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HOW do you feel about spending every night surrounded by adoring women eager to worship your body?”
Mark Sullivan stared at his brother-in-law across the desk in the posh Manhattan office as if he’d lost his mind. “Is this a trick question?”
With a rueful smile, Rafe said, “I got a call from my pal Norton over at the FBI yesterday. He needs a little freelance work done.”
“Really? Is that regulation?”
“It’s a favor. I owe Norton for keeping my ass out of a sling while I was . . . bending the law to prevent you from doing ten to twenty in beautiful Leavenworth.”
“Then I owe him, too. Big time. But why don’t you want this? He asked for you, right?”
Rafe hesitated. “This is a little beyond my realm. You know my business is primarily electronic security. This case really needs a CPA, my man, and that’s you.”
“Okay. What’s up?”
“Norton wants to send in a civilian, someone who has fewer rules to follow, someone fresh. The FBI has an agent in this location already on a separate case but . . . they suspect something is up, that maybe the agent has gone rogue. They haven’t heard from this per- son in nearly three months.”
“Got a name?”
“Nope.” Rafe shook his head. “Norton wouldn’t spill it, just in case the agent is even deeper undercover or has temporarily stopped communicating because things are hot. In either event, watch for signs and steer clear.”
“Sure.” Mark grinned. “When do we get to the part with the adoring women?”
“Ha! I knew that would get your attention.” The smile slid off
Rafe’s face. “We’ll come back to that. Have a seat.”
Frowning, Mark stared at his sister’s husband and lowered himself into a black leather club chair. The jagged Manhattan sky- line jutted up into a gray sky, but the sight did nothing to distract him now. Why the secrecy? Why the formality?
“Okay, I’m sitting. What’s this about?”
“Here’s the deal: The Feds are chasing a Mafia connection. Money laundering. If they can figure out where the money is coming from and where it’s going, they hope it will net them a big fish.”
“Makes sense.” Mark shrugged. “So why are you looking at me like I’m a big game hunter and you’re about to tell me guns have been outlawed?”
“The tip came from your ex-wife, Mark. She finally gave up some information about her connection. With her trial starting soon, she’s looking for a plea bargain.”
Apparently she valued her plea bargain more than her neck. While he was glad she was finally cooperating, it didn’t surprise Mark that Tiffany failed to grasp the fact her freedom would be worth nothing if she was dead. Appreciation for lasting things had never been her strong suit. She’d certainly valued quick, easy money more than their marriage.
“So what did Tiffany say?” Mark finally asked.
“She didn’t have the guy’s name, just a description and the name of the place he worked at the time of their connection. She claims her contact told her he would gain control of the money pipeline this summer.”
“Okay.” Mark realized Rafe held a manila envelope in his hand and wore a reluctant expression. “What’s in the envelope?”
“Nothing, really,” Rafe said, looking away and tossing the brownish rectangular envelope on his desk. “Just some papers and . . . nothing.”
“Bullshit.” Mark stood and crossed the space in three long strides. “When I came to work with you, we agreed up front to complete honesty. Don’t go back on your word now, man.”
Rafe rolled his eyes. “Now I know why your sister can sniff out even the tiniest white lie. You trained her too well, damn it. I can’t even surprise her for Christmas, while she managed to blow me away with the announcement that she was pregnant.”
“Stop trying to sidetrack me. What’s in the envelope?” Mark said through gritted teeth, feeling his temperature rise.
Whatever it was, Rafe wanted to hide it bad. Since coming to work with his brother-in-law, they’d been nothing but even, equal. After a rocky introduction, they’d settled into a great working and familial relationship.
So this shit just pissed him off.
Rafe sighed and reached for the envelope. “Don’t look at this. It’s really unnecessary. What you need to know is, the guy we’re after is Caucasian, stands just at six feet, is somewhere between twenty- eight and thirty-five, has dark brown hair and brown eyes, no distinguishing tattoos or birthmarks.”
“Gee, that narrows the suspects down to ten percent of the male population. Hell, that could almost describe you. Let me see what’s in the envelope.”
