We have a new holiday story coming out next month from Torquere Press! “Knitting a Broken Heart Back Together” spans a year in the life of Tomy Peralta, a ballroom dance instructor who planned to propose to his boyfriend at Christmas. Instead, he finds himself dumped for the holidays. His healing process begins with knitting classes at a local yarn shop run by Jason Winters, a hunky former pro athlete who would love nothing more than to dance his way into Tomy’s heart.
Here’s a special sneak peek of “Knitting a Broken Heart Back Together” for our readers. We hope you enjoy it!
* * *
May brought in an early, sweltering preview of summer, and, as usual, business at Stitchin’ Time slumped accordingly. There were still the regulars, of course, the year-round knitters who kept up with their hobby no matter the weather, but the casual crafters and walk-in business definitely slacked off. Not that Jason minded, really; after owning his shop for nearly four years, he’d come to expect the cyclical nature of the business, and he enjoyed having a bit of peace during the day to work on his dye projects and his own knitting.
Class was more sparsely attended as well, though still better than the numbers would be in July and August. Most importantly, Tomy was there, and Jason was pleased to see he’d been knitting enough outside of class to have the scarf nearly finished. Tomy had done a good job of it, too, and so Jason brought out a book of dishtowel patterns and had Tomy select a skein or two of kitchen cotton that appealed to him for his next project.
A week after the knitting class came Jason’s lesson, and he was looking forward to it eagerly. Tomy was finally satisfied that Jason had mastered the Foxtrot well enough for the wedding, so now they would be moving on to the Tango. This lesson was something Jason had thought about a lot, and so he’d dressed with care in a silver silk shirt that clung to him like a second skin and that his sister said made his eyes look like a stormy sky. It wasn’t yet time to ask Tomy out, but it was now five months past his break up, and if Jason had been reading things correctly, Tomy was starting to look at him as more than a teacher of knitting and a student of dance. That was a very good thing, especially since Jason was dying to ask Tomy to come to Jennifer’s wedding as his date. As it was, he’d told his sister just to mark him as “plus one” because he wasn’t yet certain who he’d be bringing.
He waved to Luciana at the receptionist’s desk, not stopping to speak to her as he normally would because she was in the middle of a phone call. Making his way back to their regular practice room, he slipped inside and began to do some of the warm-up stretches Tomy had recommended. The Foxtrot had been a much more energetic dance than the Waltz, but the Tango was going to require more flexibility than anything he’d tried so far.
Tomy arrived a couple of minutes later, stopping to look at Jason uncertainly. “Are you going somewhere after this? You might want to change shirts if you don’t want to get that one sweaty.”
“Actually, this one dries quickly and is quite cool,” Jason replied easily. “I’m not going anywhere after this except home.” He smiled wryly. “God, I’m such a stick in the mud, aren’t I?”
“I really can’t say anything.” Tomy mirrored Jason’s wry look as he approached. “I’ve been getting out more in the last few weeks than I did for months after the break-up, but I’m still much more of a homebody than I used to be.”
“Well, it’s not really surprising. You were in a lot of pain.” Jason tilted his head to one side. “You seem to be doing much better these days, which I’m very glad to see.”
Tomy drew in a deep breath and released it in a short puff, looking as if he was debating how to answer that. “I’m a lot better than I was around January and February.” He shrugged slightly. “I’ll spare you any other gory details. I’m sure you aren’t interested in my relationship post mortem.”
“If you need to talk, I always have a listening ear.” Jason was wildly curious, but he kept any hint of it from showing on his face. “Isn’t that what friends are for?”
Tomy hesitated, then nodded slowly. “Well, if you’re sure you want to hear about all my wallowing….”
“Only if you want to talk about it,” Jason said quietly. “But if you do, of course I want to hear about how you’re dealing with things. I like you, Tomy. You’re a wonderful man who’s gone through a lot of crap you didn’t deserve.”
“Thanks.” Tomy gave him a grateful smile. “I guess the biggest improvement is that most of the anger is gone. I still get pissed off occasionally, but it’s not right there under the surface all the time like it used to be. I don’t need constant external distraction anymore, and I can be alone in my own head without hopping on a hamster wheel of ‘what did I do wrong?’.” He paused, then added softly, “I’m still second-guessing myself, though. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to fall in love with him.”
Jason shook his head. Tomy was definitely beating up on the wrong person. “No. You weren’t the stupid one — he was. He had the love of a gorgeous, talented, special man, and he threw it away. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Tomy.”
Tomy swallowed hard, and this time, his smile was a little watery. “Thanks. I guess I’m worried I’ll get fooled again. Mama and Lola said I just need to listen to them next time,” he said with a shaky laugh.
Considering that Ana Lucia and Lola seemed to like him, Jason didn’t find that to be a bad idea at all. “There may be something to it,” he said, then shrugged slightly. “Objective opinion, maybe? We love with our hearts, not our eyes, so I think sometimes we do get a bit blinded to flaws other people can see.”
