Tap Dance (Dance Series)
Author:Judy Hornbuckle

Chapter One



"Now that was a party," Julie said getting out of the back seat of my midnight blue 2010 Charger, also known to one and all as Marianne's 'Metal Boyfriend'.

"It was all right," Sara agreed. "Not enough good music and no dancing. But the food and company were outstanding."

"Dancing or not, I liked it," I said closing the car door and beeping the locks. I went to the trunk and pulled out the empty casserole dishes and platters, handing them to Julie and Sara who were waiting on the sidewalk.

The three of us lived in Arminster Arms which used to be a mansion back in the day but had been converted into four one bedroom apartments. The owner, Caitlin, had moved out to live with her boyfriend Jake and had asked me to be the onsite manager, offering a reduction in rent as an incentive.

It took me about 30 seconds to say 'Yes'.

The three of us made our way to the building and were still chatting as we ascended the stairs.

"Uh-oh," Sara said stopping on the porch.

"What the…" I said glaring at the front door that had a huge gash over the deadbolt where someone had obviously pried the door open. A deadbolt is only as solid as the structure around it. Both the door and the frame were made of wood.

Julie reached for her back pocket and pulled out her cell to dial 911.

I pulled out my own cell and called Cait. I needed let her know about the door and that we'd called the police.

"Be sure and get the report number, Marianne so I can give it to the insurance people."

"You bet. Should I take pictures?" I was not really sure of the protocol in this situation.

"Couldn't hurt . Thanks, honey. Hold on a sec." I could hear Jake in the background but couldn't quite catch his words.

"Jake said we'll be down in about 15 minutes, but to take as many pictures as possible but do not go inside. Says to wait for the police. 'Kay?" Caitlin relayed.

"Understood. We'll see you in a few," I ended my call and looked to Julie. "Police on their way? Jake and Cait are coming and said we shouldn't go inside until the police get here."

"Yeah, Lester is on dispatch tonight and said he'd send a black and white out straight away." Julie Bell's brother was a detective for the Grantham police and she was on a first name basis with most of the personnel there.

I put down my stack of dishes and bowls and moved so that I could capture pictures of both the door and the doorjamb with my cellphone. I wondered how clear the pictures would turn out since my hands were shaking so hard.

Sara and Julie were huddled together outlined by the light coming from the old fashioned chandelier in the hallway.

"What happened to the outside light?" Sara asked looking up.

It was true.

Our bright outside light wasn't shining and I knew for a fact that it was on a timer, just like the hallway light. Caitlin had showed it to me since I would be resetting it as needed throughout the seasons. Part of my duties as manager.

I turned on the flashlight on my cell and looked around the porch. Sure enough, there were fragments of the glass cover as well as the light bulb scattered all over the porch which I must have missed in the discovery of the broken in door. I looked up to tell the girls to watch their step and noticed they were both shivering either from the cold or if they were, like me, reacting to the broken door.

"Who's car is closest?" I asked.

While we all love living in such a beautiful house close to downtown and the university, not having on-site parking could be a pain. Usually one of us got stuck having to park a block or so away. I knew that it was something Caitlin planned on having done but it wouldn't be until, at least, spring.

"I think I am," Sara said looking at Julie while adjusting her knitted cap over her waist length dark brown hair. She was quite a contrast standing next to the white blonde Julie . "Let's go wait somewhere warm." Julie nodded and asked if I was coming.

"Not cold, think I'm gonna wait here," I replied looking again at the broken door. I scrolled through the pictures on my phone and I expanded them to look at them in better detail, which gave me something to do. Something besides worry.

I was still pouring over them when the black and white double parked, turning on their rotating red lights. Right behind them I saw a shiny, black, newer model pick up pull in and park right off the back bumper of the police car.

"Hey, Chief," the officers greeted their boss as they made their way up the sidewalk. Julie and Sara came to join the group that was beginning to assemble on the porch.

I only had eyes for Ram Patel, our gorgeous Chief of Police, though.

