Four Seconds to Lose (Ten Tiny Breaths Series #3)

Four Seconds to Lose (Ten Tiny Breaths Series #3)

4.3 40
by K. A. Tucker

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I believe you don’t have years, or months, or weeks to impact a person’s life. You have seconds. Seconds to win them over, and seconds to lose them.

Owning a strip club isn’t the fantasy most guys expect it to be. With long hours, a staff with enough issues to keep a psych ward in business, and the police regularly on his case,See more details below


I believe you don’t have years, or months, or weeks to impact a person’s life. You have seconds. Seconds to win them over, and seconds to lose them.

Owning a strip club isn’t the fantasy most guys expect it to be. With long hours, a staff with enough issues to keep a psych ward in business, and the police regularly on his case, twenty-nine-year-old Cain is starting to second-guess his unspoken mission to save the women he employs. And then blond, brown-eyed Charlie Rourke walks through his door, and things get really complicated. Cain abides by a strict “no sleeping with his staff” rule. But being around Charlie challenges Cain’s self-control . . . and it’s been a long time since any woman has done that.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Rourke needs a lot of money, really fast, in order to vanish before it’s too late. Taking her clothes off for men makes her stomach curl, but Charlie tells herself that at least she’s putting her acting and dancing skills to good use. And though her fellow dancers seem eager to nab their sexy, sophisticated, and genuinely caring boss, she’s not interested. After all, Charlie Rourke doesn’t really exist—and the girl pretending to be her can’t get distracted by romance.

Unfortunately, Charlie soon discovers that developing feelings for Cain is inevitable, and that those feelings may not be unrequited—but losing him when he finds out what she’s involved with will be more painful than any other sentence awaiting her.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times bestselling author - Colleen Hoover
"Intense, hot, emotional...K.A. Tucker left no feeling untouched. A gripping read."
New York Times bestselling author of Losing It - Cora Carmack
"A touching, gorgeous read. I laughed, cried, swooned, and took ten tiny breaths of my own!"
Maryse's Book Blog - Maryse Black
“Loved it!! A MUST READ! I won't say any more. The shock value from the very start to the very end must be experienced blindly for full impact. Just know I think you should read it.” - Jen Lamoureux
“This is one the best contemporary novels to hit shelves this year, and a must-read for those who love realistic stories about strong females.”
New York Times bestselling author of If You Stay - Courtney Cole
"Fiercely truthful, this book twisted my heart around and handed it to me. This is one you definitely don't want to miss."
Romantic Times (4.5 out of 5 stars)
"Tucker delivers another emotional and unforgettable read. Livie and Ashton's electrically charged connection will have readers frantically turning pages. Add in the witty and sexually suggestive banter and you've got a recipe for one hot and angsty romance. One Tiny Lie tackles heavy topics, but the balance between the romance, coming-of-age storyline and darker issues is extremely well-done. An absolute must read!"
New York Times bestselling author - Cora Cormack
"I devoured this book! Characters, romance, suspense — I loved every single moment. Don't lose another second waiting to give this one a read."
USA Today bestselling author - Karina Halle
"Original, compelling, and wickedly sexy."
Kirkus Reviews
Tucker returns to Miami in her loosely tied romantic series (One Tiny Lie, 2014, etc.), this time focusing on the saintly owner of Penny's Place—the city's most exclusive strip club. After Cain Ford's troubled youth (his family was murdered; his life as an underground fighter led to deaths), at 29 he operates a swanky strip club as a way of saving desperate women from the sex trade. Or at least a version of the sex trade in which you're asked to perform more than a lap dance. He also owns an apartment building where many of his dancers live, so he can look after them. But don't call him a pimp—he uses his street-fighting skills on anyone who does. Into his club walks Charlie Rourke, a 22-year-old blonde beauty. She's hired as a stripper, but everything Cain sees—and guiltily lusts after—is a deception. The young woman known as Charlie is really an 18-year-old New Yorker sent to Miami by her mob-boss stepfather, Sam, to help him smuggle heroin. When her mother died, Sam showered little Charlie with everything—trips, toys, loving affection; each birthday was special, and he never missed a gymnastics meet. Which is why it's so hard for Charlie to say no to Sam, but she can't figure out why a loving father would jeopardize his daughter's safety (neither can the reader), and she knows she has to escape. That means a new identity, which is expensive, and enough money to hold her over; thus the stripping. Cain is mesmerized by Charlie (there are many references to him adjusting his pants), and soon the two give in to their lust. But Charlie's cover is slipping, Cain's buddy is with the DEA, and Sam has hired a new partner who's threatening Charlie, so it hardly seems the time for romance. Charlie runs away, and the only way she's coming back is if Sam is gone. Though Tucker's prose and pacing have a vibrant energy, the plot is simply preposterous.

