Authors: Melody Grace
He laughs. “But that’s all you need. And
“Gelato?” I ask. “That’s like ice cream,
Raphael clutches his chest and lets out a dramatic groan so loud, for
a moment I think he’s hurt. Then I see the glint in his eye and
realize, he’s just teasing me.
“Like ice cream?” he repeats, shaking his head. “You
mean you haven’t tried it yet?”
I shake my head.
“We’ll have to fix that,” Raphael tells me,
laughingly handing me a cold can of soda. “It will change your
life, I promise.”
Our eyes catch, just inches apart in the tiny space. My pulse kicks.
I want to tell him that I’ve already had one life-changing
experience this week: seeing him dance in the
But it would sound ridiculous, so I bite my lip instead and look
Raphael steps closer.
I look back, and my heart catches in my throat to see the expression
in his eyes. Raw and hungry, a mirror of the desire clawing at my
body. My heartbeat pounds in my ears as I gaze back, powerless to
Raphael reaches out his hand, and touches his index finger to a lock
of hair that’s fallen free around my face. I shiver, suddenly
too caught up to even breathe, reveling in the soft touch as he
slowly pushes it back behind my ear.
The soft touch slowly ripples through my entire body. My nipples
tighten. Heat pools between my thighs. I don’t understand the
spell he’s cast over me, how one minute I feel perfectly
normal, and the next, it’s like I’ve leapt off a tall
building, in total free-fall towards the ground—loving every
second of it.
All I know, is I want more.
“Raphael!” Suddenly, there’s a loud, male yell.
My eyes fly open and Raphael jerks back as another guy barrels into
the tiny room. He embraces Raphael with a hearty slap on the back,
talking a mile a minute in expressive Italian as he clatters around
the tiny space: finding a bottle opener, pouring glasses of red wine,
tearing off a hunk of bread from the loaf on the counter.
My heart races. Holy crap, that was close. I almost kissed a man I’ve
known all of five minutes.
Screw kissing, you nearly dropped your panties and begged him to
Finally, the guy sees me.
Chi è questa?
” He asks Raphael, raising
his eyebrow in a suggestive look.
Raphael looks embarrassed. “Annalise, this is my friend, Luca.
Luca, Annalise is an American student here. She saw us perform
“Pleasure to meet you.” Luca brushes crumbs off his shirt
and shakes my hand enthusiastically. “Apologies for the show,
Gianni was so hung-over, he could barely walk straight.”
“That’s where I’ve seen you!” I exclaim,
recognizing him. “You did the hip-hop show. It was great!”
“Aww, don’t flatter him.” Raphael laughs. “His
head is already big enough.” He ruffles Luca’s hair
“You know what they say,” Luca smirks. “Big head,
Raphael gets him in a headlock before he can finish. The two
roughhouse playfully, and I leap back to get out of their way.
There’s an easy camaraderie between them, and at first I wonder
if they’re brothers. But up close, I can see, they look nothing
alike. Where Raphael is dark, Luca is all sunny blue eyes and a large
Roman nose, shorter than Raphael, his build athletic and stocky
against Raphael’s tall, muscular grace.
As the guys keep wrestling, another girl edges into the small space.
“Luca!” she barks impatiently, shoving them aside as she
goes to the refrigerator. They break apart, laughing. As Luca speaks
in Italian to the girl, I realize it’s Raphael’s partner
from the performance: the gorgeous dark-haired girl. Tonight, she
looks just as stunning, wearing skintight black jeans and a loose
silk blouse, her lips stained with matte plum lipstick and her long
hair tousled and sexy.
Right away, I feel like I’m fifteen years old, playing dress-up
at a college party. My denim skirt and plain top seem ugly in
comparison, especially now that I’m standing here in my damp
camisole, my wet shirt tied around my waist.
“Hey,” Raphael interrupts Luca and the girl. “Speak
“Rafa’s made a friend,” Luca tells the girl,
The girl doesn’t reply, she just saunters towards me and takes
a long sip of wine, her eyes flicking over me from head to toe. She
says something in Italian, but I catch one of the words.
