Two years of living with his controlling boyfriend left Chico worn down long before that boyfriend revealed he’d been seeing someone else. With no other choice, Chico moves in above his cousin’s garage in a small town in the redwoods, where he merely goes through the motions. To get him out of the house, his cousin pushes him to volunteer at a local dance studio to help with their annual show.
He’s not expecting to end up in a dance class, or to start feeling alive again in the arms of his dance instructor. Rafael is the studio owners’ son and was once a well-known dancer in his own right, but now enjoys being a teacher. Although Chico likes him, he’s afraid of taking a chance. But Rafael is determined, and it only takes one dance for Chico to start to realize he might still have something to learn.
5 big fat huge stars. I was blown away by the emotions on the pages of this book.
The story itself has a sad beginning - Chico, brow-beaten and emotionally abused by his former boyfriend and depressed because of being left/kicked out by his former boyfriend, has started over in his cousin's garage apartment and a low-end job, and spends much of his time sleeping. His depression is extreme, and you can't help but feel that Chico's self-esteem has taken a hard beating and is fundamentally broken.
At the nudging/badgering of his cousin Ravi, Chico begins to volunteer at a dance studio and meets super-hot, super-sexy Rafael, a former ballet dancer and son of the owners, who now runs dance classes.
It's a testament to this author's talent at having established his characters so early into the book that I completely believed Chico would think he had absolutely no chance to even catch the hot, sexy dancer's eye. He's just Chico, who's not worthy of love, and therefore Rafael cannot possibly want him. Even if Rafael is kind and charming toward him, and even flirts with him.
Surely, Chico is mistaken the flirting, right?
Chico's sweet, unassuming, and shy nature does catch the eye (and more) of the famous ex-dancer. Their mutual attraction was believable and the UST throughout the book is strong.
Rafael is enamored with the sweet young man who volunteers at the studio, but as Chico's walls are thick, he has to steadily chip away at the brick and mortar surrounding Chico's heart.
But "Just Chico" has trouble believing Rafael is interested, and their mating dance is a sight to behold. Rafael sees Chico, really "sees" him, even when Chico is full of self-doubt and thinks himself worthless.
I loved how the author told a story within a story, that of the Clockwork Dancer, a dance/play being prepared for its first show, and drew similar images between the play and the love story that is unfolding. While Chico works on the costumes, a talent he kept hidden because former boyfriend made him think it's a worthless talent, the similarities between himself and a character in the play become obvious to the reader over time, as he and Rafael slowly but surely get closer. Especially trust plays a big role here in both the play and the romance. As the doll maker slowly wins the ballerina's trust, so does Rafael win Chico's. Even the King in the play had a matching character in the story, who was obsessed with outward beauty and appearances, and cared nothing for what lies beneath, only wanting to own and possess, with disregard to the feelings of the other person.
I was mostly impressed how emotional this book made me, to the point of crying with joy at the ending. While we don't get a huge HEA, we do get that ever so satisfying HFN. And I have no doubt that were the author to revisit this couple in a future book, we'd see them still happily together. The characters were so well suited to each other.
Fantastic writing, high on the emotions, and a sweet love story made this a wonderful book, deserving of the 5 stars it received.
** I obtained a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **
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