Genre: M/M, Contemporary Romance
On the reality show Dance Off, pro rugby player Olivier Gautier and Olympic swimmer JC Webster each have one goal in mind: to stay on the show as long as possible to earn his charity of choice maximum exposure and a larger donation. As the competition heats up, their goals expand to catching each other’s interest, but Olivier is firmly in the closet and plans to stay there. JC is willing to be discreet, but not to hide forever.
Starting a romance with another man is challenge enough for any celebrity, but doing it under the microscope of reality TV—and one majorly intolerant costar—is even harder. Add in meddling dance pros, JC’s overbearing family, and the need to play up chemistry with dance partners to win America’s hearts, and JC and Olivier’s time together is looking more and more like a recipe for disaster.
As the pressure to stay in the competition mounts, JC and Olivier must face their inevitable separation at the end of the show as well as decide whether a relationship as complicated as theirs can survive in the real world, outside the bubble of the set and practice studios.
Olivier Gautier looked around the staging area of the American talk show where the names of this season’s competitors were first announced and sized up his competition. Most of the names and faces were unfamiliar to him, the disadvantage of not being American or living here long enough to be steeped in the culture. Two years spent playing rugby almost constantly had not given him a lot of leisure time. The musician, Freddy, was older and overweight. Olivier had heard tales of people losing twenty or thirty pounds while on the show, but at least at first, Freddy would be at a disadvantage. He dismissed Eugene out of hand. He might be clueless about American culture, but he recognized a bigot when he saw one. Eugene was entitled to his opinions, but Olivier was equally entitled to avoid him. He suspected he’d take enough flak from Eugene for being French. If Eugene knew the rest of his secrets, he’d never hear the end of it. Troy was a competitor but not an athlete. He spent all of his time in his car. His mental toughness couldn’t be discounted, but he didn’t have the body of an athlete. The two other male stars, though, would bear watching. Kevan was a singer, not an athlete, but even looking at him in a conservative shirt and pants, Olivier could see the muscle beneath. The man worked out and kept himself in shape. And then there was JC. An Olympic swimmer with four medals to his name. If anyone in the competition had the physical stamina to compete with Olivier, it would be JC.
JC Webster was about to lean in and say something to Chelsea to break the ice when he saw the rugby player watching him and decided to go say hello. He touched Chelsea lightly on the arm, not wanting to leave her behind, and crossed the stage, taking the long way to get to Olivier so he could avoid walking too close to Eugene. He’d almost missed both Amber and Olivier being introduced, he’d been so busy glaring daggers at Eugene’s back, and he didn’t intend to spend even a second more than he absolutely had to in the man’s presence. Olivier, on the other hand, looked exactly like the kind of person he’d like to know better, and he put on his brightest smile—the one he used at PR events—as he sauntered up, Chelsea right behind him. “Hey. I’m JC.”
“’Ello,” Olivier said. “Olivier Gautier.” He offered his hand. “I watched you swim last year. You are fast.” He winced at the inanity of his comment, but he hated small talk, and living in the US for two years hadn’t made doing it in English any easier.
JC laughed, ducking his head at the compliment even as he took Olivier’s offered hand. He knew he was fast—he wouldn’t have made the US Olympic Team if he wasn’t—but it never stopped embarrassing him to have it so casually mentioned. “Thanks. I’ve never seen you play. Sorry.” He hated that he had to say that, especially since he’d seen all the other contestants in something, but the little time he spent sitting around watching sports was dedicated to American football with his father or cheering the Olympic teammates he’d befriended during the 2012 London Games.
“Rugby is not a well-known sport here,” Olivier said with a shrug. “I knew that when I came to play, but it has been worth it. I don’t know these people, even by name. Only what the host says in the introduction. Who will be competition for us?”
“Deborah, probably. She used to be a gymnast and figure skater, so she’s got some talent in the right area. It looks like she’s stayed in shape too. Other than her….” JC shrugged, mentally sizing up the rest of the stars. “Rini, maybe, or Kevan. They’re not athletes, but they’re in shape, and they’re young enough that the hours won’t be too hard on them.”
“I’d guess either Amber or Makayla too,” Chelsea said, nodding a greeting at Tricia and Olivier. “They’re young and in shape.”
“And a little more interested in how they look than how they dance.” JC knew what his mother and grandmother thought of both women and shared their views.
Chelsea grinned, looking around the stage at the other stars and their partners. “You might be surprised.”
“And Tyler and Joel are fierce competitors,” Tricia, Olivier’s partner, added. “They aren’t afraid to push the boundaries. Not that any of us got here by being lazy or conservative in our dancing, but those two are always the ones to beat, even with partners you wouldn’t expect to do well.”
“And my partner?” Olivier asked with a flirtatious smile. He might prefer to sleep with men, but that didn’t keep him from appreciating a beautiful woman when he saw one. “Is she one to beat as well?”
“With a man like you to lead me around the floor? Hell, yeah.”