Without further comment, Rafe sighed and handed Mark the packet.
First, he withdrew a piece of paper with a candid headshot taken out on the street during a cloudy day, along with small bio. “Blade Bocelli? This is the guy we’re after?”
“With the description Tiffany provided, I called a PI who owed me a favor. He narrowed the list of suspects down significantly. This is the most viable one. Bocelli is a mid-level thug, but he has a direct line to the upper echelons of the Gamalini Family, we think, through Pietro DiStefano. Bocelli’s brother was Mafia, but he went to prison a few years ago for murdering a federal judge. Anyway, it appears Blade Bocelli is the dude the Feds want to nail.”
“Great.” Nodding, Mark reached inside again and withdrew an eight-by-ten glossy photo.
The breath left his body in a single rush. Tiffany.
Mark stared at the picture of his ex-wife, taken during their marriage, as evidenced by the fact she was wearing the wedding ring he’d put on her finger one rainy November afternoon. She had her skirt hiked up to her hips, her black high heels spread wide and a dark-headed man standing between them, his pants loose about his hips. Black leather stretched across the man’s wide back and shoulders as he held Tiffany in place with a white-knuckled grip. In the heat of the moment, her red hair had fallen askew and her mouth opened wide.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
“You didn’t need to see that, Mark. Seriously. I tried—”
“It’s not as if I didn’t know she cheated.” But it didn’t keep the sight of it from curling rage through his stomach. “Some computer tech head, the janitor at the bank, now this guy. That’s the least of her crimes, really.”
Tiffany didn’t have the power to hurt him now, nearly a year after their divorce. Shock, at times. Annoy, every time.
She’d only married him to frame him for embezzlement so that she could launder money for the Mafia and take her cut. A year ago, when he’d first learned the truth, it had devastated him. The knowledge he’d meant nothing to her beyond the means to a profit had flattened his heart. He’d loved her—or thought he had.
Today, she was just a stinging reminder of his failure to see her for what she was, his piss-poor ability to recognize what true love wasn’t, and his really, really bad taste in women.
“I’m sorry,” Rafe muttered. “Look, if this case is too personal . . .”
Too personal? Being humiliated and duped was personal. Catching the jerk who helped orchestrate his downfall—that sounded like a good time.
“No, I want it. If this Blade Bocelli is the scumbag who helped Tiffany on her way to prison”—while plowing his way between my ex-wife’s thighs—“and he’s laundering money, he deserves to do hard time.”
Rafe slapped him on the shoulder. “You’re a better man than me. If I saw a picture like that of my wife with another man, I’d dismember him slowly and painfully.”
“My ex-wife, thank you very much. Besides, you don’t have anything to worry about. My sister would never do that to you. She loved you, even when you were too stupid to know you reciprocated.”
“Point taken.” Rafe smiled. “So, want to hear your cover? This is the part where the adoring women come in.”
Mark tossed the offending picture of Tiffany and her Mafia thug lover onto Rafe’s desk. “Finally, a subject of great interest. Lay it on me.”
“You’re going to Las Vegas. Blade Bocelli appears to still be living and working at the same Vegas nightclub he started at last year, shortly after it opened.”
“What do we know about the club?”
“It’s called Girls’ Night Out. It’s actually a male strip joint. Hence the adoring women.”
Mark hesitated. “I’m going in as the accountant, right?”
Rafe’s cat-ate-the-canary smile warned him that something was deeply wrong. “The club is actively seeking dancers. I hope you don’t have two left feet.”
Mark stood. “Wipe that freakin’ smirk off your face. I’m not going in there as a male stripper and taking off my clothes so bored housewives can shove dollar bills down my G-string.”
“It’s our only in.”
Cursing a blue streak, Mark paced to the other side of the room and gazed absently over the midtown view. “I’m a hell of a lot better prepared to demonstrate karate than shake my booty. I’ve never done anything like that.”
“We have two weeks to prep. I’ve got a line on someone who’s ‘retired’ from the biz and can teach you what you need to know.” “But an exotic dancer? C’mon . . . be serious.”
