Merit Hartwick and Cole Dellany have worked to build a relationship in the months since Cole’s apology for bullying Merit in high school led to love. But Cole is having a hard time adjusting to city life after the small town in which he and Merit grew up, and Merit’s responsibilities to his ballet troupe and the classes he teaches are taking time away from Cole. After an argument the two agree to see other people, but will their relationship survive?
With My Heart
There’s a country music song called “Dancing Away With My Heart” which caught my attention a year and a half ago or so. The song is a reminiscence about dancing with someone at a high school prom and wondering where that person is today.
That song gave rise to a story, as songs often do for me. I wanted to write a male/male romance, a sequel to a male/female romance I’d written about a year earlier called You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This (which is also based on a country song), and “Dancing Away With My Heart” fit what I wanted to do. What would happen if the dance at the prom was part of a prank perpetrated by bullies? And what if one of those bullies tracked down the person on the receiving end of the prank to apologize?
That story, Dancing Away, was released in August 2012, and sold enough copies to go into print. But since it was only a novella, it couldn’t go into print by itself, so my publisher, editor, and I discussed my writing a sequel. And that sequel, With My Heart, releases tomorrow!
At lunchtime, he gave in and called Merit, hoping Merit would answer this time. He did so within seconds and sounded happy when he said, “Hi, Cole. How was your night last night?”
For a moment, Cole considered not telling Merit about Derek. But he couldn’t stand being dishonest. “It was okay. Went out for drinks with a guy from work.”
“Just drinks?” Merit sounded guarded.
Cole opened his truck door and got into the vehicle, giving himself a semblance of privacy for the conversation. “Yeah, just drinks. I didn’t want anything more. You and I are still together, aren’t we?”
“Of course we are.” Merit hesitated slightly as he spoke, unless Cole was imagining it. He hoped he was. Hesitation might have meant only that Merit wasn’t in a place where he could talk much, or it might mean something Cole didn’t want to think about.
Something along the lines of Merit hooking up with another guy the night before.
“What did you do after rehearsal last night?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
“I went out with a few others.” Merit hesitated. “Look, we’re seeing other people, right?”
“Just tell me.” Cole couldn’t help snapping. He didn’t want to be angry with Merit, but he refused to sit there and let Merit get away with not being completely honest. “You were with someone else last night.”
“Yeah.” Merit exhaled loudly. “Yeah. I kind of figured you were. I mean, I tried calling you and you didn’t answer.”
“I didn’t get a call from you.” Cole felt as if his heart was coated with ice. Merit had fucked someone else. After all the promises they’d made to each other and all the time they’d spent building their relationship, it had taken nothing for Merit to say “Let’s see other people” and then do exactly that.
He should have hung up right then, but some perverse part of his brain wanted to know what had happened. “I checked my phone all night, and I tried calling and texting you. You were the one who didn’t answer.”
“I know.” Merit paused. “I wasn’t in a position where I could answer the phone.”
“Yeah, I can imagine what position you were in,” Cole snarled. If Merit hadn’t phrased it that way, Cole might have been able to keep his temper. But now he didn’t see the point in bothering. Merit had had some other guy’s dick up his ass and he wasn’t even trying to soothe Cole’s feelings. Cole didn’t need the shit. “Fuck you, Merit. I figured at least you might wait a little while before you acted on the seeing other people bullshit, but you went out the same fucking day. Good for you. Hope he’s good in bed.”
Cole held the phone away from his ear, thumb poised to disconnect the call, but the pain in that one syllable from Merit stopped him. He wasn’t about to stop being angry, but he couldn’t hang up. “What?”
“I’m sorry.” Merit sighed. “I know. Lame. And I didn’t do anything I should need to apologize for, since we agreed to see other people. You’re angry and hurt, though, and that’s what I’m sorry for. I never meant to upset you.”
“You should have thought of that before you fucked someone else.” Cole paused as a realization sank in. He had been right to be worried about the way some of the dancers looked at Merit. “It was someone from the troupe, wasn’t it? You always say you never had time to really meet anyone else because you’re so busy.”
“Besides which, I just said I went out with some of the other dancers after rehearsal,” Merit pointed out. “So yes, it was someone from the troupe.”
“Don’t tell me who.” He had no idea whether Merit had been about to do so, and he didn’t want to take the chance. He spent enough time with Merit’s fellow dancers that he refused to risk the visual should he encounter Merit’s fuck-buddy.
“I wasn’t going to,” Merit said. “Cole, I won’t tell you not to be angry. You feel how you feel, and I’d probably feel the same way if I were you. But I didn’t do this to upset you.”
“I know. It’s just a side effect.” Cole rolled his eyes. He couldn’t think of anything even remotely nice to say at the moment, so he didn’t try for long. “You did what you did, and as you said, you weren’t betraying me or anything because you decided we should see other people.”
“You agreed.” Merit’s voice was hollow.
“What else could I do?” Cole bit his lip, unwilling to let fly with the words that came to mind. Some things would be even less forgivable than Merit’s not-really-cheating. “I can’t talk about this right now, Merit. I don’t want to think about it, and I have to eat lunch and get back to work.”
“Can we see each other tonight?”
This time, Cole couldn’t help a snarky retort. “You don’t have a party or something?”
“I don’t have anything to do except try to fix what I’ve obviously broken with you.”