At twenty-seven, Shannon Murphy has just discovered that she has two sisters she never knew. Now, through Shannon’s loving persistence, the three of them are moving in together above her dance studio in Bridgeport. Shannon is excited to make a home with her sisters and to grow her budding business. Then she meets her newest clienthe has all the right muscles, a perfect smile, and a lot of attitude. Will Shannon be able to keep things professional with this charming stranger?
Dylan Lange has a lot on his mind. He’s just been assigned a new partner at his job with the Bridgeport Police, and while he’s busy striving to protect and serve his town, he’s also trying to keep his baby sister out of harm’s way while she heals from her own trauma. And on top of everything else, he’s gone and lost a bet with his buddies, forcing him to take dance lessons. But when he walks into the dance studio to meet his instructor, a young and beautiful brunette with a sweet southern drawl is the last person he expected to find.
Get ready to fall in love again as Shelley Shepard Gray takes us back to Bridgeport, Ohio, where nobody gets left behind and a powerful community helps ordinary men and women to find extraordinary strength inside themselves.
About the Author
Shelley Shepard Gray is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous romantic fiction series and mystery novels, including the Seasons of Sugarcreek series, the Sisters of the Heart series, the Families of Honor series, and others. She is a recipient of RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award.
Read an Excerpt
"Dancing in heels should count as a superpower."
— MOLLY W.
January, Two Months Later
When the set of bells chimed on the front door to Dance with Me, her finally finished dance studio, Shannon felt a burst of satisfaction. Her very first private client had arrived, and right on time, too.
After taking a quick glance at herself in the mirror, she smoothed her dress down on her thighs and strode forward to meet the man who was standing in the small lobby. "Hi, I'm Shannon Murphy," she said as she held out her hand. "Are you Dylan Lange?"
The man who looked like he could have played quarterback for the Broncos stared at her for a good long moment before clasping her hand in his. "Yeah, I am. It's nice to meet you."
His palm was gargantuan. She was sure two of her hands could neatly fit inside it. Yet, he clasped her hand in a way that was both firm and gentle. That was no small feat, she reckoned. Most men either shook her hand so lightly it felt like she was holding onto a limp trout or with so much pressure it felt more like a vice than a hello.
Thinking that this simple handshake was a sign of good things to come, she smiled up at him. "It's real nice to meet you, too."
"Thanks for fitting me into your schedule on such late notice. I really appreciate it."
"Of course. I'm always happy to help someone learn to dance — especially when I hear that they're in a bind."
When he smiled at her, faint lines formed around his blue eyes. He really did have nice eyes. And, yes, she could admit it, she liked how the rest of him looked, too. He had dark-blond hair, a light tan, and those blue eyes ... And his teeth? Perfectly straight and pure white. Immediately she switched her comparison from pro football lineman to Coppertone model.
As what she was doing hit her, she felt her cheeks heat. She knew better than to start fantasizing about her clients. She liked to keep things professional and organized. For her, it was a needed element since she spent much of her time in such close proximity with her students. Things could get out of hand fast if she allowed anything to become personal while fox-trotting or waltzing in her ballroom.
When she noticed that he was looking around the lobby and the large room off to the side, she knew it was time to get to business.
Walking toward the antique desk she'd bought for a song, and Traci and Kimber had helped her refurbish, she gestured to the pair of chairs next to it. "Dylan, come on in. We'll have a seat, get all the paperwork done and discuss your goals." Motioning to the neat line of antique silver hooks that lined the wall, she added, "There's a place for you to hang up your coat, too."
"Thanks." He shrugged out of his black wool peacoat and hung it on a hook. Looking more awkward, he shoved his hands into his pockets instead of sitting down. "It's pretty cold out, huh?"
"It sure is. There's no way around it — January is for the birds." And, now she had succeeded in sounding like an old woman.
What was wrong with her? She needed to get a grip.
Clearing her throat, she gestured to the chairs again. "Please sit down."