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Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Ten Tiny Breaths Series , #3
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Four Seconds to Lose

  • chapter two

    ■ ■ ■


    Plan A—Turn myself in and beg for immunity in exchange for information.

    I don't have enough concrete information to nail him. I'll probably end up in jail for the next twenty-five years. If I even make it there, alive.

    Plan A — Turn myself in and beg for immunity in exchange for information.

    Plan B—Lose all my identification and fake amnesia so the government will be forced to create new documentation for me . . . eventually.

    What if they put my picture up on the news? He'll find me. Plus, I could end up locked in a psych ward for an indefinite length of time. And I don't know that my acting abilities are quite that convincing.

    Plan B—Lose all my identification and fake amnesia so the government will be forced to create new documentation for me . . . eventually.

    Plan C—Buy a new identity and make Charlie Rourke disappear.

    He's just standing there, boring holes into my face.

    Given that I've never laid eyes on him before, I don't know what his normal complexion looks like, but I'll bet it's not the sickly white pallor that I see now.

    As if he's seen a ghost.

    I try to catch Ginger's eye, to see if she thinks his reaction is strange, but I can't.

    'Sorry. I knocked but you didn't answer,' she offers in apology. It's true, she did knock, and we waited for close to a minute before entering. I don't know what he was doing in his office—behind the closed door with a sign that reads 'boss man' and pair of lacy underwear pinned to it—but, by the stunned expression on his face, we've interrupted something. A glance down confirms that his belt is at least buckled.

    'This is my friend, Charlie, who I told you about.' Ginger's long, slender fingers point to me and I force a bright smile. 'Friend' sounds a bit misleading, seeing as everything I've ever told Ginger about me is a deliberate lie.

    I met her only three weeks ago. Her beginner pole-dancing class was just finishing up and she stayed on to watch the advanced class. I guess I impressed her, because she sat through the entire hour and then talked my ear off in the change room afterward about how good I am. I took her proffered number with no intentions to call. The next week, Ginger cornered me after class and wouldn't leave until I went out to lunch with her. Last week, she coerced me into shopping. There's nothing wrong with her. She's twenty-six, but she doesn't act like it most of the time. She has an easy, genuine laugh and a sarcastic sense of humor. She's persistent, too. I just didn't plan on getting to know people, seeing as I won't be in Miami long. But I guess you could say that we've become friends—lies and all.

    It's ironic that we met when we did, actually. By my pole-dancing skills and looks, Ginger automatically assumed I was a stripper. There was no judgment in those bright green eyes when she asked which club I worked at. That's why I admitted to the few unappealing adult clubs I had applied to and the appalling 'interview' at one called Sin City. The one I had run out of. Her pixie-like face lit up, which was not the reaction I was expecting. Then she explained that she bartended at the best club in Miami and offered to get me a job. She asked about my experience and I, of course, lied. I told her that I had worked in Vegas.

    I left Vegas when I was six. I have certainly never stripped there.