JC laughed at the flirting and let his gaze roam over both Olivier and Tricia, hoping Eugene wasn’t watching. He wasn’t ashamed of being bisexual, but he really didn’t want to deal with comments from Eugene tonight. That would be two strikes against him. “I don’t know,” he said, winking at Tricia and slinging his arm around Chelsea’s shoulders. “I think Chelsea got the better end of the deal.” Chelsea laughed and patted his chest. “Of course I did. But I wouldn’t mind trading for Olivier, if you get bored with him, Tricia.”
Olivier would trade with Chelsea too, especially since he knew JC was bisexual. That didn’t mean he was automatically interested in Olivier, but it meant he might be open to persuasion. He’d wait until he knew his partner a little better before saying that where she could hear him, though. They had to work as a team, and if she distanced herself from him because he was gay, they would start the season with a handicap.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and end up on one of the team dances together,” Tricia said. “If we get that far, of course.”
Olivier looked around the room at the other celebrities again. “We will get that far.”
“Absolutely.” JC flashed a grin, glad he’d found a kindred competitive spirit in Olivier. “Even if we’re all right and everyone we mentioned is competition, that’s still seven, including us. Isn’t that when they start the team dances?”
“Usually. But they like to mix it up sometimes too.” Chelsea glanced over to where Elizabeth, the Dance Off host, was talking to Christine. “Elizabeth might know, but sometimes the producers don’t even tell her until a few weeks ahead of time.”
“It is not worth asking now,” Olivier said. “We have other dances to learn first. Do we have our first assignment?”
“We have a cha-cha,” Tricia said. “What did you get, Chelsea?”
“Fox-trot.” Chelsea rubbed her hand over JC’s chest. “I get to have this one all dressed up in a nice suit.”
JC laughed. “I’m not sure I clean up all that well.” Mostly he felt like a little kid wearing his grandfather’s clothes when he wore a suit, his long limbs always making it hard to find shirts and jackets that fit both in the arms and the torso, and he’d yet to wear one that didn’t feel awkward from the moment he put it on. “I guess we’ll see, though. Do we get to watch the other dancers this year?” He was looking forward to seeing Olivier and Tricia in the revealing outfits that usually accompanied the Latin dances.
“I’m sure you do,” Tricia said, saving Olivier from trying to find a way to say the same thing. “In the meantime, I get to take off Olivier’s shirt.” She ran her fingers down the line of buttons holding Olivier’s dress shirt closed.
“Open, maybe,” Olivier said. “Not off.” He had recovered physically from the car accident that had benched him for a season, but he still bore the scars on his back and left shoulder. He had no plans to go on national TV without them covered.
“Start with open,” JC suggested, his eyes twinkling. “Then if you make it far enough in the season, you can take it off. You don’t want to give the viewers everything the first week.” He’d regret saying that if the first week was Olivier’s only week and he never got the opportunity to see Olivier shirtless, but he’d take open for now.
“You can use it to convince them to vote for you,” Chelsea said with a grin. “Just so long as you don’t take our votes.”
Olivier laughed as he knew they expected him to, but he also knew where his comfort level lay. “We will see, but you will have votes to spare. Everyone knows JC Webster after the Olympics. Me, I’m just an unknown rugby player from France. The judges will have to save me, not the voters.”
“Oh, I think you’ll get plenty of votes on your own, especially if you show your chest.” JC laughed, letting his gaze roam over Olivier again. “Look at the competition.” Troy wasn’t bad-looking—a little scruffy and rugged, perhaps, but not ugly. Kevan and Freddy had a certain appeal in their own way, Kevan with his very boyish looks and Freddy with the kind of face that made people want to like him, but their appeal was limited. Eugene might appeal to the older crowd, though JC thought his personality nullified his classic looks, but none of them could match Olivier for sheer mass appeal. Even JC, with his classic Hispanic looks, couldn’t quite match him, though he wasn’t being arrogant when he thought that he was probably second in line as far as mass appeal went.
Olivier studied the men. “Perhaps, but the men will all vote for Amber or Makayla, and many women may as well because they wish to be like them.”
“That’s probably true,” Tricia agreed, “but there’s nothing like the appeal of a good-looking man, and most of our viewers are female. We’ll look at what our options are and what you’re comfortable with, but don’t discount plain old sex appeal when it comes to winning votes.”
“Just don’t count on it to replace dancing, either,” Chelsea added. “It might get you through a week or two if your dancing isn’t what it should be, but eventually people will vote for the person who can dance over the eye candy.” She glanced up at JC. “That goes for you too.”
JC held up his hands and took a step back. “I’m planning to work hard!” The idea of doing anything less would never occur to him. He was here because it was good publicity now that the Olympics were more than a year in the past and because his mama loved the show and had been thrilled at the idea, but he wasn’t the kind of person who did anything halfway. He’d committed, and he was going to do everything he could to win. Besides, the Trevor Project needed all the funding it could get, and it was something he really did believe in. If he could get that top prize, it would help so many kids.
And probably piss Eugene and his cronies off a lot too.
