Twenty-eight-year-old Claire Chatfield has everything a girl could possibly wish for: looks, a promising career at New York’s top architectural firm, and an engagement ring from one of New York’s most eligible heir-bachelors! Life should be a dream, but when Alec Brunell, a sexy tango dancer, moves into the apartment one floor above from Claire’s, he unwittingly awakens Claire’s old insecurities, making her question her life choices. Will Claire brave her fears and allow herself to take a chance on Alec, or will she continue to play it safe?
In order to secure his place as his father’s successor, thirty-three-year-old David Lawson must settle down with a wife befitting the future head of Lawson Enterprises – and who could fit the prerequisite better than the stunningly beautiful and incredibly bright Claire Chatfield? There is just one glitch – David Lawson is in love with another woman – a Hollywood Legend Claudia Block.
A successful tango instructor, Alec Brunell has never lacked for women’s attention, but he finds himself at a loss when faced with his downstairs neighbor, Claire Chatfield. Upon hearing of his occupation, most women swoon with desire, but Claire runs for the door. Still, her iciness only adds fuel to his fire, as Alec is determined to change Claire’s view of him.
Claudia Block has been basking in the limelight of Hollywood for more years than she cares to admit. While she still has her looks, she would much rather not mention her age, which makes her unconventional affair with young and handsome David Lawson that much more difficult for her to give up.
Dance Me to the Stars is a love story about finding one’s perfect match – sometimes following one’s heart is as convoluted as learning the steps of tango.
Dance Me to the Stars, has been selected in the first round of entries in the General Fiction category in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest this year.
Alec put down the paint roller and wiped his forehead on the back of his arm. Man, he was beat – he had forgotten how grueling physical labor could be. Sure, he worked out six days a week, not to mention daily dance practice, but painting walls made him discover muscles he did know he had. Every bit of his body throbbed, but at least he had gotten the job done – the south wall was painted red, and the other three were white. Now, all he needed was wait for the paint to dry so that he could add a silhouette of a tango couple against the red background – that ought to complete the ambiance. He opened the small fridge and reached for a bottle of orange juice. The cool liquid soothed his parched throat; holding the now half-empty bottle, Alec walked over to the window to check out his new view. All in all he was happy with his new digs: the rent was reasonable and the view was not bad either – from the top floor he had an unobstructed view of Second Avenue – not exactly the poshest of locations, but it would do.
One thing he had not counted on was fussy neighbors. Alec smiled, thinking of the unexpected visitor from the morning. “Claire,” he mouthed her name, remembering her tousled chestnut hair and hazel eyes – even that bulky bathrobe she had been wearing could not conceal the shapely outlines of her body.
Of course, a girl like that was bound to be a challenge. But he had always liked challenge, and the fact that he was a professional tango dancer usually played in his favor. Usually, but it might not be so this time. Alec winced, remembering Claire’s reaction to his innocent question about her music taste. What was all that about? he wondered – as far as he was concerned, no one could resist tango. Well, he would get to the bottom of Claire’s music idiosyncrasies in due time, but in the meantime, he needed to think of a way to become more neighborly.
“Think of the devil,” Alec murmured, taking another gulp of orange juice as he spotted the subject of his thoughts exiting the lobby. Someone must have a hot night planned, he thought, his eyes examining every detail of Claire’s outfit, which was far more flattering than the bathrobe he remembered from this morning. Now, she was dressed in a little black number that fitted her body to a T – his instincts had been right, from long, shapely legs to firm, flat stomach to wonderfully full breasts, her body was downright perfect, and the way her chestnut mane bounced down her back made Alec want to get to know his neighbor better. Heading out for a night on the town, Alec mused – it was Saturday night after all, and he was glad to remark the absence of a male companion by Claire’s side. Suddenly, his new building looked even more appealing.
“Hold it!” The elevator doors were about to close when a muscular arm jammed them open.
Startled, Claire stared at the switchboard stupidly, unable to locate the ‘door open’ button.
“Sorry about that.” The owner of the arm slipped inside the elevator. He was dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt that clung to his lean, muscular torso. His dark-brown hair brushed against the nape of his neck. In one hand he was carrying a can of black paint and in the other a large paper bag. Two earphone wires swirled from his neck to his chest and over his taut stomach to the iPod that was tucked into the front pocket of his jeans. “Could you press twelve please?”
“Sure.” Claire held her breath and lowered her eyes, hoping that she would not be recognized. There was no place like the elevator to illustrate the theory of relativity – an elevator ride that normally lasted only a couple of minutes now felt like an eternity.
The man pushed his back against the wall and exhaled as he unplugged his earphones, letting them hang on his neck. “Crazy day.” He grinned at Claire. “Oh, forgive me – how rude of me. It’s Claire, right? I’m Alec – your new neighbor – we met before…”
“Hello.” Claire smiled tartly and felt her face grow warm in spite of herself.
“I hope I haven’t been bothering you with the music.” Alec smiled apologetically. “I’ve gotten these.” He motioned at the earphones.
“It’s fine, really.” Claire forced herself to ignore the distant sounds of tango that were emanating from the tiny earphones.
“I promise you it won’t happen again. I still can’t live down the fact that I woke you up on a Saturday morning. May I take you out for a cup of coffee, or better yet, a drink to make up for it?”