“That’s the gig. You want to catch this guy or not?”
Mark stewed in silence, contemplating all the ways he’d make an idiot out of himself onstage wearing nothing but a scrap of cloth with a piece of string up his ass.
“Oh, and before you answer, let me introduce you to one of the major perks of the case,” Rafe said, cutting into his brooding.
Rafe reached into the packet again, this time to extract yet an- other photo. Only this one was of a woman in brief denim shorts and a red tank top, holding a pen and a few pieces of paper. Her head was turned toward one shoulder, facing whoever had been holding the camera, her expression looking slightly off-guard. Dark hair framed her face, drifted halfway down her back. Slanted blue eyes looked a bit wide and startled, while full lips parted in question.
Mark grabbed the photo and stared harder. She had a face beautiful enough to qualify as a starlet’s and a body tempting enough to belong to the Devil’s daughter. Immediately, his imagination turned unruly. He pictured himself parting her lips—with his tongue, with his cock. Her cleavage peeked out above her tank top, and his pants grew a tad too tight as he thought about peeling it off, holding her pert breasts in his hands, and kissing her nipples. Brown? Pink? Coral? Didn’t matter. He wanted her.
“I thought she might get your attention.” “Who is she?” Mark demanded.
“The club’s owner, famous New York party girl Nicola DiStefano, Pietro DiStefano’s niece and . . . your new boss.”
A smile crept across his face. “Seriously?”
“Before you start thinking about what a cushy assignment this is, there’s one catch: The Feds think it’s likely Nicki is in the dark about her club being used by Bocelli to launder money, probably for her uncle, a big-time Mafia man. But they don’t know for certain that she’s unaware, so she can’t know her place is being investigated.”
“No problem. I’ll maintain my cover.”
“Which reminds me, you’ll be going in as Mark Gabriel. I’m having a phony driver’s license and Social Security card made for you as we speak. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. You’ve got to get into her club’s books and study them. Find out what’s going on, see if there are any patterns, try to glean who might be behind it all. To do that, you’ll have to earn her trust.”
“Earn her trust. How?”
Rafe sent him a sly grin. “Be creative.”
Mark had ideas, juicy, salivating, lustful ones . . . though not deeply ethical. Being a guy, Rafe’s mind obviously ran in the same direction.
“C’mon. What are you suggesting I do, fuck it out of her?” “Whatever works.”
He rolled his eyes. “So while I’m working for her, I get her to trust me. Fine. I’ll find a way to get it done.”
“It’s still not that easy. The job isn’t just yours. You still have to . . . ah, audition.”
• * *
BRING in the next victim,” Nicki DiStefano called with a long- suffering sigh.
Within moments, her younger half sister Lucia appeared, thick auburn hair restrained in an elegant French twist and white librarian sweater perched on her shoulders. Nicki laughed as she stared down at herself. The black bra she hadn’t realized she was wearing was visible through her yellow tank top, and her diamond navel ring winked in the club’s dimmed lights.
“So how was the first audition?” Lucia asked.
Nicki pushed aside all thoughts of the ways she and her half sister were different and realized this was one thing they would agree on wholeheartedly.
She made a face at Lucia. “Blech! He’d been watching too many old Michael Jackson videos, I think.”
Lucia laughed, managing to sound so refined and mature, de- spite being a mere twenty-three, more than three years Nicki’s junior. Then again, earning a Ph.D. the same year she could legally drink, rather than learning intimately the inside of every nearby evening hot spot, did make Lucia more mature. Nicki had never finished college . . . but she’d sure known every nightclub worth knowing in New York. She grimaced at the realization and shoved the thought away.
“All the crotch grabbing . . .” Nicki said with a shudder. “I think he liked the self-touching for an audience way too much. Put a whole new meaning to the song ‘Beat It.’ ”
With a hand over her mouth, Lucia stifled another laugh. “Well, maybe your second candidate will be an improvement. He’s certainly very easy on the eyes.”
With that cryptic comment, Lucia disappeared. She might be a refined history professor, but that twinkle in her eye was pure mischief. Maybe her sister was being facetious.