    After my experience with Sin City, I wasn't sure if I could go through with it. But when I saw the unusually elegant sign out front—void of any big-breasted caricatures or flashing lights, just the name, Penny's Palace—I knew instantly that this was the place for me. And Ginger promised me that the owner, Cain, is like none other. The way she talks about him, I'd think he holds some sort of 'boss of the millennium' award.

    But he's still staring me down.

    He hasn't blinked once.

    I catch the almost indiscernible shake of his head before he offers in a clipped tone, 'Charlie. Right. Hi.'

    'Hi.' I was cool and confident coming in here, leveraging countless hours of acting classes to ready my wide, friendly smile. Now, though, under this man's steely gaze, I hear the wobble with that one tiny word. I step forward and hold my hand out.

    His coffee-colored eyes finally pry themselves from my face to glare down at my hand—without moving—and I fight the urge to retract it. Ginger swore that this guy was first class, but he still makes his money off the sex trade. A lot of things get shaken under this roof and hands are probably not one of them. I never did shake the hand of that slimeball at Sin City—Rick—before he instructed me to climb onto his lap two minutes into my interview. I shouldn't be surprised by this guy's reaction.

    These owners are all the same.

    I take a deep breath, reminding myself that I've handled my fair share of degenerates and can do this.

    Hell, I'm a degenerate.

    As if snapping out of a daze, Cain finally accepts my hand in his, his eyes locked on mine. 'Hi, Charlie. I'm sorry. You just . . . startled me. You look a lot like someone I know.' There's a pause. 'Like someone I knew,' he corrects himself softly. His voice carries with it a smooth, educated sound, which surprises me, given our surroundings.

    'Okay, well, I'll just be at the bar, getting things set up.' Ginger scoots out of the office, closing the door behind her, leaving me alone with this man. I take a few calming breaths. I'm going to throttle her.

    I don't know what to expect now. Ginger didn't tell me much about Cain, other than that he's really nice and honest, he treats his employees very well, and if I'm going to dance in Miami, then Penny's is the place to work. She did say that he sometimes comes off as intimidating but he's just reserved. And he's got a lot on his plate, running this club.

    She certainly left out details about his physical appearance, I realize, as my gaze skates over his frame to see the well-defined curves beneath a fitted button-down black dress shirt and black dress pants. As if that body isn't enough, his face is flawless—angular cheekbones and a sharp jaw combine to give him a masculine yet almost pretty look. He's like a sculpture—and about as opposite to Sin City Rick as you can get.

    Basically, Cain is panty-dropping hot.

    That your boss is panty-dropping hot is an odd thing to leave out of the equation. Cain's the type of guy that makes women lose their words and their train of thought when he walks by. Except Ginger, it would seem.

    But attractive or not, I'm feeling all kinds of uncomfortable right now, as Cain's hard, intelligent gaze slowly rolls over my body, appraising me. Taking a deep breath, I pull my shoulders back. I hold my chin up. I look him straight in the eye. I do all the things I know to do to appear confident. I will not cower under the intense scrutiny. If I'm going to be up on his stage, taking my clothes off for his customers, I can't be unnerved by this.

    And so I stand and let him pass silent judgment while I survey his office, taking in all the shelves, crammed with boxes. Aside from the large desk on one end and a black leather couch tucked into a corner, it seems like a storage room. By his appearance, I'd expect something sleek and tidy.

    'Ginger said you have experience?' His tone is gentler than it was when we first stepped in.

    I answer without hesitation. 'Yes, one year in Vegas. At The Playhouse.' I fight the urge to start twirling one of my loose blond curls. I know my tells, and that's one that says I'm lying. Ginger warned me, under no circumstances, to lie to Cain Ford, because he always finds out anyway and it pisses him off when he does. It's kind of impossible to heed that warning, though, given my situation.

    Plus, I am a very proficient liar.

    And I'm banking on him not doing an in-depth reference check. Short of divine intervention, he won't find a Charlie Rourke that worked at The Playhouse in Vegas.

