In my novella Dancing Away, an M/M contemporary, Merit Hartwick has never forgotten his high school prom and the dance he shared with jock Cole Dellany, the one "popular" guy at Merit's high school who never bullied him. Merit had a crush on Cole and thought the dance meant Cole liked him too, until he overheard a conversation later that led him to believe Cole had only danced with him to make a fool out of him.
Years later, when Cole re-enters his life, Merit must decide whether to accept the man's apology--and love--or turn him away and forget him for good.
Dancing Away is a follow-up to my hetero novella You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This, and will be released on August 16 from Pink Petal Books. Here's a safe-for-work excerpt to whet your appetite:
Once they had their drinks—Cole had ordered a rum and cola—Merit decided to take a chance on asking questions. “I figured you’d be all settled in by now behind a white picket fence or something. You had enough contenders in high school.”
“I dated a lot of girls,” Cole agreed. “I wasn’t that interested in any of them. Not interested enough to spend my life with them. If I’d tried marrying any of them, we’d just have ended up divorced, and that would have been that. If I ever do find the right person to settle down with, it’s going to be for the long haul. I don’t want to be one of those people who does the ‘starter marriage’ thing and then moves on.”
“Yeah, same here.” At least where he currently lived, he would have the option of getting married if he ever did meet the right guy. That wouldn’t have even been possible in his home state. Sometimes moving on was the best thing to do.
He was still curious about why Cole had chosen to be alone, but the guy didn’t seem too forthcoming with answers. They weren’t here to discuss their current personal lives anyway. This wasn’t a couple of high school buddies catching up with each other. This was a man and the guy who’d broken his heart. All Merit wanted out of the evening was a reason to forgive Cole. Or to forget about him for good.
“You said I misunderstood what I heard that day.” He didn’t think he needed to specify which day. “So here’s your chance. Explain to me how I was wrong.”
“You were wrong because you assumed the dare was my only reason for dancing with you.” Cole looked into Merit’s eyes, and Merit’s heart began to melt even as he clung to his anger toward the other man. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t cling strongly enough. “They did dare me. I won’t deny that. They figured out you had a crush on me and thought it would be funny to yank you around by pretending I liked you back.”
That statement froze Merit’s heart solid again. He tossed his napkin onto the table and prepared to storm out of the restaurant. Of course it had just been a joke to those asswipes. He should have known better than to think he’d hear anything different tonight. “Yeah, really fucking funny. It was absolutely hilarious.” He didn’t bother keeping his anger out of his tone.
“Hold up.” Cole raised a hand. “I didn’t say I thought it was funny. I was just as pissed about the idea as you are now. They were the ones who believed it was a big-ass joke.”
“Explain what you thought, then, because I’m really not getting it.” Merit slid to the edge of the seat, hands shaking with the effort of not screaming. He was damned if he’d just sit there and listen to the guy make no sense. “Talk fast, because in ten seconds I’m out of here unless you give me a really good reason to stay. I came here to give you a chance to apologize like you said you wanted to. If that’s what this is, it’s a piss-poor effort.”
“This isn’t going any better than the phone call.” Cole frowned. “Look, if you aren’t even going to give me a chance to talk, it’s going to be pretty hard to explain. I know I’m not the best at expressing myself, but you’re throwing up boulders in the way. Do you even want to listen?”
I’m throwing up boulders? Merit was listening. Cole wasn’t saying anything. But Merit took a deep breath. He could walk out and end up wondering what the guy would have said, or he could give him a few more minutes. “If you’re actually planning to say what you mean, I’ll listen.”
“I’m trying,” Cole snapped.
The server came back to take their orders. Cole barked his, and the server seemed to take it in stride. Merit made a mental note to leave a good tip. The server didn’t deserve to be Cole’s target. As soon as he walked away, Cole took a couple of breaths and said, “My friends thought it would be funny. They said you had a crush on me, so this was just one more plan of theirs to humiliate you.”
“You went along with it.” This time, Merit kept his tone more neutral.
“Only because it gave me an excuse to dance with you.” Cole looked him in the eye again, and his brown gaze pierced Merit straight through. “I said they thought it would be funny if I pretended I liked you back. The thing is, I wasn’t pretending.”
For those who've read this far... I'd love to hear your prom story. Leave a comment about one of your prom memories, and you'll be entered in a drawing. One winner will receive a PDF of Dancing Away; a second winner will receive a PDF of You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like This. I'll draw the winners next week on the Dancing Away release date.