When he did at last, she pushed forward one of the packets of information she'd worked so hard on. She loved how the contents were comprehensive but not too overwhelming. She'd learned over the years that it was a mistake to pass on too much information to a student too quickly. "So, here's all the information about the classes and fees. We went over all of this on the phone."
He scanned the page. "Okay ..."
"Here is a basic health form. If you could fill it out now, it would be helpful."
"I'm a cop. I'm in good shape."
Oh yes, he certainly was. Still a little embarrassed that she'd been ogling him, Shannon handed him a pen. "This is just in case you have a heart condition or something I need to know about."
"Is that really a concern?"
"It can be." Remembering Mr. Gerome back in Spartan and how he seemed to be last person to realize that he wasn't too steady on his feet, she swallowed. "It's just a precaution. I'm sure you understand."
"I understand that you take this dancing stuff pretty seriously." He smirked.
Ouch. She wasn't a big fan of his attitude.
She smiled tightly. "I know it seems unlikely, but some of our sessions might be more active than you realize." When he raised a brow, she shrugged. "All I really need from you is a signature saying that you are aware of the health risks associated with being here."
Dylan scrawled his name at the bottom, not even pretending to look at her carefully written warning at the top of the page. "Is that it?"
Suddenly her hot client didn't seem all that attractive anymore. "Almost. The last thing that we need to do is determine your goals."
He leaned back and folded his arms over his chest. "What goals do I need to have? I already told you that I wanted to learn to dance."
"Yes, I know, but most people have a reason for taking classes, such as a couple might sign up for classes so they can dance at a wedding or something," she replied in her most reasonable tone. "These private classes are expensive, and I don't want to waste your money."
He rolled his eyes. Rolled his eyes! "Honey, why don't you let me worry about how I spend my money?"
Never had being called "honey" irked her so much. "I'll gladly let you manage your finances on your own — after you let me know how many classes you'd like to take and what particular dance you'd like to learn."
"I have to take five classes, and I don't care which dances we learn." He winked. "You can choose."
This whole situation was getting curiouser and curiouser. And it was also beginning to get her pretty irritated. After reminding herself that she was trying to make money and not new friends, she asked, "I'm sorry, but I'm getting confused. Why five? And why don't you care what you learn?"
He kicked out a very large, tree-trunk sized leg. "Look, I didn't want to go here, but you're leaving me no choice. See, the truth is that I'm not actually here to get ready to dance at a wedding." Blue eyes zeroed directly on her. "I'm here because I lost a bet."
"We had a pool with my fantasy football league," he explained. Sounding completely sincere, he added, "The winner got three hundred dollars but the loser had to do penance."
"Penance," she repeated, not even trying to hide her dismay.
"Yeah. Two of my key players choked, and another one got hurt. I couldn't believe my luck."
He nodded. "I went from eighth place to dead last in two weeks." Dylan exhaled, just like he was explaining something that was actually important. "I couldn't believe it. I still can't. I mean, I was sure the Raiders' defensive line was going to be pretty good this year."
Shannon stared at him. She was a girly-girl, but she'd grown up with a hunting-and-fishing dad in West Virginia, too. She was used to listening to him talk about all kinds of "typical male" things that he found interesting (and that her mother pretended to care about): Friday night high school games, deer blinds, and even wily trout.
But a bet based on made-up football teams? Well, that took the cake.
Not even trying to hide her irritation, she said, "So, if I understand you right, you're only here to take classes because it's your punishment?"
For the first time since he'd walked in, Dylan looked uncomfortable.
"That's putting it a little harsh."
"But ... well, yes."
She was dumbfounded. Here she was, working seven days a week, stressing about her sisters, stressing about owing so much money to the bank, trying like crazy to get her business up and running — but he was treating it as part of his stupid game. "I can't believe you are wasting my time like this."
He held his hands up like he was fending off her attack. "Hey, now. I don't see how I'm wasting your time."