That means beautiful, doesn’t it? I wonder as she gives me one
final look. “We’re all outside,” she tells Raphael,
stroking her hand down his arm as she sashays back out.
It’s a possessive gesture, and I’d get the message even
if she didn’t shoot me a final look on her way past. My hopes
come crashing down. I was right, they are involved, enough for her to
send me that ‘in your dreams’ look, anyway.
“Forgive my sister,” Luca tells me. “She missed out
on common courtesy.”
Raphael laughs. “You can talk.”
Luca gasps. “What are you talking about? I’m a true
gentleman. Which is why I’m leaving you two alone.” He
winks, grabs another hunk of cheese, and backs out of the room with a
formal little bow.
I can’t help laugh, even as my mind races to figure out the
relationships here. If Raphael and the girl were together, then Luca
wouldn’t be encouraging him to spend time with me, would he?
“Don’t pay him any attention,” Raphael smiles at
me. “Luca is... how do you put it? A trickster.”
“A joker,” I nod. “He seems fun. Have you been
“Ever since I moved here, about five years ago.” Raphael
nods towards the door, so I follow his direction. We stroll slowly
back out into the courtyard, around the edge of the party. The music
has switched to a wild, pop beat, and the dance floor is packed with
moving bodies now, a writhing mass of energy and life.
Raphael finds us a spot in the shadow of a bougainvillea bush and
pulls up two chairs. He settles in one, opening a bottle of beer. He
lifts it to his lips, and I have to hold in a sigh: he even drinks
with grace, the taut muscles of his arm pressing against his shirt,
every movement languid and flowing.
“You aren’t from Rome?” I ask curiously, perching
in the chair beside him.
Raphael shakes his head. “No, I grew up in Milano, a city in
the north of the country. Luca was one of the first people I met
here. His family took me in, and together we built the troupe. He’s
like a brother to me.”
“And the girl...?” I ask, trying my best to sound casual.
“Francesca?” An unreadable expression flits across
Raphael’s face. “We’ve been dancing together for
“She’s very talented,” I say, remembering her
“Yes,” Raphael looks amused. He glances out into the
crowd, where Francesca is dancing, head throw back in abandon, her
hips circling with a sexy rhythm that sends a stab of envy right
through me. I can turn a dozen perfect
spins, but I
could never grind like that, with such sensual promise.
“She’s very good at getting the audience’s
attention,” Raphael adds, watching her. “She loves to
perform. It’s a wonder anyone looks twice at me,” he adds
with a wry laugh.
“Oh no!” I exclaim, before I can stop myself. “That’s
not true. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you.” I stop,
blushing. “I mean, I thought you were great too. Your lines,
and the musicality.”
Raphael quirks an eyebrow at me. “What do you know about
I pause. “I ... I’m a dancer too,” I admit. “That’s
why I’m here. I’m with the American Ballet Company. We’re
performing on tour.”
Raphael’s face changes. A look of recognition slips across his
face, bright and intense. “I knew it,” he says softly. “I
could tell, just from looking at you. The way you carry yourself...”
I feel my cheeks burn. “No, it’s nothing. I mean, it’s
just ballet. Nothing like what you do.”
“Don’t say that, don’t put yourself down.”
Raphael looks at me. “Your beauty, your grace, it’s all
from your dance. I can tell, it’s part of who you are.”
Is he serious?
It takes me a moment to realize that
he is. Then my stomach flips over, a delicious, slow waltz. I look
down, blushing, not sure what to say.
Raphael laughs. “You’re not used to compliments? Surely
you get them all the time.”
I shrug, awkward. “I don’t know. About my dance, maybe.
“That’s a true shame.” Raphael reaches towards me,
and touches my chin with the side of his index finger. The lightest
touch, sparking shivers everywhere. “You’re beautiful.
You should know it.”
From any other guy it would sound like a cheesy line, but Raphael has
such sincerity in his dark stare, I don’t shy away again.
I swallow, finding words in my dry throat. “Thank you,” I
Suddenly, the music changes, breaking the moment. It’s a
familiar beat, one of the songs they used in the street performance
this afternoon. The courtyard fills with whoops and cheers, and now
everybody is on their feet, filling the space, letting loose.
