Salsa Kiss (Besos Ardientes)
by Consuelo Vazquez
(Pinnacle Encanto, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-786-01021-5
****
Odalys Ramirez is busy planning her mother's wedding. Mama is about to marry a dashing real estate broker, and Odalys is planning a night full of music, laughter, and dancing. There's only one problem.

Odalys can't dance.

A Latina who can't dance? Her Cuban ancestors must be spinning in their graves (probably to a salsa beat, too). It's not that Odalys is uncoordinated. But she spent years getting through nursing school, and her job as a pediatrics nurse hasn't left a lot of time for club-hopping, even if she was inclined to do so, which she's not. When Odalys' car is rear-ended in traffic by Daniel Escobar, reporter for a Hispanic TV station, an unnerved Odalys finds herself spilling out her anxiety and frustration.

Daniel sees a chance to get to know the pretty young woman he accidentally bumped, and he offers to teach her to dance. Odalys is suspicious. Daniel is too handsome, too obviously a dashing Cuban heartbreaker, and she must be on her guard. What could he see in her? But she agrees to his offer, and they meet at a local club where the salsa, merengue, chacha, and other Latin dances are the specialty of the house.

Odalys and Daniel find them selves falling for each other. But Odalys doesn't trust Daniel's good looks and charm, and Daniel doesn't trust his own feelings, which are totally foreign to him. He cares, genuinely cares, for Odalys, and suddenly the smooth moves he's used in the past seem tarnished and cheap. Is he good enough for her?

Odalys and Daniel are tremendously likable characters. Odalys, with her dancing insecurities and desire to make her mother's day perfect, is charming and genuine. Her big extended family, arriving from Florida for the wedding, add color to the story even as they manage to create a bit of havoc.

Daniel plays the reformed playboy role to perfection. The author does a fine job of detailing his bewilderment as he falls for Odalys and realizes he can't stay away from her, even as he believes it's the one thing he probably ought to do. It's fun to see a hunk fall, and hard.

There were a couple of bumps in the road. Odalys' demanding job as a nurse hardly figures in to the story at all, and for readers whose Spanish is spotty or nonexistent, some of the story may be hard to follow. Spanish is used liberally throughout; this will no doubt underscore the bilinguality of the hero and heroine, but may make it difficult for the mainstream reader.

Overall, though, Salsa Kiss is just what its title implies -- a spicy little romance. These Latin lovers will leave you smiling.

--Cathy Sova


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