Authors: Linda Cajio
Dancing in the Dark
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1993 by Linda Cajio
by Toni Aleo copyright © 2013 by Toni Aleo.
Along Came Trouble
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
Hell on Wheels
by Karen Leabo copyright © 1996 by Karen Leabo.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Dancing in the Dark
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1993.
He was naked.
Charity Brown stared through the darkened trees and bushes and into the clearing lit by a small fire. A man stood several feet from the flickering flames, his arms outstretched to the night sky.
His eyes were closed, his body awash in a red-yellow glow, every inch of him completely illuminated. He was tall and slim, his muscles not bulky, but lean like a primitive hunter’s. His chest had a dusting of hair that angled down past his waist. Her gaze was drawn to the part of his anatomy that made him male. “Male” had never looked so good.
Embarrassment heated her cheeks even as the rest of her body heated with something else. She looked away, telling herself that she shouldn’t feel funny. A person would have to be a saint not to look. And just plain old human curiosity dictated that if one came upon a naked male while cutting through the woods on the way home from the library, one would, of course, take a look. In fact, she mentally challenged a saint not to.
And she thought things were dull in Milton, New Jersey.
But why, she wondered, was he standing in the woods like this? Like a warrior from the ancient past … several thousand years before the pharaohs. Primitive, virile, untamed. Charity’s fingers curved around the time-travel romance she’d taken out, along with the books she needed for her business class report.
“Naaa,” she muttered, shaking her head. Fiction was fiction. This was just a nut.
It occurred to her that maybe she’d hit the mark and she ought to make tracks for home before her peeping-Thomasina act turned dangerous. But the naked man lowered his arms and opened his eyes, and Charity wasn’t able to resist one last peek. She leaned forward and peered at his face.
He was in his thirties as far as she could judge, his hair dark and cut short. His features were even—square jaw, firm lips, and prominent cheekbones free of any extra flesh. Painted stripes streaked his forehead and cheeks. There was something hauntingly familiar about that face.
And then it smacked her between the eyes.
Charity staggered back in shock until her spine connected with a very solid tree trunk. She gasped for breath, half because it had been knocked out of her and half because she just couldn’t believe it. The naked man couldn’t be the new vice president of Wayans, Inc., the computer distributor she worked for. Mr. Wizard, the
Wall Street Journal
had called him for his ability to take companies or subsidiaries in trouble and transform them into solid profit-makers.
She rubbed her face and fought for control of her
senses. Her imagination was really running away with her if she thought the naked man was Jake Halford. She stepped up to the concealing bushes again and took a good long look.
It was Jake.
“Oh, my Lord,” she murmured.
As her brain scrambled to take in the truth, he bent down, picked up a drum, and began to beat a steady rhythm on it. He also started to mumble a kind of mantra while he shuffled around the fire.
A giggle started low in Charity’s gut, rising inexorably higher. She clapped her hand over her mouth. The giggle snorted right out the side of her lips.
Mr. Wizard, the man who was going to cure all the financial ills of Wayans, Inc., and in turn cure all the financial ills of Milton, New Jersey, was playing cowboys and Indians in the woods.
And it looked like he’d forgotten his loincloth.
Jake glanced up sharply, his heightened senses keenly alert to any disturbance in the natural force of the forest. That often happened in the midst of the ritual, his being so alive with instinct that he could detect the slightest intrusion.
Something was out there.
A deer, he thought. The pine barrens of southern New Jersey were a haven for them. The urge rose in him to track it, to hunt it in the ancient way. But he had no desire to bring it down because he had no need of the meat and furs it would provide. He respected the creature. It was only trying to live out its life in the way nature had intended. He understood that perfectly. Man had turned away from his
own natural needs generations ago, and now had no right to take. Certainly he had no physical need.
Jake was there that night, instead, to call up the ancient past inside himself, to find the true male and unlock it from the cage of modern culture. Men had forgotten how to be men, their basic need to provide for the tribe and gain inner satisfaction from that lost to them. The enlightened man was confused, uncertain, unhappy. Jake knew that feeling. He used to be an eighties kind of guy, so sensitive to a woman’s needs that he had suppressed his own. Until, five years earlier, he was offered the job of a lifetime. He’d been offered several before, his specialty being troubleshooting for companies in jeopardy, but he’d turned them down because of his wife’s career. The job had been to save a desperately struggling subsidiary company. Instead, it had gone bankrupt. People had lost their livelihoods. Needless to say, his conscience hadn’t allowed him to ignore the next company in serious trouble. Betsy hadn’t agreed with his conscience—or the move to another state—and he’d been slapped with a divorce so fast, it still made him reel to remember.