Raphael leaps up and holds out his hand to me. “Come on,”
I shake my head fervently. “No, you go on. I can’t
He laughs. “You just said, you’re a dancer.”
“Not like this!” I protest, looking out at the crowd.
It’s like a music video out there, people turning out amazing
moves, effortless as breathing, and sexy as hell. “I can’t—”
“You can.” Raphael cuts me off, reaching to grab my hand.
“I’ll teach you.”
My protests are lost under the music as he pulls me into the thick of
the crowd. It’s hot and sweaty here, like walking into a sauna,
and all around us are moving, pulsing, dancing bodies, faces lit up
with abandon, lost to the rhythm. Raphael is a natural, he finds the
beat right away, already moving as he leads me out to the center of
the courtyard, the beat thumping loud enough to vibrate my chest.
“Relax,” he yells, swaying to the music. “Just
follow my lead.”
I try to move, but my body feels awkward and foreign. I try to catch
the beat, cringing with every pained, jerky step.
again wish the ground would swallow me up. Can’t he see I’m
no good at this? Ballet is a million miles from this kind of dancing;
I’m used to precision, defined moves, carefully choreographed
steps polished to perfection, not this, this
Somebody moves into my space, knocking into me. I stumble, falling
clumsily against Raphael’s chest. My cheeks burn with
“I’m sorry,” I break away. “I can’t!”
I turn to flee, but Raphael grabs my hand, pulling me back in, close
against his body. “Shh, just close your eyes,” he tells
I stare at him, confused—and reeling from the heat of his torso
Raphael grins down at me. “Trust me, just close your eyes.”
My emotions are whirling in my chest, I just want to get out of this
crowd, but something in his playful grin makes me stop. I came here
for a reason,
. I can’t run away just yet.
I take a deep breath and do as he says. I close my eyes.
“Now listen to the music. Just feel it.” Raphael’s
voice comes, a low, sexy growl against my ear.
I shiver. In the dark of my mind, my senses are suddenly heightened.
I can feel the heat from his body, just inches away, hear the pulse
of the music, like a wave rolling into shore.
“Good, relax, just feel it.”
His voice is like a balm on my insecurities, lulling me. I focus on
the beat, the rhythm of the chords.
One two three. One two
Almost without realizing it, my hips begin to move. Just small
circles, but I feel it, flowing through me. And then his hands are on
my waist, and his body presses closer to mine.
I freeze for a moment, shocked at the contact. I’m used to
dancing with a partner, but this feels so different. Unscripted and
free. I have no idea what he’s going to do next – and
that thrills me. Raphael keeps dancing, and slowly, I find myself
matching his rhythm, moving with his body.
The sensation is overwhelming. The heat of him, the feel of his taut,
solid torso pressing against me, the scent of him, deep and musky.
With my eyes closed, there’s nothing to distract me, no way to
block it out or focus away. Just us: me, him, and the music, nothing
else in the world.
“See? I knew you could do it.”
Raphael’s hands reach further on my hips, drawing me into him.
Our bodies slide together, and the touch is so intimate, I find it
hard to breathe. To even think. My heart is racing, every nerve and
muscle sparking with electricity. My body tightens with lust, tension
curling deep between my thighs. I’ve danced with a partner
before, of course, hundreds of times, but this is different. A
sensual rhythm, like we’re bound together by the beat, moving
This is what sex would be like, I realize in shock. Moving with
someone, feeling their body so closely; a sweaty, delicious slide…
I want to stay locked in this dark, breathless state forever, but I
want to see Raphael more. I force myself to open my eyes. And there
he is: staring down at me, his face inches from mine.
I catch my breath, dizzy. His eyes blaze ravenously under the
lanterns, echoing everything his body is saying. He’s so
beautiful up close, so powerful: a dark angel in the night, awakening
feelings I’ve never even dreamed about.
I want him. I want all of him.
As if reading my mind, Raphael moves one hand up my back; a slow
caress, hot against my skin. My eyes don’t leave his, but I
shiver under his touch, feeling the heat, the purpose behind his
touch as his fingers trace up my spine to the back of my neck,
curling to tangle in my hair.