Emerald Green 13

The tiger’s face cocked to one side.  Without a word, he stood up straight and stalked towards her just like a jungle cat.  He held out a hand, waiting for her to take it.  Dido looked around for an escape route and saw quite a few pairs of eyes were watching her.  If she left now, those same eyes would wonder why.  Safer just to go along.

Her shoulders heaved as she took a deep breath.  If she was going to do this, she wasn’t going to go halfway.  Her hands twisted into her skirts, swishing them side to side as she approached.  Her hand struck like a snake.  It froze a few inches from his and Dido waited for the feline stranger to go the rest of the distance and take her hand.

She was wondering whether her approach had been too forward when her partner exploded into motion.  Strong fingers wrapped around hers and his arm pulled her close.  His other hand settled on her waist and he started to spin her around.

Once again, she didn’t know the steps, but her partner guided her through the dance.  Forced might be a better word.  Their heels clicked on the polished stone floor faster and faster.  It took all Dido’s agility to keep up and her breathing quickened with the tempo.  The band had taken notice of the dancers and were playing it up for the crowd.

Dido kept a smile on her face, but inside she was scowling.  Now everyone in the ballroom was staring at her.  She even saw Officer Scipio watching.  He didn’t seem happy.  Maybe she was interfering with his investigating.  She almost missed a step when it occurred to her that Scipio might suspect her, but her partner covered by throwing her out in a spin.

The crowd blurred into a smear of color and light.  The image froze for a second and then her dancing tiger pulled her back with another spin.  The ballroom kept moving after she stopped and thankfully her partner let her lean against his chest.  The dance was over and Dido was breathing like she’d been sprinting the other time.  Judging by how her partner’s chest rose and fell, making her sway side to side, he was just as winded.

Applause rang across the high ceiling.  The upper crust of Thage was clapping more than was polite, but they couldn’t help themselves.  Dido kept her smile going, though despair crept around the edges.  Men were watching her like hawks.  Hopefully they just wanted to ask her to dance, but it was doubtful.  More than a few women were giving her dirty looks.

To get away from all the stares and glares, if only for a moment, Dido turned to look up at her partner.  Underneath his mask, he gave her a small half smile.  His eyes reminded her of a cat’s because they flashed so bright in the glow of the gas lamps.  A bright hazel.  Then she knew.

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