I heard steps jogging toward us and saw it was Cait and Jake moving quickly towards the group of us, their breath puffing into the cold dark air of the winter's night like speech bubbles in cartoons.

But anyone seeing them together wouldn't find anything funny.

They both were tall, gorgeous and so totally into each other but not in that icky, sweet way that makes everyone around them want to gag.

They were into each other in the 'oh, that's what I want, that's exactly what I want for me' kind of way.

Jake greeted Ram and Caitlin moved to me.

"So what's going on?" She asked looking at the police officers that were looking at the splintered door jamb and the matching fractures on the heavy door.

"Dunno," I replied. "They just got here right before you. It was like this when Sara, Julie and I got home after your party."

I saw Cait move her eyes around the group of us filling the porch; officers Matthews and Reid using their flashlights as they discussed the door before moving inside, Ram and Jake standing right behind them listening but not adding to the officer's conversation, Sara and Julie were standing on the far side of them with Cait and I standing to the other side.

I saw Sara's glance hit and catch on Cait's hand entwined with Jake's. She flinched before she deliberately looked out across the street.

'Wonder what that's about,' I thought, and tucked it away to think about later.

Cait's hand tightened on mine as Officer Matthews pushed the front door fully open and stepped in, his hand on the butt of his gun. Officer Reid was right behind him.

Chief Patel came over to stand next to me before leaning down to my ear.

I wasn't technically that short, at least not by a lot of the actuarial tables I'd studied as a teenager. I found I wasn't going to grow any more than the five foot, three inches, a height I'd achieved by my freshman year. But I was a good foot or more shorter than Ram's height.

We were opposites in a lot of ways. He was tall and I wasn't. He had shiny, thick, black hair that just called for your fingers to run through where I had a jumble of variegated blonde, hard to tame, curls that brushed my shoulders. Ram's eyes were a rich brown, the kind a chocolate lover like me could get lost in whereas my eyes were regular, old, everyday blue.

"We're waiting out here, MG while they do a quick scan inside," I heard him say against my hair before I raised my eyes to his.

"MG?" I asked.

He stared into my eyes in the soft light coming through the opened front door. "Your initials, right?" he murmured. "When we talked that morning?"

I knew exactly the morning he was talking about.

Jake and Caitlin were supposed to meet him so he could get into Apartment Three. But Caitlin had spent the night at Jake's and hadn't yet showed so I offered Ram to wait in my apartment and have coffee.

While it was only a short wait, maybe less than a half an hour, I kind of fell into 'like' with the tall, dark and handsome police chief.

Okay so it was more than just that I 'liked' him.

It kind of bordered on a full scale crush.

"Yeah, I remember," I said not even trying to hide my smile at the fact that he remembered that morning.

Everyone on the porch turned towards the officers as they came back out onto the porch.

"Everything seems to be okay for apartments One, Three and Four," Officer Reid said. "And occupants for those apartments can go on in." Sara and Julie moved to go into the building, but hugged both Marianne and Caitlin as they moved forward.

I watched as Sara deliberately turned her head away when she passed by Jake while Julie patted his arm when she went by.

'Stranger and stranger,' I thought before turning my attention back to the officers who were now standing in front of me and Cait.

"Seems that there was a break in only in Apartment Two," Officer Matthews started looking from me to Cait before finally settling on Ram. While his eyes were on the policeman, I felt Ram's arm slip around my shoulders and pull me close to his side. "Whoever broke in seemed to be looking for something and there is extensive damage to, ah, to the premises."

I felt Caitlin's hand squeeze mine more tightly as Ram pulled me even closer to his side as the officer spoke.

"We're going to want to get a detective involved in this, Chief," Officer Reid chimed in.

Ram nodded. "Give Ms. Tomas the report number when you're done. I'll call later," Ram looked at his watch, "this morning and see about getting the case assigned. How bad is it?"

The officers looked at each other and then glanced in tandem to me before looking at their Chief.

"Uh, she's not going to be able to stay there until the door and lock on the apartment are repaired," Officer Matthews said quietly, his eyes on his Chief. "It's, uhm, pretty bad."