    Because Charlie Rourke doesn't exist.

    Cain leans back against his desk and folds his arms over his chest, only accentuating the defined muscles in his shoulders and biceps. 'Do you have a preference?'

    I keep my face composed—I'm an expert at stone cold—while I struggle to decipher his question. Preference with what exactly? The desk? The floor? That couch? Is he seconds away from undoing his zipper?

    Either Cain interprets my long pause as confusion or he replayed the question in his head and realized how it could be taken because he adds very clearly, 'On the stage. When you're dancing.'

    I exhale and silently admonish myself. 'I'm pretty good on a pole.' That isn't a lie. That's actually a discredit to my talent. I've been in gymnastics since I was five, so my body is strong and limber. Then, two years ago, I needed an excuse to visit a specific dance studio in Queens once a week so I enrolled in a pole-dancing class. Not under my real name, of course.

    It turns out I took to pole-dancing naturally. I just haven't worked up to the move where I drop my clothes.

    'Okay,' Cain says slowly, his jaw shifting, appearing as if in thought. He hesitates for a second. 'Full nude or topless?'

    'Topless.' I shouldn't be so eager. I've heard what these girls wear as bottoms and they may as well be completely naked.

    Cain's eyes automatically drop to my chest when I say that, and they seem to settle there. His entire form is frozen in place.

    As if he's waiting.

    Of course he is. He wants to know what he's putting up on his stage.

    A quiver runs through my stomach. I can do this. This will be way less mortifying than the last time. Trying to pace my breathing before my heart explodes out of my chest, I quickly slip my thumbs beneath the spaghetti straps of my lemon-yellow sundress and pull on them until they pass the balls of my shoulders. With a sharp inhale, I let my arms drop and the dress goes with it. I intentionally didn't wear a bra today. I figured that would make this uncomfortable process quick and a tiny bit less embarrassing. The last thing I wanted to do was fumble with bra hooks . . .

    Because that would make standing in this man's storage-room office in my white thong that much more awkward than it is already.

    Cain's lips part but not a sound comes out of him as his eyes widen for one, two, three, four seconds. And then it's as if he wakes up, because he's suddenly moving. Standing, unfolding his arms, and taking steps forward to reach me quickly, I watch with my lungs constricting as he crouches down in front of me and grasps the straps of the dress pooled around my ankles. He pulls my dress back up, his fingertips leaving hot trails against my skin as he affixes the straps. If my body weren't already as stiff as a corpse, his touch probably would have made me shudder.

    Locking eyes that look wise beyond his years on me, he says in a strained voice, as if he's holding his breath, 'You don't have to do that for me. In fact, I ask that you please don't do that for me again. Ever.'

    I swallow and nod, my cheeks flaming, somehow more humiliated by his reaction than had he groped my breasts like that other pig. Spinning on his heels, he marches over behind his desk, a grimace on his handsome features. I don't know if I've done something wrong or if I have the job.

    I need this job.

    Cain speaks up again. 'Just stage dancing? What about private dances?' I see his gaze on me from beneath a fringe of thick lashes. 'I don't charge any stage fees, so what you earn up there, you take home.'

    The small exhale escapes my lips before I can stop it. When I came up with this plan two weeks ago, I wasn't fully aware of the inner workings at these clubs. But you can find anything on the internet. I found out that many owners charge a high stage fee, so the girls actually earn their money working hard on the floor and in the private rooms. Rumor has it that, though illegal, many of them do 'extras,' on top of the lap dances. The idea of stripping on a stage in front of people is a giant pill to swallow for me. But lap dances . . .

    I'll do it.

    I have to do it, I remind myself.

    When I ran out of Sin City that day, I was sure that my plan was dead in the water. I mean, how was I going to perform daily lap dances when I couldn't even get through my interview!