“Bring him on,” Nicki called.
A moment later, the stage door creaked, then slammed shut. Dang it, she really needed to buy some WD-40 for that . . .
Oh. My. God.
Through the stage door and past the black curtain, her second audition entered the room. Nicki lost her breath—and the ability not to gape like an utter idiot.
Who was this Adonis dressed in a crisp white collared shirt and black leather pants? A glance at her list told Nicki that his name was Mark Gabriel. Such an innocuous few syllables to term the embodiment of every sexual fantasy she ever remembered having.
The room felt warm suddenly as he stepped onto the stage, under the dimmed lights, a worn leather backpack slung over one shoulder. Lord, he was huge—very tall, broad, bursting with muscle. Blond hair an amazing golden color hung past his collar. His eyes—green? Maybe darker?—pierced her as he nodded.
Wow, his deep, powerful voice alone was orgasm-inducing. Would he be offended if she told him she wanted to take Polaroids so she could fantasize about him the next time she spent a lonely morning with her battery-operated boyfriend? And could she get an MP3 of him saying her name, just for effect?
“C-call me Nicki.”
Was she actually stuttering? He hadn’t danced a step, and she was acting like a groupie. Most likely, he got that a lot.
“Nicki,” he returned smoothly.
Was it her imagination, or were her panties actually turning damp?
“And you’re Mark?” she managed to say in a somewhat even tone.
Not a big talker, apparently. That was just as well. All she really wanted to do was look at him . . . fantasize about touching.
Wait! It’s an audition, not a grope fest, logic screeched. Wishing that logic would keep its nose out of her thoughts, she returned her full attention to Mr. Yummy-Enough-to-Drool-on.
“Ever done this sort of work before? I didn’t get a resume from you.”
No explanation. No offer to get her a resume. Interesting . . . “Where are you from?”
Which explained the gorgeous golden skin. “That’s a long way from Vegas.”
“Looking for a change of scenery.”
Nicki hesitated. Something in Mark’s face, a certain tenseness maybe, seemed to say it was far more complicated than having grown tired of looking at palm trees and beaches. But it really wasn’t any of her business. The man was here for a job. If she hired him and he did it well, then the rest, his past, whatever—it didn’t matter.
“Can you dance?”
He shrugged one massive shoulder, even as his lips—oh, how did she miss that scrumptious mouth earlier?—curled up in a smile. “I get by.”
Lord, he gave her the tingles. Why was she interrogating him? He could stand perfectly still and make them both a small fortune. A fortune she desperately needed, if she ever wanted financial in- dependence and freedom from the tight press of her uncle Pietro’s thumb.
Still, it wasn’t in her nature to take anything at face value, especially men, even if her hormones were doing the mambo.
“Can you flirt?” she asked. “This job requires it.”
As if she had challenged his very manhood, Mark set down his backpack, eased off the stage, and strode toward her table. He didn’t swagger—it would have been too cheesy on him. He . . . prowled, as if hunting someone. Her, by the look on his face.
And what a face it was. Square jaw, square chin, covered with a fine five o’clock shadow.
As he edged closer, Nicki realized his eyes were neither green nor brown. They were somewhere in between, like moss growing over rich earth. They were gorgeous, and she wondered if he was aware of her awestruck stare. Lord, bury her in a hole now if he was.
Mark sat on the edge of her table, leaned forward, and sent her an amused smile.
Dimples. Real, live dimples creasing each side of his face. On any other man, they might have looked girlish. On him, oh no. He looked all man. She’d died and found heaven.
“I can flirt, if I have to. I’d rather just talk to you. About you.”
It had to be a line, and she’d be stupid to be affected by it. Ignoring her speeding heartbeat, Nicki cocked her head and regarded him with what she hoped was a cool gaze. “That’s laying it on a tad thick.” He leaned in. “It’s being honest. I searched for you on Google before this meeting. You run with quite a crowd. What was it like hanging out with Paris Hilton at parties?”
“Relatively dateless. And once she got into home movies . . . well, then I really couldn’t compete,” she said flippantly.