“That’s what my family has been saying,” Tomy admitted wryly. “I guess I wanted to see the best in him so much that I missed all the signs that said I shouldn’t trust him.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and bowed his head. “It’s going to be hard trusting anyone else. I think I’ll be waiting for them to turn on me too or second-guessing myself constantly, reading things into every little action and wondering if it’s a sign I need to pay attention to.”
“That makes sense, unfortunately.” And it did, too, as much as Jason hated to admit it. “But I think if you find the right person, it won’t be as bad as you fear. If you decide to go out with someone who goes through lovers like popcorn, then yeah, I think there might be a good reason to pay close attention. But if you go for a man who’s the faithful sort, it might not be as hard to relax and trust your instincts.” He chuckled. “Not that I’ve ever been in love myself, unfortunately. But you’d be amazed at how much wisdom I’ve picked up from listening to women twice my age talk about men and relationships.”
“Well, they would know something about it.” Tomy looked up again and fixed Jason with a quizzical look. “Why haven’t you ever been in love? I mean, you’re hot, you’re smart, and you’re a nice guy. How has someone not grabbed you by now?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jason replied with a shrug. He could feel his cheeks growing warm, but he was pleased that Tomy thought of him that way. “I guess I just never met the right person.” Until now. “But I’m a hopeless romantic, according to my mother. I guess it’s from growing up in a very traditional family. When I do find the right person, I want it all — commitment, hearth and home and holidays by the fire. I’m even open to adopting kids and puppies and having a mad house where the relatives come over at all hours. Does that sound strange for someone my age?”
“No, but if you’ve said any of that to my mother, it’s no wonder she likes you. In fact, I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to adopt you yet,” Tomy said dryly. “She’s been after me to settle down and adopt some grandchildren for her since I turned thirty. Like she doesn’t have four already!”
“But you’re her baby and her favorite. She just wants you to be happy.” Jason felt a hint of worry. “Is it that you don’t want to settle down, or do you not like kids?”
There was a flicker of pain in Tomy’s eyes at that. “I thought I’d have both with Sean. I was looking at a future with him. Mama always thought I could do better, but I’d picked him.”
“He told you he wanted to settle down, but he really didn’t?” Jason ached for the hurt Tomy had suffered. “I’m so sorry.”
“He kept saying he’d be ready when he reached a stable point in his career, but that point kept changing,” Tomy replied with a trace of bitterness in his voice. “I guess I should have realized how ambitious he was, but I didn’t. I’m happy here, running the studio and teaching classes, and I was glad to get out from under the pressure of competition. I thought he would be ready one day too.”
Jason nodded. “It sounds like you grew up, and he didn’t. But not every man is like him. Someday you’ll find someone who will restore your faith in yourself and in love. It’s just going to have to be the right person.” Maybe, if Tomy would take a chance, Jason could be that person. He just had to convince Tomy to let him try.
“Maybe. We’ll see,” Tomy said, the dubiousness in his expression making it clear he wasn’t ready to think along those lines yet. “Anyway, you have a dance to learn, although I have to ask why you want to learn to Tango for a polite society wedding. Even if there’s someone else there who actually knows how to do it, it would probably make your sister freak out.”
“Well….” Jason could feel his face growing hot. “It’s not entirely for the wedding. I was thinking it’s something I’d love to know how to dance. You know… if I ever meet the right person to dance it with. Ever since I saw Moulin Rouge, I’ve wanted to learn how to dance it.”
“Ah, you like the sexy intensity of it.” Tomy nodded as if the explanation made perfect sense to him. “I won’t lie. The Tango has served as foreplay more than once for me.”
“Really?” Jason swallowed hard, finding it difficult to breathe. It was all too easy to imagine Tomy turning the dance into a seduction, and he felt a moment of intense longing that he knew he’d better clamp down on before he did something foolish. It wasn’t time yet; if he let himself get carried away, he might wreck things before they even got started.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the more intense dances,” Tomy replied. “It’s all about total focus on your partner, and if you dance it with someone who knows what they’re doing and who you’re attracted to… it can get pretty spicy.”
“Oh.” Jason suddenly had the feeling he was going to be in big trouble if he wasn’t careful. “Well… why don’t you walk me through it? Who knows? Maybe this is the dance I’ll flub up.”
“Okay, let’s start with the hold.” Tomy moved closer, putting himself right in Jason’s personal space as he placed Jason’s hands. “Ain’t no room for Jesus in this one.”
They were standing far closer together than they had for the other two dances, and Jason could feel the warmth radiating from Tomy’s body. He suddenly felt like it was fourth down and long with only seconds left in the game, so he drew in a deep breath.
“Like this?” he asked, putting his body into the frame Tomy had taught him.
Was that a flush rising in Tomy’s cheeks? It looked like it to Jason.
“So we need a story for the dance. Sometimes you can just choreograph the steps, but with the Tango, it helps to have more,” Tomy explained. “Say you’re dancing this with your future guy. What do you want to say to him with it?”
“Oh.” Jason was caught off guard, but he gave the question serious thought. What did he want to say to Tomy? He’d just been given an open license to say whatever he wanted to his “hypothetical guy”, so he needed to make it something Tomy would remember.
