Here’s an early look at the first chapter of Dance All Night: A Dance Off Holiday Novella, out December 11th!
New Year’s Eve, last year
Hangovers and early flights didn’t mix well for Nikolai Kovalenko. And since he was getting on a plane first thing the next morning, he’d been sucking down seltzer with lime all night. As a result, the poolside bar at his brother Dimitri’s annual New Year’s Eve bash was completely out of the stuff, and the mini water bottles were gone, too. The bartender offered him tonic, but Nik turned him down. He could just go inside for a glass of water.
The party was at Dimitri’s house, and Nik knew his way to the kitchen well. After all, he lived here, too, though not for much longer. But Mitya—as Nik had called Dimitri for as long as he could remember—didn’t know that yet, and Nik wasn’t sure when to break the news. Dimitri would never admit it, but Nik knew his brother liked having him around, even though Nik was often away on touring productions of Broadway shows for long stretches of time.
In the kitchen, Nik spotted one of Mitya’s coworkers from The Dance Off—Jess Davenport, a professional ballroom dancer—and gave her a nod in greeting. He didn’t know her well, but they’d met a few times before. She had dark eyes that sparked with humor, smooth brown skin, and a nimbus of black curls. She was petite, probably one of the shortest female dancers on the show, but with a strong, athletic build—currently showcased to perfection in a strapless silver cocktail dress.
Her ass was planted on the breakfast counter, and she was eating potato chips right out of the bag. He raised an eyebrow at the chips—there were servers circulating outside, offering food catered by Dimitri’s restaurant.
“I wanted something salty,” she said with a shrug.
Nik took a glass down from the cabinet and filled it from the filter spout by the sink. “I wanted some water.”
From outside, raised voices began counting down from thirty. Nik shot a glance at the microwave clock. 11:59.
Jess picked up the open bottle of champagne next to her on the counter, probably left over from pouring the toast—the toast they were missing.
Lifting it to her lips, she said, “Well, cheers, I guess.” And took a swig.
Almost midnight. Another year gone. Nik would be twenty-seven next year.
Outside, people laughed and cheered drunkenly as they counted down together. If he ran, he could join them.
But…why? Most of them were his brother’s friends and colleagues anyway. Some of them would be pairing off to garner a kiss at midnight, adhering to the superstition that not kissing someone meant you’d be lonely for the rest of the year.
Well, Nik was leaving the next day to rehearse his role as a dancer in the national tour of Seize the Night, a musical about rival vigilante gangs. And with the whirlwind that was life on the road, he didn’t have time to be lonely.
Then again…why tempt fate?
Nik set down his water and sent Jess a shrewd look. “Hey. You single?”
Jess lowered the champagne bottle and scrunched up her brow. “Yeah. Why?”
He jerked his head to the side, indicating the revelers counting down to midnight. “Wanna kiss?”
Her lips pressed together like she was holding back a smile. Narrowing her eyes, she swept him with an appraising once-over.
Whatever she saw in him passed muster. She crooked her finger, beckoning him over, but didn’t hop down from the counter.
The saucy look in her dark eyes and the sexy little finger taunt had his pulse speeding up. What had started as a friendly, almost bored suggestion, built in anticipation as Nik crossed the kitchen to her and stepped into the space between her parted knees.
“I was just eating potato chips,” she reminded him, licking her fingertips. The innocent move sent a curl of arousal through him.
“I don’t care.” He took the champagne bottle and gulped some down. The bubbles raced across his tongue, invigorating and tart. A little wouldn’t hurt. And anyway, he had the feeling it would be worth it.
“Sour cream and onion,” she said, reclaiming the bottle for another sip before setting it aside.
“Still don’t care.” Nik stepped in closer and slipped his arm around her waist.
He met her gaze, waiting for midnight. Hers held amusement, and her lush lips curved just a little as she draped her arms over his shoulders. She smelled like cherries.
He kissed her.
Happy new year!
The cherry scent was from her flavored lip balm. He caught the barest taste of it, the sweetness combining with lingering salt from the chips. Then her mouth tilted, her lips parted beneath his, and he took her up on the invitation to go deeper, to slide his tongue against hers. She tasted like champagne, or maybe that was him. And like champagne, she went right to his head. He wanted to lick her up, down, and all over. But all he’d asked for was a kiss.
His other hand, which had been gripping the edge of the counter tight, came up of its own volition and cupped the back of her neck. His fingers massaged her there. She was so smooth, so warm. Her arms tightened around him and her back arched, pressing her hot little body into his.
