A month had passed since Aeva’s surprising and unwelcome decision to move up her wedding. She’d originally wanted an August wedding because August was “summery and fun,” but now, April was more ideal.

“April is a beautiful month to get married in, Joelle,” Aeva insisted. “Besides, the prettiest flowers are in season during the spring. Don’t be such a stick in the mud.”

Of course, the bride thought moving the wedding up was the best idea she’d ever had. Her family and friends, on the other hand, considered it her worst to date.

“May is the church’s busiest month!”

“We haven’t even contacted the caterers yet!”

“Oh my God. I still have to lose fifteen more pounds!”

To Joelle, it was just another bullet on her list of things that stressed her out. She had to meet deadlines for work, help raise funds for the hospital, and now, she had to make sure she’d still fit in a size four by the time May rolled around.

Sighing, she pushed her way into Blanche’s Dance, the most popular dance studio in Cornerstone. Every year around this time, she taught a group of teenage boys and girls several dances for the annual Cornerstone Cotillion.

“Joelle, darling. You’re late,” Blanche Larmier drawled from the office. “The kids are already here.”

Tossing her duffel bag on the floor, Joelle raised a hand in apology. “I know, I know. Wedding stuff, you know,” she spoke as she peeled off her sweater. It was considerably warmer inside the studio than it was outside in the February cold.

The forty-year old gave her sympathetic look. “How are you holding up, my dear? It must be hard for you, considering…”

Considering what? Joelle forced a smile. “I’m just fine, Blanche. Thanks for caring.” She strolled into the main studio where twelve teenagers stood around, chatting amongst themselves. The conversations ceased as soon as Joelle walked in.

“Hey, everybody. I hope y’all stretched,” Joelle leaned on the dance barre and watched as the kids headed for their partners.

No one wanted to meet her eyes. Strange. Usually, they were clamoring for her attention, ready to tell the latest gossip. And now…

“We saw your boyfriend—well, ex-boyfriend at the movies with a really pretty lady,” a young girl named Tina spoke up. She was tall and long legged with big curly hair and fair skin, which led her to believe that she was God’s gift to the world. “Have you seen her before?”

Her dance partner, Vince, nudged her arm. “She was aight, Miss Jo. Nothing to write home about.”
Joelle offered the kids a smile, the same one she offered every time someone mentioned Jaxson. It seemed as though people didn’t think she had moved on, that she was still dwelling on the should-be’s and would-be’s of the relationship. Maybe she hadn’t…maybe she was. There was no time to think of the past now. “We’ll start off with the cha-cha first.”

Rather than watching the teens dance around each other, Joelle found her mind wandering. She remembered her cotillion. Her dress had been excessive, covered in pearls and lace at her mother’s insistence. Her dance partner, Chad Fenton, suffered from anxiety, and when they danced together, his palms were always sweaty. Chad’s best friend was a boy name Luther, and Luther was the one who introduced her to Jaxson when she was in college…

Thinking about Jaxson again. Joelle sighed and stood to her feet, pushing her thoughts aside. “A little more bounce in your step, ladies!”

Ryan read the sign. “Blanche’s Dance,” he read, not bothering to hold back his laughter. “Funny.” He’d been sent to the studio by Michael who’d been sent by Aeva to inquire about the bachelorette and bachelor parties that he and Joelle were supposed to be throwing. Not that he’d even thought of what he’d do for Michael. Weren’t bachelor parties just a bunch of guys getting drunk and doing things they’d regret? He wasn’t interested. But it wasn’t about him; it was about Michael and his big day.

Pushing through the door, he could hear the sounds of feet moving and hands clapping to a Latin beat. He was at the right place. “Hi,” he spoke to the woman at the desk, “Where can I find Joelle Daltrar?”

The woman he was speaking to looked up to reveal a heavily made-up face and a toothy grin. “Well, hello there, handsome. What can I do for you?”

Her voice was surprisingly deep. Ryan blinked at her. “Uhh, Joelle Daltrar…where can I find her?”

“Studio C,” she purred, fluttering her false lashes at him. “I don’t think we’ve met before.”

I’d certainly remember if we had, ma’am. Ryan smiled and nodded before rushing away to Studio C. When he got there, he looked through the window to see teenagers laughing and smiling. He pushed open the door and quietly headed for the empty bench he’d seen earlier.

“Don’t laugh, guys,” Ryan turned to see Joelle standing with a scrawny teenager, her hands resting on his shoulders and his on her slim waist. “Kendrick’s trying his best. The waltz is not at all an easy dance to do.”

“Not easy for him at least,” a voice called from the group of kids, causing them to erupt into more laughter.

“Guys,’ Joelle’s brows furrowed.

Deciding he’d seen enough, Ryan found himself on his feet and by Joelle’s side in two strides across the room. “If I may,” he said to the skinny teenager hanging on for dear life. The boy’s face immediately brightened, and he let go of Joelle’s waist before dashing to the back of the room where his peers stood.

