Slave to the Rhythm (The Rhythm #1)Jane Harvey-Berrick
The Education of Sebastian (Education Series #1)
The Education of Caroline (Education Series #2)
The Education of Sebastian and The Education of Caroline (Education Series combined edition)
Semper Fi (Education Series #3)
The Traveling Man (Traveling Series #1)
The Traveling Woman (Traveling Series #2)
Roustabout (Traveling Series #3)
The Traveling Series Boxed Set
Slave to the Rhythm (Rhythm series #1)
Maxim (Rhythm series #2)
The New Samurai
Dangerous to Know and Love
Playing in the Rain
The Dark Detective
At Your Beck & Call
Summer of Seventeen
One Careful Owner (coming soon)
Slave to the Rhythm
Copyright © 2016 Jane Harvey-Berrick
Harvey Berrick Publishing
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you do, you are STEALING.
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Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All rights reserved.
Jane Harvey-Berrick has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Jane Harvey-Berrick has asserted her moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Editing by Kirsten Olsen and Alana Albertson
Cover design by Hang Le / www.byhangle.com
Cover photograph by Allan Spiers / www.allanspiers.com
Cover model: Kevin H
Formatted by Christine Borgford / www.perfectlypublishable.com
Table of Contents
Slave to the Rhythm
Other Titles by Jane Harvey-Berrick
MORE ABOUT JHB
To every artist who has smiled through the blood, sweat and tears
HEAT AND NOISE.
The deep bass reverberated through the floor, through the table and chairs, the empty bottles on the table trembling as the music pulsed.
The dry, desert air was humid inside the sealed room, a room that never saw daylight.
The casino was alive 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Men and women with the bloodshot eyes of those who had been at the slot machines for too many hours were replaced with the young and young at heart who wanted to dance the night away, the sweat stains and smudged makeup hidden in the pockets of darkness among the strobing lights.
My friends were on the dance floor, lost in the music, rolling their hips, stroking the air above their heads with languid arms, grinding against each other to the determined, demanding music. I could see the eyes following their movements, the loose jaws, the wet lips.
A part of me envied them—the part that always envied people who could be so free, and if I’d loved them less, envy might have turned to resentment.
The reunion had been planned for eight months, and even though the timing had turned out to be a cosmic joke, I refused to miss out. Despite everything, it was good to see them. Old friends who had seen me at my best and worst.
I stared longingly at the bar, wishing that a Mimosa would materialize in front of me. But none of the scantily dressed waitresses even noticed me sitting by myself.
I was used to being alone. I worked from home and rarely saw the people I called colleagues, and that suited me just fine. But it’s one thing to choose to be by yourself; it’s completely different to be alone in a crowd.
I glanced back to the heaving dance floor, smiling as a cowboy with a large Stetson and no rhythm limbered up behind Vanessa, trying to attract her attention with his awkward but well-meaning gyrations.
My eyes skated away with embarrassment at his lumbering gait, and that’s when my gaze was drawn to another man. And this one caught and held my attention as surely as I caught and held my breath.
He was dressed in black, a snug shirt tucked into dress pants, an easy elegance that made him seem like a thoroughbred among carthorses.
His movements were sinuous with suggestive grace, one fluid action flowing into the next. His hips thrust and rolled, his long legs flexed and straightened, his arms moving rhythmically, fingers extended. He held himself erect, his chin dipping only slightly so his eyes could fix on his much shorter dance partner. Even from this distance I could see that he was focused, like a wild animal stalking his prey. His eyes were feline, too, slanting up slightly at the corners, emphasizing his sharp cheekbones.
His spiky dark hair was gelled at the front, but almost military at the back, showing off his long elegant neck and the broad muscles that writhed beneath his short-sleeved shirt, the shadow of a tattoo peeping out.
He was tall, and the black clothes he wore emphasized his slim silhouette. It was hard to tell his age, his unsmiling face clean shaven and intense, he could have been anything from twenty to thirty.
For a moment, he disappeared into the swirling mass, and I leaned forward to catch another glimpse.
The crowd parted and the illusive dancer reappeared. I saw his partner for the first time: a short, doughy woman with perspiration dripping down her face and too-tight dress.
They didn’t fit, the man and the woman. I sat back in my chair, watching, intrigued.
I suppose I’d spent a lot of time, on the sidelines. Life had made me an observer. So I’d made a study of male beauty in all its forms: the jock, the joker, the emo, the player, the hot and dangerous. I was a connoisseur, you might say, but only from a distance. Perhaps that made me a voyeur.
