El tango no está en los pies. Está en el corazón.
Dim blue light saturated the club.
Caroline paused a few steps inside, her nose wrinkling at the fog of cigarette smoke mingling with the smells of mildew, spilled alcohol, and viciously competing perfumes. The place was… well, ‘industrial chic' would be a charitable description, she thought, glancing at the brick walls, the exposed pipes, the concrete floor. No music, either; not a band or a DJ or even a jukebox, just the clink of ice in glasses, and hushed murmuring from the dozens of people crammed together at tables crowded around an empty dance floor.
She tried to inhale past the knot in her throat, but the claustrophobic atmosphere allowed very little air. Checking the address on the card in her hand for the fifth time that evening, her heart sank when she came to the reluctant conclusion no mistake had been made. Disappointment settled like a stone in her stomach. So much for a special night out!
After a last dismayed glance around the room, Caroline made her way back towards the door, only to halt when a bright white light flickered on behind her.
Curiosity made her turn to see a spotlight focused on the dance floor. A pony-tailed waitress walked over from the bar area. “Please take a seat, ma'am,” she said, snapping her chewing gum, “and I'll bring your complimentary cocktail.”
Ma'am? “No, I wasn't going to stay,” Caroline replied, too late to prevent the waitress from taking her hand and leading her into the maze of closely packed tables. Negotiating the narrow spaces between the occupied chairs without banging someone's head with her breasts, hips, ass or elbow proved impossible. Each step she took left a trail of exclamations, curses and catcalls in her wake. By the time the waitress squeezed her into a chair near the edge of the dance floor, Caroline felt fat, frumpy and foolish.
Her neighbor on the right, a woman with a buzz-cut and a fringe of short bristly hairs sprouting along her jaw line, grinned and pressed her thigh under the table. Caroline shrank away from the meaty grasp as much as possible, almost into the lap of her left-hand neighbor, a scrawny androgynous creature who sneered, muttered something in French that sounded nasty, and shoved her back into her own chair.
Uncomfortable, wishing she had stayed home, Caroline barely touched her lips to the cocktail plunked in front of her by the waitress. What the hell was she doing here? Why had Laura insisted she come? This was not the sort of place they usually visited. The other people in the club—no, the other lesbians, she corrected herself, averting her eyes from the spectacle just a foot away, two women in Marilyn Monroe wigs devouring each other's mouths as if they were alone—seemed young enough to be her daughters.
Every one of her forty-eight years came crashing in on her, a taste of depression like ashes on her tongue. Picking up the cocktail, she drained the glass in a single swallow, gagging on the artificial taste of sour apples and toffee dissolved in vodka. The stuff clung to her teeth, far too sweet. Shuddering, she set the empty glass on the table.
Caroline jumped a little, startled when music suddenly came pouring from hidden speakers, the familiar sultry ric-tic-tic of a tango beat on piano, bandoneón , guitar, double bass and violins. At least, the music should have been familiar—months ago, she had taken Latin dance classes with her partner—but this particular piece had a raw, sensual edge to it she had never heard in the instructor's sanitized studio.
She shifted in her seat, expecting couples to form for dancing, but no one moved. Instead, she sensed expectation in the slight tensing of the bodies around her, a collective breath held as everyone waited for something to happen. At last, a person stepped into the spotlight, a woman in a dark grey suit tailored to fit her body, slightly thick in the waist and hips but still good. The man's white Oxford shirt worn under the jacket was unbuttoned to reveal the curving shelf of the woman's collarbone. Her coarse black hair, frosted with silver at the temples, spilled over her shoulders in loose curls. A piece of lace covered her face from brow to nose like a mask, leaving only the lipsticked mouth exposed.
Picking her way among the tables, the woman ignored the cries of “choose me!” and “hey, baby, over here!” from the audience members until she stood in front of Caroline. “Come and dance,” she said in accented English.
“What?” Caroline blurted in disbelief, shrinking in on herself. “Me?”
“Yes.” The woman held out a hand in clear invitation.
Mortified, Caroline mumbled an excuse, feeling the weight of every eye in the club. Struggling to her feet, she managed three steps before the woman's strong fingers closed over her wrist. Caroline let out an outraged squawk. “Hey!!”
The woman did not answer. She began pulling her towards the dance floor, heedless of the people who had to hitch their chairs to make room or risk being bowled over. Realizing she would make herself look even more ridiculous by resisting, Caroline teetered along on her high heels, her face aflame, mouthing apologies.
When they reached the dance floor, Caroline heaved in a breath, her guts cramping with embarrassment. “Why are you doing this?” she asked, conscious of the watching audience, the potential for further humiliation. “Let me go home. I don't want—”
“Dance with me, querida ,” the woman interrupted, each word fluttering the scalloped edge of the lace mask. Taking Caroline's hand in a much gentler grip, she raised it until she could place an open-mouthed kiss on the knuckles.