He’d felt selfish and chauvinistic at the time, a failure as a caring man and husband. Women—notably his mother and four older sisters—had ruled his life from the cradle on. He’d had no father figure, for his father had forsaken his familial responsibilities shortly before Jake was born. At school Jake had been called a mama’s boy, and he had been one. His mother and sisters had plotted out his life for him, then passed him on to his wife. He’d always done exactly what everyone wanted, even to the point of agreeing not to have children because they’d interfere
with his wife’s career. He’d never done what he
Then, several years ago, he’d discovered the men’s movement. It didn’t denigrate women or their rights. They had as many rights as men. No, it put the blame squarely on men and taught them that they had emotional needs too. Needs that had to be met for their own well-being. It showed men how to be men again. And it helped Jake to find himself, the person he’d subjugated. It taught him how to meet his own needs. He
good at his job, and he could help companies get back on their feet. He didn’t have to feel guilty anymore that his job could take him from troubled company to troubled company as his reputation grew. By taking care of his own needs, he took care of a lot of other people’s needs too. And if his ex-wife couldn’t understand that, she wasn’t the woman for him in the first place.
Jake looked around the clearing he was in, one he’d thought perfectly suited for the night’s ritual. There wasn’t a house or soul within a mile. He might be new to Milton, but he was positive of that. When no other men were participating, he preferred to conduct the ritual as men had 50,000 years ago. In nature’s original clothing. That meant complete privacy was essential.
He shrugged away the disruptive thought of another creature being out there. He felt good—refreshed and renewed. Like a man again. He’d unlocked the Iron John inside him once more.
His original purpose for the ritual floated through his mind. Honey-brown hair, expressive brown eyes, a figure that went on forever …
He’d staked out a prey right there in Milton and he
intended to have it. It wasn’t exactly a use the men’s movement proscribed, but one it understood.
The hunter’s instinct washed over him in a wave of satisfaction. He looked up at the full moon and howled.
Twenty feet away, Charity Brown ran like hell.
“Charity? Charity Brown?”
Charity whirled around and found herself facing Dances with No Clothes On. She gasped and immediately looked away. Her one glimpse told her that at least he was dressed this time. He’d better be; they were in the middle of the archive room of Wayans, Inc., on a Tuesday afternoon. That one glimpse had also told her he looked even better
“Oh … ah … yes?” she managed to squeak out, feeling a burning heat creeping up her neck and face. She couldn’t look directly at him, no matter how hard she tried to focus her gaze on his.
An awful thought occurred to her. He knew. Fireworks of panic exploded inside her. He’d caught sight of her the other night, somehow figured out it was her, and was now going to fire her for spying on him. Adios. Bon voyage. Take a hike. She was a dead woman, because she absolutely could not afford to lose her job. Her entire life was balanced on a financial knife edge. If one sick day could throw her into chaos, being fired would be a catastrophe.
To her surprise, he smiled and held out his hand. “I’m Jake Halford, the new vice president. I don’t believe we’ve met yet.”
Oh, yes, we have
, she thought, waiting for her doom. The vision of him dancing around the fire
as if from an X-rated movie burst into her brain. Still not quite looking him in the eye, she took his hand and shook it briefly. Very briefly. A funny tingle seemed to radiate between them. She forced it away. “Hello,” she said.
The heat on her cheeks burned even hotter. Damn, she thought. Why was she blushing when he’d been the dancing naked fool?
Because he’d looked so good at it
, a little voice told her.
“Are you feeling well?” he asked, frowning in concern. “You look overheated.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” she lied. She felt like a tomato boiling inside. She was aware of Gwen, the archive clerk and the only other person in the room, staring at them. She could just imagine the gossip Gwen would impart at lunch. Boy, if the woman only knew the real truth.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, desperately wishing for an escape. The tall shelves with their rows of manila folders hemmed her in next to him, though. Grimacing, she realized she’d just dismissed her best opportunity to escape when he’d thought she was ill.
A funny look crossed his face. “It doesn’t matter. Probably just the poor air circulation.”
Something was circulating a little too well inside her, she thought. She could still see him naked. Very naked.
He didn’t say anything for a moment. An awareness crept over Charity, a distinct feeling that she was being assessed like a doe who’d been sighted by a cougar. Somehow, also like a terrified deer, she couldn’t move.