A hush fell over the students, who looked on at Joelle and Ryan as though they were royalty. “What are you doing?” Joelle frowned up at Ryan, letting one hand rest on his broad shoulder and the other in his massive hand.

“I know a thing or two about waltzing, believe it or not,” Ryan winked at her, moving effortlessly to the music.

It seemed as though the two of them floated around the room for hours, and Ryan, who hadn’t danced for years, found himself enjoying it completely. The music cut off, and Joelle eyes seemed to search his face. Maybe for an explanation…an explanation he didn’t have. Clearing his throat, Ryan stepped away from her and slipped his hands in his pockets.

“Umm, everyone, water break, okay?” Joelle managed after a few tries. The young men headed towards the restroom, but the girls stayed where they were, their eyes starry and trained on Ryan.

“You’re sooooo good!”

“Are you professional?”

“I’ve never seen you around here before. Who are you?”

When she came to her senses, Joelle smiled. “He’s a good friend of mine. Doctor Ryan Bevereaux from Lousiana.”

“A pleasure to meet you ladies,” Ryan shook hands with all seven of the teenagers. “And no, I am not a professional. But I’ve done my share of dancing in my day.”

They oohed and ahhed over his words before gathering even closer to chat with Ryan, who compliantly listened to their words. Ten minutes later, the boys were back in the room.

“Okay,everyone. Partner up again for the disco,” Joelle clapped her hands, turning to Ryan. “I’m afraid to ask, but…do you disco, too?”

Laughing, Ryan swept her in his arms and prepared for the music to come on.

“You’ve survived Joelle Daltrar’s cotillion boot camp with only a few battle scars. Give yourselves a round of applause,” Joelle beamed at her students, who burst into a raucous applause. “The next time I see you, you all will be dressed in your ball gowns and tuxedos. Have a good week, everybody!”

As the students filed out of the room, she turned, spotting Ryan saying goodbye to the kids as well. With a grin, Joelle strolled towards him. “Surprise, surprise. Dr. Blue Steel can ballroom dance.”

He shrugged modestly. “It’s something I picked over time. Why? I don’t look like the dancing type?”

“Honestly, no. You’re too broody and manly for it,” she answered bluntly. The look on his face registered surprise. “Not saying that dancing isn’t manly. But you just don’t look the type…”

Ryan leaned against a nearby dance bar, looking her directly in the eyes. “My mom and dad met at a fancy party when they were really young. He told me that she was totally into him because he danced like he knew what he was doing. So, when cotillion time rolled around, Pops had me take extra dance class so all the girls would be impressed by me. Said that if I learned to take the lead in dance class, I could take the lead in real life and meet a good woman who would always want to be my partner…be a real man in every aspect.” His words faded into silence.

After a moment, Joelle broke the stillness. “Ryan?” she gently touched the forearm resting on the ballet barre.

“Anyways, I must have inherited the dance ability from my mom. From what I’ve heard about her, she was very quick on her feet. So in short, I know a little something-something about dancing.”

The mood of the conversation had completely changed in a matter of seconds, leaving Joelle somewhat bewildered. She knew that Ryan’s mother left him when he was a child, and that his father died when he was a teenager. Was this his roundabout way of trying to let her in?

“What are you thinking about?” he questioned curiously, peering closely at her.

Joelle snapped back into the present. She made a face at him and stepped away. “I’m thinking that it would have been nice if you’d shown up earlier. Teaching those kids how to dance is really hard work,” Joelle pouted, folding her hands across her chest.

“Really? Then I’m sorry for just coming now, Joelle. You were doing a great job without me, though.” Ryan laughed.

“No thanks to you,” she jerked away from him. “Why’d you come to the studio anyway?”

“Right! Her Royal Highness Aeva sent me to ask about your plans for the bachelorette party.”

Joelle raised a brow. “Why? So she can find out what I’m planning and shoot down all my plans?”

“Maybe,” Ryan shrugged, “But Michael said it’s so we can make sure both the bachelorette and bachelor parties happen on the same night at the same time. At least, that’s what I was told.”

She tapped her chin suspiciously. “Bachelorette parties are usually the night before the wedding…or at least, a week before. Isn’t that obvious?”

“Like I said, I don’t really know much about it. I’ve never planned a bachelor party before,” Ryan admitted.

“There’s not much to it. It’s like a frat party for grown men,” Joelle mused with a laugh. “If that doesn’t help, you can just google ‘how to plan a bachelor party’.”

He chuckled. “Very original idea. But I might just take you up on it.” Ryan glanced at his watch. “I’ve gotta get going. You don’t mind if I call you later to bounce some ideas for the party off you, right?”

“Not at all. There’s only one problem, though…”

Ryan raised a brow. “What?”

“How are you going to call me if you don’t have my number?”

“Already covered. Your sister gave it to me,” he grinned, waving as he walked out of the studio.

<<Part 7 || Part 9>>