"You can't be serious."
"Yeah, I am. As a heart attack." He grinned like she was supposed to think his joke was original and cute. "You teach dancing and I have to take lessons. And I'm gonna pay you, don't worry about that. It's a win-win situation."
"Not really. You don't want to be here, and I have a strange desire to teach dance to people who actually want to learn. I don't think this is the right studio for you." She folded her hands over her chest. I think you need to leave."
He blinked, waited a beat, looked at her intently, and then spoke again. "Listen, I think you are taking everything the wrong way." He winced. "Or, heck, I think I've been explaining everything completely wrong. Maybe I should try this again. You see —"
Oh, no. There was no way she wanted to hear about the rules of his stupid fantasy football game again. "Please stop. I get it."
"If you're sure."
"Real sure. Believe me, it's clear. Crystal clear."
"What I'm trying to say is that while I might not have ever considered taking lessons before, I'm still going to do my best. I'm not a jerk."
He sure seemed like one to her.
But, just as she was about to shake her head and point her finger toward the door, she noticed a muscle jump in his cheek. There was a softening in his eyes, too — almost a vulnerability. He actually wanted her to give him a chance. And, if she wasn't mistaken, it wasn't because he just wanted to take care of his penance. There was something more going on. She was sure of it.
Maybe she was being stupid, but something about him made her want to give him a chance, too.
Plus, she could almost hear her sisters remind her that money was money. She had a mortgage to pay, furniture to upgrade, and a reputation to earn. None of that was going to happen if she started judging who wanted to take classes.
She wasn't changing lives here. She was simply trying to teach people to dance.
Smiling tightly, she decided to get off her high horse and do her job. "You know what, it doesn't really matter what your reasons are for coming here. I'm sorry I got all defensive."
"So, we're good?"
"Can we get started now? Not to be rude, but I've to get home soon."
"I understand." Even though it sounded a little cheesy, she held out her hand. "All right, Dylan. Shall we dance?" Folding his own around hers, he grinned. "Shannon Murphy, I thought you'd never ask."CHAPTER 2
"Forget your troubles and dance."
— BOB MARLEY
It was Friday night and he was sitting in Kurt Holland's garage an hour before the rest of the guys started to arrive for the Bridgeport Social Club's monthly poker game. Kurt was nowhere around — likely spending a few minutes with his wife before joining the guys for the next five hours.
But that didn't stop the rest of them from enjoying a beer and catching up before the cards and the chips came out.
Of course, if he had realized he was going to be grilled about his first dance lesson, he would've arrived just before the tournament began and skipped the interrogation.
"Dude, you were supposed to get pictures together," Meyer complained after Dylan filled him in on his first dance class. "We need documentation."
Thinking about how he'd almost gotten himself kicked out of dance school before he'd even taken his first box step, he grimaced. "Yeah, well, I don't think she was really up for a photo op. Maybe next time."
"But how are we going to be able to be sure you were there?"
"Because I'm not going to lie about it. I agreed to take five lessons and I am. I took one, and now I've got four more to go.
End of story."
"I saw his Jeep outside the place," Ace Vance said. "It was there when I got to Meredith's studio for lunch, and it was still parked there when I went back to work."
"See?" Dylan said to Meyer. "You now have confirmation."
"No, definitely. Stop giving me crap."
"Now that we have that settled, how did it go?" Ace asked.
How did it go? Yeah, that was the question, he supposed.
Thinking about Shannon, thinking about that old building with the gleaming white woodwork and the smooth wooden floors — and how he'd had to do some fancy verbal footwork in order to get her to still accept him as a student — he wasn't sure he had words. So he settled for a reply that was the universal guy-speak for when there wasn't much to say. Or for when he wasn't sure what to say.
"It was all right."
"All right?" Meyer rolled his eyes. "No go, buddy. If we don't get pictures, you're gonna have to give us more info."
"What are you after?"