“I know,” he said, suddenly sure of what it had to be. He looked into Tomy’s eyes, his voice becoming husky. “You’re the only one I want, and I will never, ever leave you.”
Tomy’s dark eyes widened as he gazed up at Jason, seeming transfixed. Finally, he blinked, seeming to snap himself out of his reverie, and cleared his throat. “So you want the emotional intensity to be more about love and commitment than seduction?”
“Yes.” Jason nodded firmly. “There will be plenty of passion, believe me. But I would never want to seduce someone I didn’t have an emotional connection to. Sex just for the sake of getting off has never appealed to me.” He smiled wryly. “And this is why my mother calls me a hopeless romantic.”
“Okay, then we’ll make your Tango a romantic one.” Tomy moved away just long enough to turn on some music, a slow and sensual piece with a strong Spanish influence. When he returned to Jason, he lifted his chin and met Jason’s gaze steadily, then he swapped their hold. “I’ll lead this time. You just try to keep up and see if you like what I do.”
“All right.” The problem wasn’t going to be liking what Tomy did. No, the problem would be liking it too much. “I’m ready.”
Jason had seen how well Tomy could lead when he’d watched the demonstrations of the Waltz and Foxtrot; he’d chalked up the fluid ease of what he’d seen to practice. No doubt Tomy had partnered most, if not all of the women who worked here plenty of times before, so they were all familiar with each other, and the women were skilled dancers in their own rights. But now he realized his assumption was only half right.
A subtle change came over Tomy as he pulled Jason close and began moving him through the opening steps of their dance, and for the first time, Jason felt the power Tomy could exert as a dancer. His lead was strong and his moves were bold as if he expected Jason to keep up — and Jason did. All the weeks of practice with other dances had given him the confidence to dance as an equal now.
Tomy guided him through a series of moves that took them all over the dance floor — slow but intricate footwork and turns, spinning Jason out and then drawing him back, never breaking eye contact no matter what their feet were doing.
Jason couldn’t have looked away even if he’d wanted to. He was caught like a fly in a web, drawn in by Tomy’s power and sensuality. The smoldering attraction he’d felt for Tomy since the moment they’d met suddenly burst into flame, and he hoped his feelings weren’t naked in his eyes for Tomy to see.
The mood between them shifted, becoming more intimate as if the rest of the world was fading away. That Jason was taller and broader than Tomy didn’t seem to matter; Tomy took control from the very first step and guided Jason through each move as if he was dancing with Lola or Luciana. He reached up and touched Jason’s face as he brought Jason in close, an intensity in his eyes that Jason had never seen before.
Now Jason understood exactly why Tomy said he’d used the dance as foreplay. If Tomy had wanted to push Jason up against a wall right then and there, Jason would have let him have anything he wanted. Hell, he was tempted to do the pushing and he wasn’t even the one leading. He let himself be swept up in the sensuality of it all, and he felt as though he could have kept dancing like this with Tomy forever.
But the music ended, and Tomy brought the dance to a close, his breathing labored. He kept his hand pressed against the small of Jason’s back, their bodies aligned as he gazed up at Jason.
“What do you think?”
“I….” Jason started to speak, then stopped himself. He could hardly say ‘I never want to dance that dance with anyone but you’ without freaking Tomy out. “Wow. Just… wow.”
Tomy chuckled as he released Jason at last and put a little distance between them. “You liked it? Not everyone does. It can be a little much for some people.”
“Liked it?” Jason was still having trouble focusing, because the blood wasn’t all getting to his brain. So he drew in a deep breath. “I loved it. Adored it. It was….” he searched for a superlative to sum up everything he’d thought, but they all seemed to fall short. “Perfect. It was perfect.”
Tomy smiled, looking quite pleased with Jason’s enthusiasm for the dance. “In that case, we’ll work out some choreography and practice until you feel like you can take the lead and dance with your man when he comes along.”
Jason nodded, and he lowered his gaze. “I’ll never dance that dance with anyone except the man I intend to be with for the rest of my life,” he said.
“Then I’ll make sure it’s special,” Tomy replied softly.
“You already have.” Jason looked up again, trying to get himself under control. He couldn’t believe how much the dance had affected him. Or maybe it was the combination of Tomy and the dance, but he felt lightheaded, his heart still pounding even though they were no longer moving. “Thank you. I hope I can carry off the intensity of the lead with a fraction of your skill.”
“Practice.” Tomy’s smile turned evil. “I’ll run your ass ragged until you get it right.”
“Well, at least I don’t have to have it perfected in time for the wedding,” Jason replied with a smile of his own. “So you’ll just have to keep working with me until I have it down to your satisfaction.”
“Believe me, I will.” Tomy shot him a challenging look. “You aren’t even sweating yet. That’s going to change.”
“Promises, promises,” Jason retorted playfully. “You forget I played football in Atlanta in August, wearing fifteen pounds of armor. Do you worst, teach. I can take it.”
“You say that now,” Tomy replied serenely as he returned to the stereo and cued up the music again.
Jason watched, thinking that dancing the Tango and trying to hide the fact that he was quickly falling head over heels in love with Tomy just might kill him. But at least he’d die a happy man.