It takes two to tango, but Rose Vasquez hasn't felt like dancing since her husband died. For her little girl's sake, she's determined to make a new life in warm, friendly Hot Pepper, Louisiana. But something strange and wonderful is happening in the dance studio she just bought, where her latest student is--literally!--sweeping her off her feet.
Being groomed to someday take over his family's banking business is one thing, but performing the tango at this year's Miss Hot Pepper Pageant could be Dalton Montgomery's greatest challenge. Especially when his alluring teacher and her irresistible daughter show him what's been missing in his bachelor world. Now he'd like to return the favor by filling Rose's dance card and becoming her partner--for keeps.
But is Rose ready to let another man into her life? Dalton hopes so, because he's not willing to sit this one out!
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August 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Dancing With Dalton by Laura Marie Altom
"Next on the agenda," Alice Craigmoore said in her raspy, Southern drawl, "is this year's Miss Hot Pepper pageant. Mona, as our reigning pageant chair, do you have a report?"
Dalton Montgomery took this as his cue to commence with a nap.
The private back room of Duffy's Barbecue was famous for not only its fishing-themed decor, but also its oak and leather chairs roomy enough to allow a guy to enjoy a man-size meal without feeling sliced in half. In other words, it was easy to tune out of the bimonthly meeting's most mind-numbing portions.
As president-elect of Hot Pepper, Louisiana's chamber of commerce, Dalton had no problem tackling ordinary business matters. But whenever his fellow members started in with one of their half-dozen festivals they'd planned, or God forbid this pageant, he felt completely out of his league. But then these days, was there anywhere he did feel comfortable and in control?
As the only son of the president of the First National Bank of Hot Pepper, Dalton had been expected since birth to one day step into his father's shoes. The one time he'd deviated from the plan, he'd failed miserably both personally and professionally, leading him to believe maybe fate was smarter than he was.
Fifteen years later, here he was, resigned to living the rest of his days in a twelve-by-twelve office with an alley view.
Rubbing his forehead, he stifled a groan.
He wasn't usually so cranky about his lot in life. He had a large group of family and friends. A great house. Pool. Shiny new red Escalade. In the grand scheme of things, he didn't have much to complain about.
So why was it that when he'd shaved this morning, the guy gazing back at him in the mirror had looked damn near dead?
"Dalton?" Mona asked. "Haven't you heard a word of what I've just said?"
"Huh?" He glanced up.
All ten chamber of commerce members present stared his way.
"The outgoing Miss Hot Pepper. It's your responsibility to tango with her during the lag time when the judges tally their scores."
Nope. Not going to happen. "I thought it was the president's responsibility to do the whole cheesy dance thing?"
"Cheesy?" Alice and Mona said in equally outraged tones. "I'll have you know," Mona said, "that the end-ofpageant dance is a tradition that's been alive longer than you."
"And as incoming president," Alice piped in, "seeing how you're a man, you'll have to perform. After all, you wouldn't want to see me up there dancing with the beauty queen, would you?"
Hell, no. But that didn't mean he wanted to do it, either. "Why does it have to be me? There are twenty other guys I'm sure would be thrilled for the opportunity. For that matter, doesn't the outgoing Miss Hot Pepper have a boyfriend? Why can't you use him?"
"It's not that bad," Frank Loveaux said, loosening his brown striped tie. The man had a triple chin, so Dalton could see where the business noose would hinder his breathing. "I did it three years ago and had a ball. That was back when Mindy Sue Jacobs was Miss Hot Pepper." He whistled, then grinned. "That little lady was a pistol. To this day, I still dream about the kiss she gave me at the end of our dance."
"That's all well and good," Dalton said, "but everyone knows I can't dance. Just ask my prom date--over a decade later, and she's still crippled from my stepping on her toes."
"My daughter's toes work just fine," Catherine Bennett--mother of his prom date, Josie--said. "Why are you being so obstinate? If it weren't for your arguing, we could've been three more items down the agenda."
Ouch. He and Josie hadn't lasted much beyond prom.
Her eagle-eyed, blunt-talking mother had been a huge part of the problem. That, and the fact that Josie had been pretty and sweet and all, but she hadn't lit any fires in his belly. His mama had always told him that if a girl didn't keep him awake at night, craving their next kiss, it was time to move on.
Well, here he was, thirty-five years old, and aside from his ex, Carly, sleeping like a rock. Not that he lacked for female companionship. Just that to date, no woman except Carly had come anywhere near making him feel alive. Complete. But she had changed all that by slashing his heart in a zillion pieces. Now he vastly preferred the single life. He might occasionally be lonely, but the alternative of being emotionally annihilated sucked.