Caroline shuddered at the intimacy of the caress. “Sorry, I can't do this,” she said, forcing out a shaky laugh that sounded false.
“One dance, a tango, that's all.” Without warning, the woman yanked Caroline closer so that their bodies were pressed together breast to breast.
“I can't.” Despite the half-hearted protest, Caroline's nipples tightened, her inner muscles clenching in immediate attraction. This close, the woman's skin was the color of nutmeg touched with gold, and she smelled like castile soap, clean medicinal vodka, and a hint of tobacco bitterness. The scent sharpened Caroline's longing. She sensed the woman's gaze on her, hidden behind lace and shadow. Something deep inside her gave a hopeful flutter, the merest butterfly's wing of an impulse that neither encroaching middle age nor an acute awareness of her plumpness could stifle.
“You can, querida .” The woman dipped her head to speak directly into Caroline's ear. “Mmm, look at you in that black dress, so juicy, all curves like ripe peaches… I could eat you up, take a bite out of that ass.” Somehow, she managed to deepen their embrace, until Caroline could have sworn she felt the woman's heartbeat in her own flesh.
“I-I-I'm with someone,” Caroline stammered.
“Tonight, you're with me.” A smile touched the lipsticked mouth.
Caroline realized while they were standing there, breathing each other's breaths, the first song ended in a swoop of violins and a crashing piano chord, and a second song began: a shivering vibrato, slow and deliberate, followed by a singer's smoky velvet voice crooning about sadness, starlight and lust. Involuntarily, she responded to the music, the smallest movement of her hips that the woman took as assent, pushing her into the dance.
The first steps were awkward. Concentrating too hard on not making a mistake, Caroline almost stepped on the woman's toes several times. Stupid clumsy cow! she berated herself, but the wet flick of a tongue on her ear made her jerk.
“Listen with your body to the music,” the woman said, leading Caroline to the right, backwards, and to the side in the opening steps of a baldoso . “Stop being afraid and just let go, querida . I won't let you fall.”
“I can't,” she replied through a throat gone tight with apprehension. Glancing over her shoulder at the sea of blue-tinted faces in the audience, she shivered, frozen in place.
The woman's urgent tone broke the spell. “Look at me, only at me!”
Slowly, her teeth chattering, Caroline turned her head, focusing on the lace mask with its pretty floral pattern, the crimson painted lips beneath.
“They don't exist,” the woman said, giving her a shake. Barely glimpsed through the lace, her eyes glimmered. “We're the only ones here, querida . The music is meant for us, no other. Do you hear it? Every note says how much I desire you.” The woman's hand slipped through the slit in Caroline's skirt to grasp her thigh hard.
Caroline gasped, her fear turning to an unexpectedly powerful jolt of arousal. Though the temperature in the room was more humid than hot, sweat trickled under her arms, between her ample breasts, and pooled in the small of her back. Her slip, her panties, her stockings stuck to her skin as her muscles remembered the tango lessons, following the woman's lead.
Abruptly, the woman stopped dancing, crushing their mouths together. Surprised, Caroline wanted to break the kiss—she did! she really did!—but her body refused to obey, melting against the woman as if her bones had softened in the heat. A devil of temptation wormed its way inside her head, countering any arguments about fidelity to her partner with the observation that no one would ever know . Besides, if Laura was out there in the audience, she had arranged this meeting. The explanation made sense.
The woman's head lifted, ending the kiss, but their lips clung together a split-second longer as if reluctant to part. Without a word, she resumed dancing, sending them stepping over the floor, Caroline obeying in spite of her fiercely pounding heart. The waxy taste of lipstick in her mouth, she heaved a breath, lightheaded and starving for air while her feet performed the proper steps, cazas , cunitas , ochos , throwing in showy, syncopated toe taps that rebounded high off the floor, earning her an approving smile.
Warily, afraid of rejection, Caroline leaned into the woman, at the same time arching her back so that her buttocks stuck out a little.
She whimpered as the woman licked a long wet stripe from the hollow of her throat upwards, finally biting the soft flesh under her chin. Pain mingled with pleasure in a lightning stroke. At the same time, the music reached a crescendo, each harmony and counterpoint seeming to sear through her, hot and blue as the heart of a candle flame.
Caroline did not so much as make a decision as fall into the pattern set by the dance, a mutual flirtation and seduction. In the woman's arms, she forgot to be afraid. She forgot the audience, the public space, her own inhibitions. Nothing mattered except the narrow world they occupied, a space consisting of music and movement, passion and desire.