“So all the men you met in the past were stupid?” “Excuse me?”
“To be more interested in a careless bimbo than you, they’ve got to be stupid. To run a business takes some guts, brains, and substance.”
A burst of pleasure flushed her body at his words. For years she’d wondered why men failed to see the qualities of a woman beyond her waistline, ass, or breasts. Maybe this guy did. And maybe he was blowing sunshine up her skirt. She couldn’t deny, however, that he was good.
“You have the most interesting eyes,” he murmured. “They’re so blue and exotic next to your beautiful olive skin.”
“My dad was both a typical Italian and a typical man. I got his skin. Everything else, I got from my mother. She was half Norwegian, half Chinese.”
“No kidding?” His smile widened. “That’s a unique combination.”
“My father liked possessing unique mistresses. She was a beautiful woman.”
“So is her daughter.”
Boy, he looked at her. Right at her. With those vivid hazel eyes, he stared, taking her in. She didn’t want to be affected by his praise or his gaze on her. It was stupid, unprofessional.
You don’t always get what you want, a pesky voice in her head reminded her.
“You going to dance for me, or you going to sit here and gab all day?”
“Whatever you want, boss.” He winked and turned away.
From his backpack, Mark extracted a CD and placed it in the portable player located stage left. Moments later, a rich, sexy techno rhythm filled the air. To the beat of the music, he strutted to the front edge of the stage, his expression mysterious, arrogant, as his gaze locked on to hers. For a man who stood about five inches over six feet, he moved with a slick grace, a smooth prowl. Generally, if a man was a good dancer, he was also good in—
Get your mind out of the gutter, girl. He’s here to audition, not light your fire!
Nicki knew she should be more jaded. She saw this kind of stuff all the time. Every night, in fact. But something about Mark made being impervious utterly impossible. She had no idea why he affected her more than any other hottie working here. But when a bump of his hips had her catching her breath, she couldn’t deny that he did.
A large hand raking through the pale sheen of his hair as he prowled closer had her heartbeat racing. The pure sex attitude and intent stare had her lamenting every last moment of her two years of celibacy.
But when he grabbed the edges of his shirt and ripped them wide, exposing a chest bulging with muscle and abs rippling with definition, Nicki pretty much lost her mind.
The white shirt hung loose on his wide shoulders, stark against his golden skin. Every muscle in his sleek torso bunched as he took a deep breath. His incredible pectorals tightened as he raised his hands from his sides.
They stopped at the waistband of his pants.
His gaze honed in on her again, rich with promise and knowledge. This man knew a thing or two about sin. His thumb glided down his fly, directly down the length of a bulge a blind woman couldn’t miss.
Nicki sucked in a breath and held it.
A reproachful half smile taunted her just before he yanked on his shirt, stripping it clean away from his body, exposing miles more muscle heaped on his beefy shoulders. A Celtic knot tattoo encircled one of the hard swells of his very healthy biceps. Even his thick forearms, lined with wide veins, attested to his strength and vitality. Holy cow, he looked like he could bench-press her Crossfire convertible.
He grabbed his shirt in his large fist and, with it, stroked his way down his chest, throwing his head back to expose the long, strong column of his throat.
Lying to herself was useless. She’d love to be the one to put ecstasy on his face. And thinking that about a prospective employee was about as smart as cranking her air-conditioning on and flinging her doors wide to the Vegas summer.
Mark fastened his hot gaze on her once more. He tossed his shirt away with a snap of his wrist and strutted closer, so close she could see a rivulet of sweat sliding down his corded neck. There was no doubt this time; her panties were definitely damp.
Wearing nothing but a naughty smile from the waist up, the Adonis look-alike gyrated his hips in a deep, lazy movement, demonstrating a sure rhythm to the music. The perfect rhythm, in fact, for—
Stop there, she told herself. For God’s sake, she was a grown woman who’d had her fair share of gorgeous men. What was her problem?
Besides not having had a flesh-and-blood man in so long her sexual skills had moved from rusty to corroded beyond salvage?
