Strictly Tradition

Here’s your free short story – it features characters from my novel Strictly Christmas Spirit. Enjoy!

‘No!’ Tess yelled in exasperation, as Logan once again crushed her toes underneath his foot. She marched over to the laptop to shut off the music and sighed, rubbing her forehead.

‘Listen.’ She took a deep breath and forced a smile on her face. ‘You’re moving on the wrong beat, and that’s why you keep. Stubbing. My. Toes.’ She ground out the last words through gritted teeth, her irritation throbbing just like her battered feet.

Tess hated teaching amateurs to dance. Hated it. But she was between West End shows and work was scarce, with so many theatres having been affected by COVID. Taking on some private dance teaching was lucrative, easy and helped to pay her rent, so here she was, in a rented studio, with one of the worst dancers she had ever taught.

Logan looked at the floor sheepishly. ‘Sorry,’ he said slightly mournfully, looking up at her beneath his floppy dark hair, which brushed his forehead, slightly damp from the exertions of their lesson. If he weren’t so handsome and rather bashfully sweet, she would be more annoyed at him.

She sighed. ‘It’s okay. Sorry I snapped.’ She re-joined him in the middle of the studio and stepped up to him once more. She placed a firm hand on his shoulder, and he put a hesitant one on her back. ‘Remember, the Tango is a dance of passion and energy,’ she said, tilting her head upwards as he towered over her. He nodded, an uncertain expression on his face.

Logan was blessed with a rock-solid body; all six-foot-three-inches of him was hard, toned muscle, but he hadn’t been blessed with rhythm. He swayed awkwardly to the music, glancing down at his feet and losing the beat, narrowing his navy blue eyes with concentration.

‘Let’s call it quits for today, yeah?’ Tess said, patting him condescendingly on the arm as the music ended, trying to save him some dignity and also save her feet from being mangled.

‘Sure, thanks Tess.’ He nodded, looking dejected, knowing as well as she did that his efforts were less than mediocre.

They walked to the side of the studio. Tess found her water bottle and took a sip before starting her cool down. Some strands of her bright blonde hair had worked loose from her ponytail and she flicked them out of her eyes in annoyance as she stretched out her legs.

‘Where are you off to now?’ she asked, as Logan lifted his arms behind his head to stretch them out. Tess tried not to stare at his smooth olive skin and toned abs that were revealed as his T-shirt rode up slightly.

‘I’m on a shift this evening so I’ll grab some food then head to work. Those ambulances won’t drive themselves,’ he said with a grin.

Tess remembered that although Logan couldn’t dance to save his life, his work was all about saving lives, and she felt bad for having snapped at him. ‘It must be tough, working shifts, driving ambulances through traffic, seeing accidents…’ She trailed off with a shiver. Shadowy memories of an accident she had fought to forget threatened to surface in her mind. She swallowed hard and tried to smile, though she was sure it looked more like a grimace.

‘It’s not too bad,’ he said softly. ‘It is hard work though.’

‘I’ll bet,’ Tess said, wondering what it was like to do a job which could make the difference between life and death for someone. 

‘Do you think I’m getting better with the dancing?’ he asked, looking at her earnestly.

‘Um, sure,’ Tess said brightly, but her momentary hesitation was telling, and she could see the hope shining in his eyes dim a little. ‘Why do you want to learn to dance so much anyway?’ she asked.

He cleared his throat. ‘Well, there’s a woman I know. She’s really into dancing, you know – she’s always watching Strictly Dancing With Celebs, and er, well …’ he stammered, looking embarrassed as a red flush crept up his neck.

‘You want to impress her?’ Tess asked, both amused at his discomfort and slightly envious of the woman he was trying to win over.

Logan coughed. ‘Um, yeah.’

‘Well, we’ll keep trying,’ Tess said, nodding at him encouragingly. ‘And I’m sure you’ll improve.’

And try they did. All through December, while sheeting rain pounded the studio windows, while the winter winds howled outside, and even a snowflake or two splattered against the glass, Logan tried and tried and tried. And failed to get any better.

‘It’s no use!’ Logan said, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat after one particularly clumsy rumba. ‘I guess I’m just not meant to be a good dancer. Sienna will never notice me now.’ He stood gloomily by the windows and looked out at the slate-grey sky.

Tess walked over to him. ‘Don’t be so down on yourself. You’re sweet, you’re a paramedic, you’ve got a great bo—I mean, you’re very fit,’ she said hurriedly, her cheeks warming. ‘Are you sure you shouldn’t just ask her out regardless of how you dance?’

Logan heaved a sigh. ‘Yes, I’m sure you’re right.’ He paused. ‘A group of us are all going to a club for a friend’s birthday. I was hoping to impress her there, but I guess I’ll just stay off the dancefloor and buy her a drink instead.’

She nodded. ‘See what she says. I’m sure the dancing won’t matter to her that much.’

He smiled warmly at her, his navy eyes gleaming in the light of the studio as he got to his feet and shook her hand. ‘Thanks, Tess. I think we’ll stop here and I’ll be back in touch if I want to carry on.’

He walked away and Tess felt a stab of sadness that their lessons were at an end. He may have been the worst dancer she taught, but he was her sweetest, most handsome student, and she was sorry to see him go.