But this man—he was in a class of his own. I was mesmerized watching the strong, graceful lines he created, the perfect symmetry of his perfect body, his subtle strength and obvious talents. He was beautiful. And that made me sad.
His intense, serious gaze was utterly focused on his partner, and envy bubbled up inside me. I tried to push it away, but I couldn’t drag my eyes from the dancer. He rotated his hips, his body fluent and effortless, always in motion. The thought crossed my mind that if he fucked the way he danced, his partner was in for a night she’d never forget.
But then the woman’s steps faltered, and she edged her way from the dance floor, sucking in lungfuls of air, her fingers sinking into broad hips as she rested her hands.
The man followed, asking a question, and the woman shook her head, half laughing as she nervously backed away from him. When she retreated, he pressed closer, wrapping his long fingers around her wrist, his eyes narrowed.
I leaned forward again, then glanced around, wondering if anyone else had noticed the drama unfolding in front of me.
They seemed to be arguing, and the woman’s sweaty face was red and worried. But then the man held up his hands in surrender, releasing his prey.
I relaxed back into my chair, feeling almost as much relief as the short woman who was retreating in the direction of the bathroom.
The man stood, watching the woman leave, and I was surprised to see frustration on his face. Not disappointment, not annoyance. He wasn’t offended, his ego wasn’t dented. If anything, he seemed angry with himself.
It was odd. Nothing in their behavior hinted that they were close. It looked like a hookup, but why had he chosen someone who was so far below his own league?
It occurred to me that perhaps he was one of those men you read about in Vegas, a gigolo in all but name. It hurt my heart a little to think that such a beautiful man might use his perfect body in such a way. I didn’t want to be disappointed when everything else about him was just so . . . perfect.
The man ran his hands over his hair as he searched around the room, his eyes ticking off the women he saw, some internal checklist that remained hidden to all but him.
But then his eyes flickered to me, probably because I was still watching him, and a wide smile stretched his full lips. The smile, so totally unblemished from a distance, didn’t reach his eyes, and when he approached me, I was immediately on guard.
“Hi, I’m Ash. Are you by yourself?”
It was hard to be sure over the pounding music, but it sounded as if he had an accent. Something Eastern European, perhaps Russian? Polish?
I gave him a polite but closed smile, a cool smile that hid all warmth, a smile for slow servers and rude cab drivers. A smile for men I didn’t trust.
“No. I’m here with my friends.”
The man looked around him, then shrugged theatrically. “I don’t see them. Would you like to dance?”
And he held out his hand, obviously assuming that I would say yes.
“No, I’m not dancing.”
He frowned, his hand still suspended between us. “But you like to dance?”
I stopped laughing and stared, my gaze sinking into his, puzzled, annoyed.
“What makes you think I like to dance?”
He shrugged again and his hand fell to his side.
“You’re in a nightclub, and you’re not drinking. So you must be here to dance. Please, dance with me.”
He held out his hand again, but I shook my head impatiently. “Then go find someone who will dance with you.”
His eyes widened with surprise, and then he grinned as he leaned on the table, his perfect face inches from mine. “Maybe I want to dance with you.”
“Then you’ll be waiting a long time.”
He cocked his head to one side and I noticed a small beauty spot, shaped like a teardrop beneath his left eye—a perfect imperfection. Up close I could see that he was younger than I’d thought, younger than me perhaps, maybe early twenties. My eyes dropped to his lips and then to his throat. I could see a thin silver chain around his neck.
“I’m a good dancer,” he said, looking almost wounded at my continued refusal.
He wasn’t lying, but my anger, smoldering beneath the surface, ignited.
“I’m not dancing!”
“But everyone comes here to dance,” he insisted, his intense dark eyes so focused, it was unnerving.
“Not me,” I insisted.
He was making me anxious now and I glanced around for my friends.
“You’ll have a good time.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I snapped, losing patience. “Your last friend seemed to enjoy herself immensely.”
A dull red flooded his cheeks and he looked away.
His reaction surprised me. I’d hurt his feelings, but I wasn’t sure why.
“Maybe I’d like to dance with a pretty girl for a change,” he said softly, glancing up at me from beneath long dark lashes.
His intense stare and pleading eyes were hard to resist. Oh, he was good. Calling me ‘pretty’, pretending to be upset that I wouldn’t dance with him. But then I felt a little guilty, too. You can’t fake flushed cheeks. I would have guessed that it was simply the exertion from dancing, but when I met his gaze, his expression was almost desperate.
“You are missing out.”
My mouth tightened and the gates to my sympathy slammed shut.
“Laney, is this guy bothering you?”