The notion that sex was like riding a bike seemed too easy, especially when confronted with a man who could probably win the bedroom Tour de France, blindfolded. Not that she’d ever know personally.
Suddenly, he turned away. Nicki’s eyes widened at the sight of his naked back and leather-clad ass. Views of his front and back were equally drool-inducing. No doubt, he got a woman both coming and going . . . and coming again.
Bad, bad girl.
She drew in a deep breath. Now would be a good time to get her head on straight, rather than mooning over an auditioning man like a thirteen-year-old with her latest Teen Beat magazine. Mark Gabriel was here to serve a purpose, potentially to make her money.
Business, her club’s future, financial independence—those were her priorities. Period.
But then he grabbed his leather pants at both sides and pulled. Suddenly, he wore a small black G-string that showed his taut, sculpted ass. And well . . . the future seemed really far away.
Aware that her mouth gaped open, Nicki closed it. Again, he swung his hips. The muscles in his legs and backside moved in fluid harmony. Every shift in his position showed off his rippling back to perfection.
Where had this guy come from, Hunks R Us?
Finally, he turned and faced her, arms swinging at his sides, as he and his taut belly undulated closer. Now she had to peer up at him, and the new angle had her wishing she had invested in a video camera. It also gave her a really up close and personal view of the fact he wasn’t small anywhere.
Resisting the urge to wipe her sweaty palms down her jeans, she sat on her hands instead, to restrain herself from the powerful temptation to touch. Her panties had gone beyond damp.
Mark smiled, as if he could read her mind.
He dropped to one knee in front of her on the raised stage, and they were nearly eye-level. His gaze seemed to say that he would love nothing more than to master her body, grant her every midnight fantasy. Everything below her waist wholeheartedly accepted.
The music throbbed around them, hot and insistent. He reached out. Toward her. Closer, closer, those long fingers and that broad palm came. He held a lock of hair that framed her face between his thumb and forefinger and slowly drew it through his grasp. Then he feathered his thumb along her jaw as he stared deep into her eyes, as if she was the most fascinating creature in the world.
Her heart all but stopped. Her skin tingled. Everything between her legs ached. She’d run out of adjectives to describe how amazing Mark Gabriel was—a first for her.
With a wink and a dimpled smile, he stood, swung his hips once more, and struck a bodybuilder’s pose that delineated every muscle of his mind-blowing body as the music stopped.
Nicki didn’t know whether to clap madly or run to the stage to attack him, ripping off her clothes as she went. Or send him away before she indulged in the latter.
Instead, she sat stunned, mute.
Mark uncurled from his pose. Casting her a quick glance as if to gauge her reaction, he casually gathered his clothes and music, then hopped off the stage. He stood right in front of her, glistening and gorgeous and—oh God—she could smell him now . . . pine forest, a hint of sweat, and a whole lotta man.
She exhaled and pasted on a smile. “Well done.”
The smile toying at the corners of his mouth displayed his amusement. “Thank you.”
He shifted right, directly into her line of vision, so that she was suddenly staring at his rigid six pack and ample . . . attributes. Hot tamales, he was temptation on two legs. It would be so easy to indulge her craving for a little afternoon delight and put an end to the lengthy celibacy that suddenly constricted like a spiked collar. His golden skin sliding over thick muscle just brought on fantasies of the power he could bring to bed, the—
Great, he’d caught her staring. Well, duh! She’d been as subtle as a dog panting after a whole pile of juicy bones. She glanced again at his . . . package and figured any analogy that contained the word “bone” was just a bad idea right now.
Clearing her throat, she stood and met his gaze. “Sorry. Zoned off for a minute. Remembering some things I left unfinished in my office.”
And if you buy that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you . . .
“I know you’re busy. Sorry if I kept you too long.” He shrugged into his shirt.
“It’s fine. Um, since all I have is a name, I’m going to need some contact information. I’ve got a few more auditions over the next few days, but I’ll call once I’ve made a decision.”
He gave her the number to his cell phone as he donned his pants. Thinking it was a shame to cover up such awe-inspiring scenery, she scribbled his number greedily. Gee, if she called him during a weak moment and lured him into great phone sex, would he know it was her?
