Dance With Me
was to be pleasing but not outlandish. The prince was mostly there to prop up the ballerina and then to do a bit of skip and jump to make the boys shuffling through their bit parts want to try a little harder. Oliver hadn't been kidding when he'd said Laurie could do it in his sleep.
    And yet as the weeks of the performance drew closer, Laurie's unease grew and grew, until by the first week in November it had begun to approach out-and-out panic. He honestly feared what it would be like by the time he got to December.
    “It's nothing but a mountain in your mind,” Oliver told Laurie backstage after a rehearsal. “The best way to dispel it is to plow through and realize there's nothing in your way but yourself.” With a grace and ease of movement that belied his white hair, Oliver sat down on the floor opposite Laurie's seat on a prop box. “You're doing fine in the rehearsals themselves. And you dance as beautifully as ever, Laurie. Where is all this coming from? Surely all this isn't for that idiot Paul.”
    Laurie rubbed at his arms, staring down at the floor. “I just don't want to perform anymore.” He gave a cutting glance to Oliver. “This is the part where you tell me what a waste of talent my retirement is, or how I'm being silly, or that I'm letting one bad moment ruin the rest of my life.”
    Oliver's eyebrows lifted briefly. His head tilted slightly to the side as he studied Laurie. “Did you ever enjoy it, Laurie?”
    Laurie frowned. “What do you mean?”
    “Just what I said. Did you ever enjoy it? Performing? I know you don't want to perform now. But did you ever want to?”
    Laurie had no idea how to respond to this. “You think I went through all that for years because I didn't like it?”
    “Honestly? Sometimes I wondered. Sometimes I worried you'd gotten caught up in your mother's ambition and your burning need to turn your father's head. I worried the limelights had gotten too bright for your eyes, and I waited for you to burn up. And then I would see you perform again, and I'd think, no. No, dancing is what this man's soul wants to do.” Oliver leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “What happened to that fire, Laurie? Was I only imagining it? Or did it truly go out?”
    It took biting his tongue to keep from asking what Oliver meant by “ burning need to turn his father's head ,” so Laurie said nothing.
    Oliver sighed. “It's not my desire to force you into anything. If you need to back out—”
    “No.” Laurie straightened. “Good God, Oliver. Do I look that ridiculous?” But the look on Oliver's face was answer enough. Laurie pursed his lips and looked away. “I'll be fine. It won't be the performance it should be, but it's fifteen minutes of dancing, and despite what you and my mother say, they truly aren't going to come see me. Just a few vultures, and they'll be motivation enough to keep myself together.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Now, if you ask me to dance ballroom, it might be a different story. But as far as I know, they haven't squeezed a cha-cha in somewhere.”
    “I heard a rumor you've been dancing ballroom after hours,” Oliver said drily. “With a man.”
    Laurie kept his gaze carefully averted. “And where did you hear this?”
    “Maggie told me in hopes I could possibly get you to stop.” When Laurie looked up sharply, Oliver chuckled. “Why do you look so surprised?”
    “Because it's none of her business!” Laurie's cheeks burned, partly in anger, partly in embarrassment. “I don't know what's worse, that she told you or that she thought you could stop me! Why would she even want to?”
    “She thinks you're her pet. Of course she's upset. Apparently this man is handsome too. She fears he'll whisk you away.”
    The amusement in Oliver's tone didn't help Laurie's temper. “It's just dancing, for heaven's sake.” He smoothed imaginary lint from his trousers. “For whatever reason, dancing with Ed centers me instead of upsetting

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