Desert Isle Keeper
Take the Lead
If you’re a fan of Dancing with the Stars or other reality TV show dance competitions you are definitely going to want to pick up Take the Lead, a lively, energetic and sexy contemporary romance by début author Alexis Daria. And if you’ve never watched one of these competitions before, after reading this story you’ll likely want to add it to your viewing schedule. The plot is fresh and original, giving the reader almost a voyeuristic behind the scenes look at what makes or breaks the dancers on the stage. Along the way it details the romance between a professional Puerto Rican dancer needing to make the finals or be cut from the show and her partner, an Alaskan lumberjack who’d rather be anywhere than on the stage.
Gina Morales is ready to take her fifth season on Take the Lead by storm and hopes she’ll be paired with someone who will be both capable and popular enough to make it to the finals. Her producer has made it clear that if she doesn’t make the final three, she’ll likely be out of a contract for next year. All signs point to success when her partner turns out to be Stone Nielson, one of the stars of his family’s reality TV show, Living Wild, set in Alaska. Tall, handsome and fit, Stone has the qualities every female dancer on the show wishes for in a partner. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, they could be the couple to beat.
Stone hates Los Angeles. He misses his old life in Juneau where he lived and worked quite happily before being coerced into participating in a show with an adoring audience who don’t realize that much of the circumstances of their day-to-day existence of the contestants are fake. The medical bills from his mother’s hip operation are the only thing that convinced him to join the dance competition. What makes the whole thing bearable is his partner, Gina.
Gina’s producer Donna thinks that Gina and Stone would make the perfect ‘showmance’ for the season, something Gina absolutely opposes. The last thing she needs is get slotted into a stereotypical ‘hot Latino dancer’ role that will make it that much harder for people to take her seriously. She has aspirations of getting into acting when her dancing days are over and an ‘affair’ on a TV show is not going to help her career. But she and Stone do have some serious chemistry, and the more time they spend together, the deeper their connection becomes. As their relationship heats up both on and off the stage, can a happy ending for them on the show mean one in real life too?
What a fun read! The dance show/reality TV element is so well handled that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out the author has been staking out reality dance competitions backstage, because the drama, personal relationships and week by week eliminations had me flipping the pages eagerly to see what would happen. As the author is herself Puerto Rican, she adds an authenticity to Gina’s character that comes across in her mannerisms and expressions (as well as her cooking!). Gina’s enthusiasm for dance is equal to her skill, and she’s able to teach Stone both the physical steps and the emotional expression required to achieve their goal every week of impressing the judges and getting the viewing audience to vote for them. Her skills are not limited to dance though. She choreographs scenes, chooses appropriate costumes, and knows the ‘business’ side of the competition – the need to be ‘on’ for the camera at all times. If this is wearing for her at times, it’s only in the quiet down times off camera with Stone that she is able to let some of that go.
Stone is the strong, silent type. Or at least, that’s his character on his family’s show. He has to remember to hide anything about himself and his family that doesn’t fit with how they are portrayed on TV, especially if cameras are around. Being with Gina is eye-opening for him, not just because he realizes he can dance, but because he’s forgotten what it’s like to have fun, to be in the moment and enjoy life. She brings out the side of his personality that’s been hidden away and he likes this side of himself. In private, they can step outside of their TV personalities and be themselves.
While the attraction between them leads to on-stage chemistry that they can shrug off on camera as being a result of the hours they spend together and their strong friendship, off stage they eventually hit the sheets in some steamy love scenes. Keeping their feelings for each other private becomes increasingly difficult. While Stone would have no problem coming out into the open, Gina believes the resulting publicity would do more harm than good for her in the long run. In the end her decisions will affect them both.
Besides watching Gina and Stone grow closer, it’s equally fun to follow them in the competition. The other couples are well described, and as some of the dancers have been with Gina on the show for a few years, they feature prominently as secondary characters. I’m not going to give away whether or not they make it to the end, but suffice it to say Gina and Stone get more out of the competition than they ever expected. If you are looking for a fun, flirty, exciting romance, you should add this one to your to-read list.