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The imperial ballroom was a cavernous spectacle of elegance. Beneath the guests was a polished white marble floor, framed all around by white walls trimmed in gold that glowed with their cleanliness. Small round tables were situated around the dance floor, each one covered in crisp, contrasting black linens.
Gavin sipped his whiskey savoring its bite. He felt Harlan's arctic gaze settle upon him. Shifting his heavy frame in the chair, he lifted his boots onto the seat in front of him, tearing a small hole in the cushion with his spurs. The musicians fiddled with their instruments, preparing for the next set.
"Are you going to dance with me, my love?" he asked her in English.
"I don't think you're sober enough to dance," she said, looking away to study an elegantly dressed group of noblemen standing nearby. When she met his gaze again, there was a spark of warm humor in her eyes.
Gavin grinned and tossed back the remaining liquor in his tumbler. "Nonsense."
Doctor Harlan Ambrose was the most attractive woman he had ever met, and he also found her the most erotic. Tonight, she had drawn her long black hair up in a loose bun and some wisps of it had fallen free, drawing attention to her graceful, alabaster neck. Her dress was a simple but elegant off-the-shoulder ball gown in scarlet and black, an excellent match to his black and gold uniform. He licked his lips as his loins burned to consume her.
The music began again, the band opening with an old A Essyrian waltz composed centuries ago. Gavin rose from the table, set his glass on it, and walked around in front of her. He held his hand out for her to join him.
"I'm not very good at dancing," she said. "I never really learned."
"It's easy. Just follow my lead."
Harlan rose from her chair and he guided her to the center of the dance floor. As he pulled her into his embrace, he noticed her gaze roam the crowd. He imagined he could read her thoughts, wondering who might be watching and object to their friendship.
Gavin knew no one was fooled by their usual platonic displays. His lust for her was quite obvious to anyone with eyes as he found any excuse to touch her, much to her annoyance.
Their progress was slow at first; she was tense and working too hard to catch the steps of the dance. But as the music flowed, she relaxed and glided with him. He tried to guide her gently, indicating every change of direction and step with a slight hip pressure, and soon, she learned. The music swirled like sorcery around them, carrying them away with the sweetness of its melody. He buried his face in her neck, gently inhaling the pleasant aroma of honeyed soap on her skin. Then the song was over, and he released her.
Gesturing to the balcony, he guided her across the dance floor for a break outside.
Once there, Harlan leaned against the stone railing admiring the gaily illuminated gardens below. Each of the elaborate topiaries were lit with soft colors of amber and blue, setting a whimsical mood to the surroundings.
Gavin crept up behind her, kissing the back of her neck and pushing his hips into her butt so she could feel the intensity of his erection.
She turned abruptly, making him step back. "Stop that," she said, poking him in the chest with her index finger.
Smirking, he took a small step back and reached into his tunic to pull out his favorite Earth vice, a Churchill-sized Cusano 18. He clipped the end and lit it. "Why?" he said in between puffs.
She glanced around. "Because it makes me uncomfortable and it's rude."
Gavin laughed. "I beg your pardon, then," he said with a slight mocking bow. "So when, darling, are you planning to allow me to move our relationship forward?"
"What do you mean?"
Gavin puffed on the cigar and lifted his head to blow out a long ribbon of smoke. "Don't play with me, Harlan. You know exactly what I mean."
Harlan folded her arms, fixing her gaze on a clique of A Essyrian women whispering and watching them from the garden. Their long, colorful, layered dresses billowed in the wind caressing their green skin. "We've talked about this already and I've made my feelings clear."
Gavin watched her as she gazed at the women. He slowly shook his head. Sometimes, she was a little too concerned with what people thought. "I know what your real feelings are. I can taste them in your kisses."
She met his stare. "Gavin, I'm not a teenager. I'm well aware that there are more things involved here than just sex and I'm not ready for additional complications to my life. And as long as we're discussing it, I really am sick of you badgering me with this every time your blood alcohol level peaks."
Copyright © 2006 Michelle O'Neill and Lindsey Bayer.