That was just a bonus, though, not the goal. As his gaze drifted over to Eugene, drawn by the thought, he noticed Carmen, Eugene’s partner, standing off to the side, and he rolled his eyes. “I’ll work with you too,” he added, glaring at Eugene for a moment before turning back to his partner. “I can’t promise I’ll get all the dances, but I’ll do my best to learn.”
That was the attitude that had made JC a champion. Olivier turned to Tricia and asked, “How soon do they let us start?”
“Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock,” Tricia said. “We can hang out and talk all we want tonight when we get to the house you’ll all be staying in, but we can’t start actually training until tomorrow morning. Now, if you decided you wanted to go study videos of previous seasons’ cha-chas, that wouldn’t technically be considered training.”
Olivier laughed. “But perhaps it would still be considered starting too soon. We will start in the morning like everyone else. I am not afraid of long hours of rehearsal. It cannot be harder than long hours of running drills on the rugby pitch.”
“Or long hours in the pool,” JC added with a grin. It would use different muscles, he knew, and he was sure he’d be sore by the end of the day, but the hours wouldn’t be a problem. “If we can’t start until eight, it’ll feel like I get to sleep in.”
Chelsea smirked. “It won’t for long. I promise, you’ll hate mornings within a week.”
JC slung his arm over her shoulders. “Impossible.”
“Tomorrow is the only day with a start time,” Tricia explained. “After tomorrow, you can start as early and work as long as you and your partner can stand each other, but remember that you have fourteen weeks of rehearsal if you make it to the finals. You don’t want to wear yourself out too soon.”
“Part of being an athlete is knowing how to pace yourself so you peak at the right time,” Olivier said. “JC knows this too.”
“Exactly. I know my body, and I’m sure Olivier does too. Just like you do,” he added, squeezing Chelsea’s shoulder.
“Hey, now!” Joel came up on Chelsea’s other side and slipped an arm around her waist. “Are you hitting on my girl?”
“Your girl?” JC raised an eyebrow and took a step back, pulling his arm free of Chelsea’s shoulder.
“Just because she’s your dance partner doesn’t mean she has to give up the rest of her life,” Joel said.
“Joel,” Chelsea scolded. “Quit acting like a jealous boyfriend. We’ve been over this. We hug and kiss and flirt with our partners for the cameras and go home to each other when it’s over.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t give him a hard time.” Joel stepped free of Chelsea and held his hand out to JC, then Olivier. “It’s nice to meet you both. Just ignore me. I say all sorts of stuff I don’t mean. I have to psych you two out so Makayla can win.” He pulled his partner close, slipping his arm around her waist.
Makayla giggled as she wrapped her arm around Joel, leaning in possessively. Chelsea might get to go home with Joel for now, but it looked like Makayla was going to take advantage of every minute she got to be the one wrapped around him. “That’s right. We’re going to kick your asses. Joel here is the best.”
“It is hard to argue with a record like his,” Olivier agreed before turning to Tricia. “And should I be worried about a jealous lover appearing to steal you away as well?”
“Only a feline one,” Tricia said with a laugh. “She gets pissy if I don’t come home and feed her in the evenings, but she’s the only demand on my time.”
Olivier grinned at her before turning to the other two couples. “And this is why we will win this season. No distractions.”
JC gave Olivier a once-over and curled his lips into a smirk. “Oh, I don’t know. I bet we could come up with one for you.”
Chelsea smacked him lightly on the arm. “Focus! Joel and I are pros at this. Our relationship won’t interfere with us winning.”
“You mean us winning,” Joel corrected.
Olivier left them to their bickering, far more intrigued by JC’s unabashed perusal. Some of the swimmer’s other comments and glances could have been open to interpretation, but there was no missing the frank appraisal in that one. Perhaps this method of filling the off-season would be less tedious than he had imagined.
He smiled slowly, leaving it up to JC to decide how to interpret his reaction. “We will see who the winner is,” he agreed. In more ways than one.
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their two dogs. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.
Nessa L. Warin lives in a fantasy world that’s mostly inside her head, though her physical address is in southwestern Ohio. Her two cats kindly play along with her fantasies and graciously let her pay all the bills, but they do require her to provide pampering on a regular basis. Nessa enjoys exploring the wonders of this world through travel—something her cats strongly disapprove of as it cuts into their pampering time—and can find whimsy in the most mundane places. When the real world becomes too much, Nessa enjoys dressing in costume and going to Renaissance Festivals and fantasy conventions. A short trip to either does wonders for her state of mind, so she makes sure to attend at least one of each a year. These trips help Nessa add to her collection of faerie and dragon art, and she swears she will frame and hang all the prints she’s collected some time soon.
When she’s not living in a fantasy world, Nessa enjoys tasting and learning about wine, particularly since it’s one of the few things she and the rest of her family agree on. She’s a regular at the wine tastings held by her local wine shop, and considers it a sin for her wine rack to have more empty spots than full ones. She’d prefer her wine rack to be filled with Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Syrah, but one of her favorite things about wine is the way it can always surprise her. More than once she’s been taken aback by which wine she likes best at a tasting, and she loves the way her wine rack illustrates the joys of trying new things.