"What does that mean?" I asked to the group at large.

I raised my eyes to Ram's.

"What does that mean?" I asked softly.

I watched as he moved his eyes first to Matthews and then to Reid before looking back down at me.

I again felt his arm tighten around me.

"It means you're not going to be able to stay in your apartment tonight, MG," he said softly, gently as if trying to cushion the blow his words would cause.

"I can't go in to my apartment or I can't stay in my apartment?" I need clarification on the question, not that there was really much difference between the two other than I would not be able to grab some of my everyday things if I wasn't allowed to go in.

"Let me get a read on it and I'll let you know, all right?" Ram said before releasing me to go inside. I watched as he nodded to Jake and Jake followed him and the officers into the apartment building.

"You're always welcome to stay with us," Caitlin began. I felt one of her rings cutting into my hand as she squeezed.

"What the heck? You never wear rings." I held her left hand up to the light and saw it was now encircled with a huge, chocolate diamond solitaire. "What…I mean, when…Oh my God, Caitlin?"

"Jake gave it to me tonight after the party," she said holding her hand out flat in front of us.

"So you're getting married?" I was trying so hard not to squeal but my voice was starting to get louder and shriller the more I tried to rein it in.

"Yeah, someday. But we haven't made it that far yet. He asked if I would and I said yes but that's about as far as we've gotten." I watched her face grow soft in the glow of the inside light as she continued to stare at the rock on her finger.

I grabbed her in a hug, the happiest kind of hug where you both end up swaying back in forth .

I was so happy for her and Jake.

It's nice to see the good guys win for once.

And after what they went through over the last couple of months, I couldn't think of anyone more deserving of happiness than the two of them.

We were just untangling when the fellas appeared back on the porch.

"MG, sorry to say you can't go in there until the detectives have done their work," Ram said with real regret in his eyes.

"I told her she could stay with us," Caitlin said to Jake. He immediately nodded and growled out, "Absolutely."

Jake is this really gorgeous, really deep voiced, tall drink of water who was so totally male, he kind of scared me.

But I loved how he was with Caitlin.

It seemed like all his rough edges smoothed out when he was with her.

I didn't want to stay with them the night they became engaged and was even sorry that they had to be here at all on the night of such a special event.

I thought quickly.

"I'll just stay with my Aunt Estella," I said, wondering how I was going to call her at this hour and not upset her. She was always strung about three wires too tight and a call in the middle of the night was sure to wind her up even tighter.

"Gonna take my girl home," Jake began, "then I'll be back to see about securing the apartment, yeah?"

"I'll stay until Jake gets it taken care of," Officer Matthews offered.

I got a hug from Caitlin and a pat on the back from Jake as they moved down the steps. Ram called a soft goodnight to them as they left before he turned back to me.

"Is Estella Gibson your aunt?" Ram asked.

I nodded.

"Is she going to have trouble with you showing up in the middle of the night unannounced?"

"Yeah, probably." I dropped my eyes from his and felt my teeth catch my lower lip, a habit I'd been trying to break myself of since I was young but always seemed to do it when I was troubled, in spite of my best resolutions.

"Stay with me," Ram said softly. "I've got a huge place. You can bunk in one of the extra bedrooms then go to your aunt's tomorrow."

I was thinking it over. It really was a perfect solution for just the next few hours, just until I could get to my Aunt's.

"I really appreciate it, Ram," I said, accepting his offer.

"Where'd you park?"

"About a half a block down," I said pointing the way.

"Why don't you go get your car and you can follow me? I'll just wrap it up with the boys here and then we'll head on out."

Then he stopped and thought before saying, "Scratch that, here's my keys. Go get in my truck and we'll go just as soon as I talk with my boys, okay?"

I took a couple of steps and turned back. "Ram?"

"Yeah?"

"My cat? Did any of you see my cat?"

"I didn't but I'll let Matthews and Reid know."

I covered my mouth as a yawn started but I nodded to show my understanding. He pointed his remote at the truck. I heard it start up and then he beeped the locks before handing me the keys.