With Every Heartbeat - Melody Grace

Annalise is the type who has her life plans set in stone. Or so it seems. Annalise finds solace in ballet. When she's on stage, she moves with every heartbeat of her heart and soul. Believing that ballet was her destiny ever since her mother gave her her first pair of ballet slippers before she can toddle, she strives to become a professional ballet dancer just like her mother was, and the opportunity to tour in Rome is the bridge between dreams and reality. And it's no teeny bopper recital either. It's a ticket to kick start aspiring dancers career. The big audition on the tour is going to make or break her career. Trying to live up to her mother's legacy is no easy feat. After training hard at a prestigious dance company in New York, she expected to move up the ladder and land larger roles and solos but to no avail. Taking the opportunity to dance in Rome is the last hope to help her climb all the way to be the top dancer that will earn her mother's approval. But at what cost? She's living in her mother's shadow, filling her shoes. She finds herself living a dream that rivals her own.

Annalise meets Raphael while wandering from sight-seeing with her dance troupes into another square nearby, and witnesses groups of dancers of different flavors. Raphael takes the floor in a Latin ballroom/street/modern contemporary dance routine, and Annalise is enamored by him, watching him dance. Since then, he becomes her knight in shining armor on more than one occasion. That sets things in motion for them. There's this inexplicable pull that draws her to him. I'd say it's the accent, but it's definitely more than that. But Raphael is just as easily drawn to her. Annalise finds herself doing things she has never done before. She experiences a lot of firsts at the hands of the sexy as sin Italian that is Raphael. Raphael introduces her to authentic gelato and food. Gives her her first kiss. Shows her how to dance to something outside of her norm with real contact of a partner without a routine or audience. A sensual dance in which turns into a heated and passionate embrace, locking them together, their passion igniting in that kiss, moving as one. She easily loses herself in him in a sensual dance of passion and the city's charm. He pleasures her in and out of the bedroom. Then there's riding on a vespa with Raphael, who shows her the ropes of Rome. Because what's a trip to Rome if you're not going to ride on a vespa with a hot Italian guy, right? She realizes what she's been missing when she has been holed up in a dance studio her whole life. Being in a foreign country sets things to new heights and Annalise becomes enamored when she indulges the delights of Rome. The more time she spends indulging in everything the fair city has to offer, living life the way she wants and how she likes, seems more appealing to her than living her mother's dreams. She finds herself wanting more in life.

The connection between them is palpable and red-hot. Annalise feels things for him that she has never felt for any other. It's not instant love, but it is instant attraction. Not in looks, but the aforementioned pull that gravitates them to each other, like magnets. Then sealed it with their love for dance. The pacing and building of their relationship was thoughtfully laid out for all to see, and I'm glad that Grace didn't overdo it. In no time, they find themselves falling deeper into each others hearts. Raphael is a sweet charmer wrapped in that Italian accent of his makes it hard to resist, and can swoon the panties off any lady. When they spend a night together, it's sets off a fireworks of explosive pleasure. They also communicate on a level that goes beyond the English language. They share a common ground that is dance; the passion coursing between them becomes all-consuming. Of course, even a romance like that can have it's complications. She finds herself taking on more things than she can handle. Neglecting things she thought she wanted. Doing things that can send her back home, potentially ending her chance at a career. She questions the future she truly desires.

Secondary characters, Karla and Rosalie. A driven, caring, inappropriate, fun and hilarious bunch. The banter is rich and keeps Annalise's stress at bay. They've got each other's back, even in the dog eat dog world of dance they live in. It's easy to forget that there's no time to joke around and get distracted as the stakes get higher, and the competition to get one of the four spots for a solo is up for grabs, it's anyone's game in a pool of hefty competition. Karla and Rosalie are there to help Annalise see sense. They call her on her bullshit and set her straight, because they care about each other and the future of their careers. Dance rival, Lucia, is a piece of work. I'm not even going to get into it because you'll never hear the end of it. Luca, Raphael's family-friend, is a swell character. Easy to get along with and fun to have around. Their relationship is brotherly and they truly care about each other and their happiness. Raphael's dance partner Francesca is the typical jealous type. She kind of reminds me of Lucia, so I'm not a fan. Luca and Raphael's family reminds me of why I love Italians.

Opening night of the biggest show of her life is fast approaching, and Annalise has found herself in quite a predicament. She's faced with the cold hard truth. Can Raphael fit into her carefully laid out plans? Two things remain-- their love for dance and each other.

The writing is so lush. Grace does a splendid job of capturing the city to vivid detail; it feels like you get to know the fair city intimately well. Grace has the ability to convey beauty out of the art of dance as well as the romance that heats up the pages. I devoured it in a matter of hours. This story heavily revolves around dance, passion, romance, all the firsts, finding yourself and living life the way your heart desires. Follow your bliss comes to mind. I almost question whether Grace is/was a ballerina herself and has visited Rome, because if not then she did some impressively thorough research. Melody Grace, I applaud you. And I should mention all the Italian there is to learn. Who needs Italian class, right? Raphael is an excellent teacher in all criteria. With Every Heartbeat is satisfying in every way, yet leaves you wanting more.