Sienna is a lucky lady, she thought enviously.

The salsa bar was as hot and sultry as a Cuban evening. The music from the live band throbbed through the air, the up-tempo melodies and bright instrumentation made it feel like summer, even though it was close to Christmas and freezing outside.

Tess was having a ball on the dancefloor, dancing with friends, with strangers, both showing off and being shown off to. There was a raucous freedom to this place, where the tunes were hot and Latin, and anyone could join in, whether they could dance or not. She waved to her friends, motioning that she was heading to the bar and ordered a mojito. She stood watching the dancing, sipping her drink, revived by the intense freshness of the mint and lime. Then she felt a hesitant tap on her shoulder and turned round.

‘Logan!’ she gasped. ‘Hey, it’s good to see you!’

Logan’s dark hair was swept back from his face, and his olive-green shirt clung to his physique. He looked more built than Tess remembered. He shot her a wide grin, looking genuinely pleased to see her.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.

‘I’m on a night out,’ he said. ‘It’s my friend’s birthday, and she wanted to come here.’ He looked around with a smile. ‘My first time in a salsa club.’

‘How did you get on with … Sarah?’ She wrinkled her nose, trying to remember.

‘Sienna,’ Logan corrected her. ‘I asked her out before tonight, but it turns out she likes guys who drive sports cars rather than ambulances, guys with six figure salaries rather than a green uniform.’ He said it jovially, with a shrug of the shoulders as if to dismiss it, but his gaze darkened a little and Tess realised that he had been hurt by Sienna’s rejection.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, gently touching him on the arm, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased that Logan was here, and he wasn’t with Sienna. She was glad she was wearing her lucky red dress. It was the perfect dress for dancing in; the short skirt floating around her thighs, accentuating every movement, and the vibrant crimson was a flattering colour against her bright blonde hair, which hung loose around her shoulders. It was a dress that never failed to make her feel and look good.

‘You know,’ she said hesitantly, ‘you’re a great catch Logan. Sienna is a fool.’

He grinned at her words and his gaze brightened even in the dim light of the bar.

‘Want to dance?’ he asked her.

She laughed. ‘Always.’ She set her drink down and he grabbed her hand, pulling her to the dance floor. ‘Have you improved?’ she asked, as she stood before him.

Logan chuckled. ‘No!’

Tess leaned into him with a smile. ‘Then let me lead.’

The upbeat tempo of the drums faded, and the band began to play a slower song; a relaxed rhythm that demanded nothing more than a gentle swaying of the hips. Tess stepped closer to Logan, and as his arms embraced her, all she could think about was whether he could feel her pulse reverberating through her, her heart pounding though they were barely moving. His hands rested on her back, and she could feel the heat of his skin through the thin material of her dress. She had danced on Broadway, done a season on Strictly Dancing with Celebs, been a lead on the West End’s top shows, but this dance was even more thrilling than any of those, and it had nothing to do with the steps or the audience; it was to do with the sparkling eyes holding her gaze and the strong arms holding her near.

‘I told you I hadn’t really improved,’ Logan said softly, leaning towards her, his lips grazing her ear and his cheek touching hers so she could hear him above the music. The hush of his breath against her neck sent sparks shivering across her skin. She dared to rest her cheek lightly against his as she wound her arms around his neck.

‘It doesn’t really seem to matter,’ she murmured.

They stayed that way, pressed close in a dark corner of the dance floor till the band finished playing later that night, and the dancers began to drift away. Only then did they move to collect their coats, hands still melded together, without saying a word. As they walked out into the frozen night, Tess huddled into her thick black coat, tying it tightly around her waist.

‘Which way are you headed?’ Logan asked, as he shrugged on his leather jacket.

‘I was going to walk towards Piccadilly Circus,’ Tess replied. ‘Is that coat warm enough?’ she asked.

He smiled at her and took her hand once again. ‘I’m not cold.’ His hand was warm around hers as they turned and walked together down an almost deserted Oxford Street, under the glow of the Christmas lights. Normally the street was heaving with traffic, with crowds of shoppers thrumming the pavements, but tonight only a few lone souls scurried in the cold, and Tess and Logan had the lights all to themselves.

They turned down Carnaby Street and walked beneath pretty stars and bright bursts of colour strung above the tiles. An angel spread her silver wings over the street, and glittering white snowflakes shone into the night, suspended on shimmering garlands of light.

‘Oh, it’s so pretty,’ Tess sighed, as they walked beneath the angel.

Logan stopped and tugged her hand, clearing his throat. ‘Hey, Tess, I really enjoyed seeing you tonight,’ he said. ‘I missed our lessons, even though I was terrible.’ He laughed softly.

She smiled at him. ‘I really enjoyed seeing you too.’

He looked up. ‘You know I’m a stickler for tradition, and would you look where we’re standing?’

Tess tilted her head back, her laughter ringing out into the quiet of the street. There in the angel’s hands, directly above them, was a bundle of emerald-coloured lights, in the shape of a mistletoe.

‘Well, if it’s tradition,’ she said, with a shiver of delight.

‘Absolutely. Strictly tradition,’ he said, drawing an arm around her and pulling her close.

Did you enjoy this? You may like to check out Strictly Christmas Spirit, where you’ll find Tess once again, and lots of other characters!