    But Ginger told me that Penny's is different. That Cain is different. That no one in the private rooms will be taking their pants off, and that doing 'extras' is one of the only ways that you get fired at Penny's.

    Cain sounded too good to be true.

    Setting my chin with steely determination, I say, 'Both, please.' Swallowing the revulsion bubbling up in my throat, I clarify with a struggle, 'I want to work the private rooms as well as the stage.'

    Cain blows air out of his mouth, one hand on his hip while the other pushes through perfectly styled, slightly wavy dark hair as he stares hard at me. There's an inexplicable look in his eyes, but I know he's trying to read me. I wonder if he's deciding whether to ask me for a demonstration. My gaze drifts to the couch again and my stomach tightens. Somehow I think giving this guy an interview lap dance might be harder than doing one for a sleazeball.

    Because if I could get past the embarrassment and nerves, I might enjoy it.

    But he doesn't ask me to demonstrate. Instead, he asks me, 'Have you ever bartended before?'

    I shake my head, frowning.

    'I have too many girls working the private rooms right now. But working behind the bar would bring your earnings up significantly. It's what another stage dancer of mine used to do.' He continues, more to himself, 'Maybe we see how that works out first.'

    I came in here expecting the worst—that I'd be grinding on guys' laps by the weekend because I have to. And yet, now, the relief is pouring out of me.

    'Why are you in this profession?' he suddenly asks, lifting his eyes to bore into me once again.

    One question I did expect. I meet his stare and hold it as I explain, 'Because I'm good at it, I've got a decent body, and have no interest in serving French fries for minimum wage while I figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.' I deliver that as I practiced it—calmly, clearly, convincingly. It's a good answer. One that creates no doubt. And so far from the truth. I know exactly what I want to do with my life.

    End it and begin a new one.

    He nods slowly, his lip pressed together in a grimace. I don't know if that means I'm hired or not, so I bite my tongue and wait for a concrete verdict. I'm still waiting for Cain's decision when his cell phone rings. I watch with fingers laced together in front of me while he answers with a gruff, 'Yup.' He listens, his free hand absently rubbing a small tattoo behind his ear. A second later he barks, 'No! I'm on my way.' Hanging up, he digs into a drawer and comes out with a handful of papers. 'Fill these out, please. Bring a copy of your driver's license tomorrow night with you.' Whatever gentleness crept into his voice before has vanished. It's all business now, as he slides the sheets across his desk with hands that look strong and muscular but incapable to soothe. 'If the crowd likes you, you've got a job.' Turning those eyes my way once more and pausing for a moment, he adds, 'Fair?'

    'Absolutely. Thank you,' I say with a nod and what I hope is a courteous smile as I collect the forms.

    With that, he turns and crouches down behind his desk. I hear something metal slam that reminds me of my stepdad's safe door. When Cain stands again, it's to fit a holster and gun on him, startling me. It's not the first time I've seen a gun. I have a gun. I've used a gun. But seeing Cain with one right here, right now, was unexpected. Why does he even need one?

    Throwing a light jacket over himself to conceal it—he'll die wearing that in the summer heat, but concealing your weapon is a law in Florida and I guess Cain is a law-abiding citizen—he walks over and, with one hand on the small of my back, ushers me toward the door. It's not exactly rude, but it's also far from polite. With me in the hall, he pulls his office door shut and marches out the back exit, not turning once.

    I'm left standing alone, inhaling the faint scent of beer, my ears catching someone testing the sound system. The one that will play music that I strip to tomorrow night.

    I take a deep breath as a rash of butterflies swirl through my stomach, the sudden urge to let loose my bladder overwhelming.

    It's not a big deal.

    Mom did this.

    I can do this.

    After everything I've done, that I've been accomplice to, taking my top off in front of a bunch of drunks is nothing. I deserve to suffer a bit.

    I glance down at the paperwork in my hand. He said he wants a copy of my license. That's fine. The only accurate thing on it is my picture.

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