Just a kiss, he reminded himself, but then she nipped at his bottom lip with her teeth and sucked on it.
Groaning, he fisted his hand in the back of her dress, but he couldn’t pull her any closer than she already was.
A sound in the doorway made them both look up, and half a second later Dimitri burst in.
“Whoa, sorry.” Mitya threw up his hands, then pointed at the fridge. “I just—ah…” He opened it, grabbed a jar of olives, and hurried out.
Nik turned back to Jess. His pulse pounded and his lungs heaved like he’d been running. “Thanks,” he said.
Stupid. He could’ve kicked himself. What the hell kind of thing was that to say to a woman after she’d just kissed the hell out of you and made your knees go weak?
Jess just smirked, the corner of those delectable lips pinching together and revealing the barest dimple in her cheek. “My pleasure.”
Keeping her eyes on his, she unwound her arms from his neck and traced her hands down over his shoulders and chest in slow, lingering touches. The smoldering heat in her eyes made his muscles tighten. Then she hopped down from the counter, but since he hadn’t moved back yet, the front of her body slid straight down his. Shit, she could probably feel that he was getting hard. He stepped away to give her space. She sent him a sultry look, then picked up the champagne and chips and gestured to the doorway with them. “Ready to go back to the party?”
He licked his lips, tasting cherries, salt, and her. He was ready for something, but it wasn’t the party. Her kiss had rocked his world, but this was already more than he’d bargained for. He liked his life as it was, and he wasn’t looking to have it shaken up right now. “I’m, uh…I actually have to finish packing.”
It sounded like an excuse, and maybe it kind of was, but he really did have to pack.
Her brow furrowed, and the last vestiges of fire left her eyes. “Packing? Where’re you going?”
“Leaving tomorrow to start a national tour,” he said. “First stop is Chicago for rehearsals.”
She blinked. “Oh. That’s where I’m from.”
He raised his eyebrows. As much as he wasn’t looking to go further, he did want to know more about her. “Yeah?”
She rolled her eyes. “I couldn’t wait to get away. Came to LA the first chance I got.”
“I get it.” He stuck his hands in his jeans pockets, since he didn’t know what to do with them. Or, rather, to stop himself from doing what he wanted to do—to hold her and kiss her again, then see where it went. But the vibe had slipped into easy, friendly banter, and he didn’t want to ruin it. “All I want to do is travel.”
“Nah, dude. I didn’t say that. I did more than my fair share of traveling while in the competitive ballroom circuit. I just wanted to get the hell out of Chicago and settle somewhere else.”
Settle. What a strange concept. For him, New York City was home. While he hadn’t been born there, it was where he’d grown up, where his parents still lived, and it would therefore always be home to him. Los Angeles was another home base, because Dimitri lived here. Beyond that? Settling was the last thing he wanted to do. “Why?”
Her eyes shuttered and her shoulders slumped just a fraction. “Too cold,” she said, her tone deceptively breezy, and he knew it wasn’t the whole truth.
He wanted to ask more, but he was leaving in the morning, and he hadn’t lied when he said he loved traveling. For as long as he could remember, he’d wanted to get out into the world and experience everything it had to offer. He’d been born in Ukraine, but had spent all of his youth in Brooklyn. Lots of people couldn’t understand why he wanted to leave New York, but for him, the city was all he’d ever known. So, he booked dancer roles with touring productions that let him get away, all in the pursuit of adventure.
“Well, you picked a nice city to settle in,” he said. “Can’t beat Los Angeles weather.” It had been a warm winter so far. And he couldn’t believe he was talking about the weather.
Jess squinted at him. “Why did you say ‘settle’ like it’s a dirty word?”
He was caught off-guard as his mind supplied other dirty words. “Huh?”
“You said ‘settle’ like it was something gross you’d scraped off your shoe,” she said, nudging him with the champagne bottle. “What’s up with that?”
Since she was poking him with it, and since her observation was a little too on the nose, Nik took the bottle and drank. “The idea of settling down somewhere doesn’t appeal to me,” he finally replied. Something about her words gave him a hot, uncomfortable feeling, like his skin was too tight. “I want to see the world, go on adventures. I don’t want to get stuck in one place and become complacent, you know?”
“Ah. You have wanderlust.” There was a decisive tone to her voice, like she was delivering a diagnosis. She grabbed the bottle from him. “Well, thanks for the kiss. Good luck with your adventures.” She said adventures like it was a curse. And then she sailed out of the kitchen, leaving him with half a hard-on and her salty-sweet taste on his lips, questioning his own convictions.
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