action flowing into the next. His hips thrust and rolled, his long legs flexed and straightened, his arms moving rhythmically, fingers extended. He held himself erect, his chin dipping only slightly so his eyes could fix on his much shorter dance partner. Even from this distance I could see that he was focused, like a wild animal stalking his prey. His eyes were feline, too, slanting up slightly at the corners, emphasizing his sharp cheekbones.

His spiky dark hair was gelled at the front, but almost military at the back, showing off his long elegant neck and the broad muscles that writhed beneath his short-sleeved shirt, the shadow of a tattoo peeping out.

He was tall, and the black clothes he wore emphasized his slim silhouette. It was hard to tell his age, his unsmiling face clean shaven and intense, he could have been anything from twenty to thirty.

For a moment, he disappeared into the swirling mass, and I leaned forward to catch another glimpse.

The crowd parted and the illusive dancer reappeared. I saw his partner for the first time: a short, doughy woman with perspiration dripping down her face and too-tight dress.

They didn’t fit, the man and the woman. I sat back in my chair, watching, intrigued.

I suppose I’d spent a lot of time, on the sidelines. Life had made me an observer. So I’d made a study of male beauty in all its forms: the jock, the joker, the emo, the player, the hot and dangerous. I was a connoisseur, you might say, but only from a distance. Perhaps that made me a voyeur.

But this man—he was in a class of his own. I was mesmerized watching the strong, graceful lines he created, the perfect symmetry of his perfect body, his subtle strength and obvious talents. He was beautiful. And that made me sad.

His intense, serious gaze was utterly focused on his partner, and envy bubbled up inside me. I tried to push it away, but I couldn’t drag my eyes from the dancer. He rotated his hips, his body fluent and effortless, always in motion. The thought crossed my