A dance teacher's new student turns out to be the daughter of her former sweetheart. She finds herself falling for the charming Irishman all over again, but will he want her after she reveals the secret she's kept from him all this time? Before she finds the answer, just like years before, she's faced with intrigue and danger.
“You could be kidnapped!” Judy, the teaching assistant, spoke in a hushed tone to create atmosphere for her young students, who sat on the studio’s wood floor, their eyes wide. “It’s the late eighteenth century. You are all highly esteemed Dance Masters of your own districts in Ireland, where the competition is fierce. So fierce, in fact, that you are in constant danger of being spirited away by a neighboring parish. You don’t know what or who is lurking in the shadows cast by the fire. Of course, wherever you dance, you can expect to be paid handsomely for your skill and stamina.”
“It would be a high honor indeed to dance with your rivals until they dropped from exhaustion. If you win the local competition, thereby ‘taking the cake,’ your prize will most likely be a home made cake.” Judy finished her tale and turned on her CD player as the girls formed a line.
“That’s not the way they did it in Ireland. ‘Tis just a myth.” Caitlin O’Fallon whispered the words to Kiana as she tossed her chewing gum in a nearby basket, then took her place as Judy started the class.
The jaded words echoed in Kiana’s mind, thundering as loud as the footfalls on her makeshift practice stage. Staring at her class of step dancers, their lithe forms reflected by mirrored walls on three sides, she smiled, confident in their abilities. She felt the magic, even if they were in Baltimore instead of
Despite Caitlin’s disbelief, Kiana Bailey had no doubt of her troupe’s readiness for the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, celebrated every September in Galway, Ireland. The girls, at least this select set of eight, could compete with any colleen born abroad. She knew, she’d been there. A lifetime ago.
A bittersweet smile stole across her face. Kiana saw it in the mirrors as she felt it tug on her lips, but forced her attention back to the clicking feet. These girls depended on her to train them, to help them get ready to compete alongside dancers from all over the world. The famous Oyster Fest gave them not only the chance to perform for an audience of thousands, but to compete at the end of the week with international dancers. Caitlin, her newest student, had just moved to Maryland with her father, and already the girl fit right in with the top dancers. Unfortunately, Caitlin had her own ideas about step dance tradition.
Not that Kiana thought Caitlin was actually disruptive, but the girl had been raised in Ireland and moved to New York the year before, then here to Canton when her father relocated. Kiana usually made it a point to meet every parent as children were registered, but Judy had been covering the school the day Caitlin’s father brought her in. And so Kiana had no clue as to the girl’s home life, just the notion that Caitlin had needed to prove herself in a variety of places over the years, like an army brat, and was now possibly dealing with the separation of her parents.
Kiana looked from Caitlin at one end of the stage to her own daughter, Kelly, at the other. With similar coloring and build they were perfect bookends to the line up. Even in shorts and tee shirts, they both had an air about them that said “I’m a pro.” Arms by their slim sides, their feet flew, hard shoes striking the wood platform. Kiana nodded as they danced, her pulse quick with the rhythm, breathing in deeply the smell of baby sweat and leather shoes. The jig drew to an end and the girls slapped their feet on a final, deafening note, leaving the stage shivering in their wake.
She clapped. “Okay, ladies, that’s it for today. Rest up tomorrow and be here after school Monday.”
A chorus of good-natured groans rose as the girls bent to remove their shoes.
“Oh, Mom, do we really have to practice again that soon?” Kelly did her best eleven-year-old whine, accented by her puppy-dog eyes.
Only Caitlin remained silent. Stoic.
Kiana sighed, stretching her arms over her head. “Well, Friday is parent’s night, and your parents will be watching. Soon you might be hitting them up for a trip to Galway, because Saturday Miss Judy and I pick the team for Clarenridge. Only eight girls out of all the older students will make the travel team. So, it’s okay with me if you don’t want to rehearse.”
Kelly mimicked her mother’s sigh and flashed a sheepish grin. “We’ll be here.”
Kiana’s heart swelled with pride and she wished for a moment Kelly was still young enough not to mind being hugged in public. She moved to her corner desk and tapped a stack of pink papers. “Don’t forget, I need your permission slips, if you haven’t brought them in already. No one gets to audition without one!”
“I have mi’ own, Miss Kiana.” Caitlin called from the waiting area, where she sat on the carpet digging through a black tote bag. Three girls lined up behind Caitlin and turned in their slips, handing them to Kiana before leaving the basement studio.
Kiana smiled and glanced down at the signatures on the pink paper. Nancy Brooks, Martha A. Carton and Michael E. O’Farrell.
She looked again.
Michael E. O’Farrell. Caitlin’s slip was signed by a man with the same name as her Michael--her first love, her mysterious Irish hero from that trip so long ago. It couldn’t possibly be the same man, could it? It was a common enough name. Her mouth went dry, and Kiana turned to watch as Caitlin waved and slipped out the door. Her dark hair did look like Michael’s, with that wave of ebony curls, and her eyes were similar to his. Judy wouldn’t have recognized Michael’s name when she registered Caitlin as a student, as her assistant knew nothing about Kiana’s past.
“Going upstairs, Mom,” Kelly called, dashing up the carpeted steps to their home.
Kiana sat on the bottom step of the quiet studio, alone with her reflection. She hummed a little of the Irish music they’d played during class, but stopped abruptly as a thought struck her.
If Caitlin’s father was her Michael, that meant Caitlin and Kelly were sisters.