From the waist up, Caroline was bound to the woman who guided her, their chests welded together, heads close, cheek on cheek. Her hips and legs were free, however, and she used both with abandon, her silken skirt whispering in a weightless, airy dance of its own. One step flowed into the next, cat-footed and smooth.
Her body awoke in fragments. Tingling warmth flooded her belly. The soft satin cups of her underwire bra teased her nipples, already hard and aching. The faint thud-thud-thud of her pulse was echoed by an insistent beat between her thighs.
Each tango lasted three minutes: three minutes of heaven, three minutes of hell.
When the woman tugged her away from the dance floor, out a side door and into the alley next to the club, Caroline went without thinking about it, too lost in lust to care.
Shoved roughly against the brick wall, pinned there by a strong lean body, she had time to beg, “Yes, yes, please,” before the woman's lips mashed down on hers. The suffocating kiss went on, deep and sloppy and uncoordinated, the lace mask surprisingly scratchy where it rubbed on her face.
A thigh thrust between Caroline's legs, sweet pressure right where she needed it most, had her squirming, her legs spreading wider. Oh God, she wanted release, needed the resolución that would end this dance. Fisting double handfuls of the woman's coarse black hair, she rocked her pelvis, the damp white cotton crotch of her nylon panties pleasant where it pressed into her so intimately, but it was not enough.
Caroline almost sobbed in relief when the woman hastily rucked up her skirt. Fingers edged under the panties' elastic, blunt nails scratching through her pubic hair, along the cleft between her pussy lips, sinking into her wetness without hesitation.
“Going to mess you up,” the woman muttered, gnawing on Caroline's neck, sucking bruises on the tender flesh. “Fuck you so good… take you to bed, spread you out like a feast, make you shine, querida .” The sentence ended in a string of indistinct Spanish.
The contrast of cool teeth on her warm flesh made Caroline curse. The fingers inside her pumped steadily, a slippery thumb swirling on her clitoris. Her clothing felt tight, her skin tighter. Letting her head fall back, she stared up at the rectangle of indigo sky visible between the buildings, bright pinprick stars and a moon as round and pale as a peeled apple.
One of the woman's arms was braced on the wall near her head. No longer feeling like an old, overweight blob but wanton, desirable, utterly feminine, Caroline pressed a kiss to the delicate wrist sticking out of the jacket sleeve, swirling her tongue on the knob of bone.
Putting her hands flat on the bricks behind her for leverage, she began lifting her hips in time to the fingers fucking her. Muted tango music came through the closed door, the repetitive beat setting the rhythm. Every nerve she owned was aflame, an explosion building white-hot behind her navel. She trembled, not on the verge of her usual slow unwinding build-up of an orgasm, but something much more primal.
Suddenly, the woman bit into the base of her throat with bruising force. Crying out, Caroline convulsed, her muscles spasming as she came in a gush that soaked her panties.
She collapsed slightly, letting the wall hold her up while she regained her breath. “Jesus Christ,” she said between pants. “Take off the mask. I want to see you.”
Instead of obeying, the woman withdrew her dripping fingers from Caroline's pussy and brought them to her mouth, sucking them clean.
Reaching out, Caroline undid the knot behind the woman's head, removing the length of lace that had concealed her features. She let the mask drop, her stomach going cold at the shocking sight of her partner's face, familiar after eleven years. What had she done? What could she say? Was this some kind of test? But Laura was speaking, and Caroline had to concentrate to hear through the panicked buzzing in her ears.
“—anniversary gift, so I thought you'd enjoy a fantasy. I paid the club owner to set it up. Did you like it, honey?” Laura said, peering and blinking at her with an affectionate goofy smile. Without her glasses, she looked younger, more vulnerable. “The tango was a good idea, right? We took those lessons, remember, and you seemed to like it… but wow, I thought we were going to have sex on the dance floor, it was that hot!” She giggled.
Caroline did not know how to respond. The best sex she had had in years, and it was with Laura of all people! They had never touched each other with such abandon, not even in the beginning. At last, she managed a chuckle. “It was great, sweetie, absolutely the best! You're such a good dancer. Thanks for a wonderful anniversary.”
“You knew it was me, right?”
“Of course, sweetie. I knew it all along.”
Self delusion is a wonderful thing , she decided as Laura preened, kneeling to retrieve the lace mask. “Think you're up for round two?” she asked, an excited flush rising in her cheeks. Her knees were weak, her panties a clammy mess, her feet hurt, and she was sure she had make-up smeared all over her face, but they had more dancing to do.
Laura's smile turned shy, but she took the mask from her hand.
Caroline sighed, anticipating pleasure: heaven in hell, three minutes at a time.