"Details. What was your dance instructor like?" He wagged his eyebrows and grinned. "Just how old was she? Old enough to be my grandmother or yours?"
Though it was tempting to hide Shannon's youthful good looks from Meyer — which made no sense, except maybe opening the door for more teasing — he said, "Neither. She was in her late twenties, I think."
Ace sat up. "Really? I wasn't expecting that."
"Yeah. Me, neither." He hadn't been expecting anything about Shannon — he hadn't expected such thick, long brown hair, or big brown eyes framed by thick eyelashes ... or that fabulous figure set off by a pair of killer legs in nylons. Or that she would be wearing a pair of three-inch heels that put her almost to his chin.
Or that, even though there was so much about her that he found attractive, not a bit of it compared to the way he'd admired her spunk.
And none of that could compare to the way he'd felt when he put one hand on her waist and attempted to move around the room per her directions. For a few moments there, he hadn't thought about anything else. Not the case he was working on, not his sister, not anything but holding her a little closer, if only for a little while.
"So, did you actually dance?"
He blinked. Returned to the conversation at hand. "We did."
"Well, what was it? Swing? Fox-trot? Samba ...?"
Ace laughed as he continued to shuffle a deck of cards. "Meyer, how the hell do you know those things?"
"Annie loves Dancing with the Stars."
Ace grinned. "I get that. But are you saying that you sit around and watch it with her?"
For the first time in memory, Meyer looked uncomfortable. "Not every week, but sometimes, yeah."
Dylan was tempted to give him crap for that, but then he realized that he didn't have a single thing to give the guy a hard time about. Meyer was going on thirteen years of marriage and had two kids. He loved his wife enough to watch reality dancing programs on TV.
He, on the other hand, had yet to keep a decent long-term relationship going for more than a year.
Thinking about his sister, he realized that if Jennifer ever dated a guy who cared enough about her to watch one of those singing reality shows she loved so much, he'd buy the guy a beer. Shoot, he'd do more than that. His little sister needed a hero in a bad way.
"We waltzed today." Thinking about how most eighth-grade boys at their first school dance probably looked better, he amended his report. "I mean, Shannon attempted to teach me how to count and guide her around a dance floor without knocking her down or stepping on her feet."
Ace raised his eyebrows. "Her name's Shannon?"
"I'll have to ask Meredith if she knows her."
"I don't know if she would. Shannon just moved here from West Virginia."
Ace leaned forward. "She's from West Virginia, too? No way. What part?"
"Some little town." Dylan tried to remember. "I don't know. Something with an S." He thought some more. "Sperry ...? No, Spartan! Does that ring a bell?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm from Spartan."
"That's crazy!" Meyer exclaimed.
Ace nodded. "Really crazy. Spartan's barely got two stoplights Hey, Dylan ... wait a minute. What's her last name?"
Ace gaped at him for a full thirty seconds before whistling low. "Your dance teacher is Shannon Murphy from Spartan? No way!"
Meyer raised his eyebrows. "Don't tell me she's part of y'all's group, too. I've never met so many people from someplace so small."
Dylan knew what Meyer was talking about. A couple of years back, several guys from the same Podunk West Virginia town moved to Bridgeport. Later, even more came, each for a variety of reasons. Dylan didn't blame the guys for coming — Bridgeport was a really great place to live, and all of the guys were good people.
But it really was becoming a case of small world.
"I wouldn't call her a good friend. Not really. She's a couple of years younger than me," Ace said to Meyer. "But I know her. Shoot, probably everyone in Spartan does."
"Because it's such a small town, right?"
"Well, yeah. But that's not the only reason," Ace said, still musing. "Shannon Murphy was a pretty popular girl. And her parents were always running her around for all kinds of dance competitions. Everyone followed her progress."
Though he was trying to act cool, Dylan was intrigued. "Really?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Shall We Dance?"
Copyright © 2020 Shelley Shepard Gray.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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