Claire ignored the playfulness in his tone. “No worries – already forgotten.” She fumbled with her keys in order to avoid looking at his face. “So, you’re doing more painting?” She purposely fixed her stare on the can of paint.
“Just some finishing touches and then I’ll be ready to move in.”
“Good for you. Well, this is my floor – good luck with the painting.” Claire bolted out of the elevator.
Claire’s purchase was almost wrapped up when the front door swung open, blowing in a fresh burst of May air. Hearing the noise, Claire turned toward the source of distraction and immediately regretted her decision.
“Are you OK?” Lindsay nudged her. “Your face is all flushed.”
“I’m fine,” Claire murmured. “I’m just really hungry that’s all – let’s go grab a bite to eat after this.” Claire ducked her head, hoping to remain unnoticed.
She had only heard his voice a handful of times, and yet, it was enough to unleash a flurry of goose bumps on her skin. “Hi Alec.” Claire widened her lips in a bright smile, attempting to sound nonchalant.
“Hi, I’m Lindsay.” Lindsay stepped in, alternately darting curious glances at Claire and Alec.
“This is Alec, my new neighbor.” Claire swiped away at an unruly strand of hair that fell over her forehead.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lindsay.” Alec momentarily tore his gaze away from Claire.
“Likewise. So, are you an art fan, Alec?” Lindsay asked, clearly oblivious to Claire’s tense state.
“You could certainly say that, although dance is my first love, as Claire might have told you.”
“No, she did not.”
“Alec is a big tango fan,” Claire cut in, eager to put an end to this unnerving chitchat.
“Actually, I’m a dance teacher – I teach tango and I also compete professionally.” Alec’s dark brown eyes found Claire’s. “I’m afraid Claire and I had started off on the wrong foot when I inadvertently woke her up on a Saturday morning by playing my tango music too loud, but I hope that she has forgiven me.”
Alec kept his eyes on Claire during the entire tirade, and all she could do was blush and mumble a muffled yes.
“Ah, that’s much better.” Alec exhaled, his muscular chest puffing out. “I’ve always had a good rapport with all of my neighbors and I was hoping that my good record would not get marred. So, are you doing some decorating, Claire?”
“I’m buying an anniversary gift for my boyfriend,” Claire snapped, wishing the store clerk would hurry up with the wrapping.
“Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry to have bothered you – I’ll be on my way now.”
As Alec walked away, Claire was caught off guard by a sudden sense of regret. “Come, let’s get out of here.” She grabbed Lindsay’s arm.
“So, are you going to tell me what that was all about?” Lindsay stared at Claire once they stood outside the gallery.
“Yeah, but I need a drink first.”
I wonder what’s he doing up there? Claire mused, as she recounted her earlier encounter with Alec at the art gallery: the flirtatious tone of his voice, the playful sparks in his eyes, the way his hair brushed against his neck. She had been so brisk with him, her voice prim and her lips set, while all she wanted to do instead was break into a smile and flirt right back. What harm could there be in a little flirtation? But with Alec, she could not bring herself to say anything other than matter-of-fact remarks – every time she saw him, something inside her constricted, making her run for the cover of prudishness. The forced primness felt both as a haven and a jail – a haven from anything that might go awry, and a jail that precluded anything wonderful from happening, for that was exactly the emotion that stirred in her every time she ran into Alec – that something incredibly wonderful might happen. It was also the emotion that sent Claire scurrying for cover, acting as a bona fide ice maiden, leaving her trapped in her own confusion. Just what was it about Alec that affected her so, Claire had no idea – she barely knew the guy, and yet, every time she saw him, she felt her breath catch.
The sensible part of Claire knew that nothing good could come out of her ambiguous feelings for her upstairs neighbor. From what she could tell, Alec was a good for nothing flirt, and Claire had no intention of encouraging him when she was happily in love with David. I’ll just look up one more time and then I’ll be on my way, Claire thought. What she saw next confirmed her misgivings. Now, there were two silhouettes in the window instead of one: a woman and a man. The female shade arched her back in Alec’s arms as he tilted her back, leaning over her. Claire looked away, as though jolted by electricity. Even without the music, she could recognize the pattern of tango – Alec was so in sync with his partner that it looked as though the two were connected by an invisible thread. Oh, what Claire would give to be able to lose herself to music so completely, and even more, to know that there were her lover’s arms there to hold her.
Back in her apartment Claire threw her bag on the dresser and sank into her couch. As she closed her eyes, she could hear faint sounds of a milonga coming through her ceiling – it was more a throbbing than an actual sound, but it was still enough for her to hear the rhythm of the sensual dance. Right now, separated by only a couple of feet of flooring above her, Alec held another woman in his arms – to Claire she was only a faceless shade, an outline, but to him she was flesh and bones, her body pressing firmly against his. And what a body it was – the glimpse that Claire had caught through the window left her speechless with intimidation – a willowy, slender flute of a body, a dancer’s body that was full of grace – the kind of grace that Claire would never dare attempt.
Marie Astor is the author of contemporary romance novels Dance Me to the Stars, On the Rim of Love, and Lucky Charm. Marie Astor has also authored a collection of short stories A Chance Encounter and Other Stories.
Marie’s latest contemporary romance novel, Dance Me to the Stars, has been selected in the first round of entries in the General Fiction category in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest this year.
Currently, Marie is working on her next novel – a first installment in her romantic suspense series.