I breathed a sigh of relief as Vanessa and Jo strode toward me, their lips pursed, eyes flashing dangerously.
Ash looked nervous, his glance flicking between my friends and the bouncers by the exit. He started backing away, his hands held out from his sides.
“I just asked her to dance, that’s all. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Jo threw him a disbelieving look and stood with her hands on her hips.
“Do you want to go back to your room now?” Vanessa asked.
Suddenly feeling emotional and overwhelmed, I nodded silently as Jo continued to glare.
Vanessa walked behind my chair and handed me the pashmina that had been hanging on the back. Then she unlocked the brakes on my wheelchair and pushed me away from the table.
Ash’s mouth dropped open.
“Still think I’m pretty?” I asked, as my eyes filled with tears.
Forty days earlier . . .
I’d been waiting in line, passport in hand, for 50 minutes. Fifty long, boring minutes, waiting for my life to start over.
I followed the shuffling line, a few nerves, but mostly waves of excitement spiking through me. I felt as if something didn’t happen soon, I’d crack wide open and all the chaotic, pent-up energy would come pouring out. But then the line moved along a few steps and I could look out of the window. Seeing the orange haze of a million electric lights that lit Las Vegas made me smile and my heart jumped up a notch. Soon. I’d be a part of it, living the dream, achieving everything.
The Immigration Officer frowned at my passport.
“It says here that your name is ‘Al-jazz’.”
Outside my own country, that happened a lot.
“It’s pronounced ‘Ali-ash’.”
He squinted at the passport again.
“Purpose of your visit?”
I couldn’t help standing taller when I answered, pride in my voice.
“I’m here on business. I have a job. As a dancer in a theater.”
He didn’t seem particularly impressed as I showed him my H-1B Specialty Occupations work visa.
He studied the papers skeptically, then finally handed them back.
“These give you permission to work for one month,” he said, looking at me sternly.
I nodded, trying to look as serious as he did, withholding a need to touch the St. Christopher I wore.
Then he handed back the passport and waved me through.
I let out the breath I’d been holding.
The visa I had was used for dancers and fashion models in transit, that kind of thing. My new boss had explained that it was easier to apply for a long-term visa when you were already working in the country.
At the end of the stark, white corridor, the space opened up into a vast baggage collection area with hundreds of people milling around, searching for their possessions. I’d been in line for so long, that my suitcase was already waiting for me, slowly circling the carousel along with dozens more.
The bag was heavy, up to the maximum 20 kilos, and contained just about everything I owned. I’d sold most of my possessions once I knew I was leaving Slo
venia. When it came down to it, there wasn’t much I wanted to keep—some of my trophies, a few photographs—and those I left with Luka before he went on tour.
Most of the things I’d packed were for dancing: six pairs of dance shoes, rehearsal clothes, Latin pants, shirts . . . things like that. I heaved my suitcase to the floor, then trundled it toward the exit and the sprawling arrivals hall.
I blinked, gazing around me at the sea of movement. The place was full of energy, bursting with people, slot machines going off, and a small crowd was laughing at an Elvis impersonator, a few singing along.
I felt like I’d come home.
Moving slowly through the airport, I scanned the unfamiliar faces until I saw him.
The man was enormous, swollen with heavy muscle that had partially gone to fat, and wearing a badly-fitting suit where rolls of flesh bulged out. His cold, lizard eyes skated over me then back again as he slowly lowered a sign that simply said ‘Novak’.
He was one intense guy and not what I’d been expecting. But I walked toward him confidently and held out my hand. He ignored me, moving away with a rubbery bounce that contradicted his massive frame. I could tell that he’d trained, probably as a boxer, if the flattened nose and scar on his cheek were anything to go by. Still an asshole though. He reminded me of Conan the Barbarian, but without the warm personality.
I followed him through the airport to a minivan waiting outside. He jerked his head as an instruction to get in, then muttered something in Russian.
My mood lifted when I saw four girls sitting inside. Each had a large suitcase like mine, and I guessed that they were dancers, too. The one nearest me was really hot. Things were definitely looking up, and my excitement returned.
“Hi, I’m Ash!”
I spoke to the stunning blonde, giving her my best smile. She seemed happy to see me too, and replied in heavily accented English.
“Hey, I’m Yveta. This is my friend Galina,” and she pointed to the brunette sitting next to her. “The redhead, I think is Marta. I don’t know the other.”
Two of them gave quick, nervous smiles, but when the other one turned to look at me, I was surprised to see how young she was. She reminded me of Luka’s little sister and I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but she turned to stare out of the window again.