“I’ve got caller ID. I don’t always answer the phone, but for you
Nicki bit her lip to hold in a gasp. Had he read her mind?
No, he wants a job, you idiot. Focus!
“Address?” she asked.
He hesitated. “I just got into town yesterday, so I don’t really have one. Once I find a job, I’ll be looking for a place. For now, I’m staying at a motel.”
“No sweat. I’ll just . . . call.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” He extended his hand in her direction. Oh, goody, she was going to get to touch him. Even if he only offered her a handshake instead of an invitation to do the wild thing. Her belly knotting, she folded her much smaller hand in his. Lightning singed its way from her hand, up her arm, straight to her chest the instant he touched her. From the moment she’d set eyes on him, she’d known he had potent written all over him in big red letters. His handshake more than confirmed it. The knot in her stomach tightened . . . just like her nipples.
Lord, what would happen if the man kissed her, spontaneous combustion?
“Thanks for coming out.” She hoped her smile looked nice and impersonal, as if she were talking to her uncle or old Mr. Piedmont who bagged at the grocery store a few blocks away.
“My pleasure. And hopefully yours, too.” He winked.
Oh, yeah. If the gods were kind, he had no idea just how much.
Posted September 28, 2009
The book is very HOT. Alot of explicit sex scenes. Story was good kept me interested. It was a very quick read. Good beach or rainy day book.
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Posted January 17, 2013
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Posted December 2, 2013
** 3.5 stars **
Shayla Black is an author's who's been recommended to me time and again as I've ventured more into erotic romance. I own several of her books, including the first in this series. It was time to see if I would fall in love like many other readers.
I liked Strip Search, quite a bit. The writing was good. The characters were challenging and fully-developed. The sex was crazy hot. Strip Search read as romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance, which is a good thing because I am currently enjoying the heck out of romantic suspense. Here's the story: Mark is investigating a money laundering scheme, and it centers around Nicki, the owner of an exotic dance club. Mark apparently is gorgeous and sexy, so to get inside, he signs on as a dancer. Fun, right? Readers are quickly clued in to whether Nicki is involved, but poor Mark is not. He's all tied up in conflicting feelings due to the betrayal by his ex-wife, the similarity of that situation to what might be going on with Nicki. He wants to believe Nicki is innocent, but a lot of signs point to her guilt. It doesn't help that the two want to get it on basically from the moment they meet. What happens when you fall for the woman you're investigating? Or even better, what happens when she finds out that while the man she's fallen for might not be lying about his feelings, but he has lied about so, so much?
Once Mark is established in the club, Strip Search sort of moves into a holding pattern. It basically goes like this: intense and suggestive flirting; the tension builds until Mark and Nicki are left clawing each other's clothes off; wicked hot sex that leaves the vulnerable and reeling; self-loathing on Mark's part for sleeping with the possible enemy; Nicki is left confused, hurt, and vowing to never sleep wit Mark again, but the next time he makes his move, they're at it again. Repeat cycle (again and again). And honestly, though I got where he was coming from, Mark was a gigantic ass to Nicki. This rotation of events went on for a large portion of the story, and I admit, it began to get old. I think Black was being true to her (very stubborn) characters, so I don't know that things should have gone altogether differently, but it did eventually bog the story down, for me.
Where Strip Search hit the mark, besides that fun premise, is the intimate, sexy scenes between Mark and Nicki. The scenes were good 'n plenty. Mark is a really dirty talker, and that's always a big ol' tick in the Win column for me. Mark and Nicki were passionate individuals who started off using sex as a way to get off, and because their chemistry was crazy hot. But as the story continues and their relationship and the complications developed, it became a way to express their emotions and passion. It spoke volumes.
I did like Strip Search, despite having an issue with the repetitive plot. I will definitely be reading more of Black in the future.
Posted November 18, 2013
If you read my reviews you can see that I almost never give anything less than 4 stars. Now, I'm breaking this pattern with a book by an author whom I love & adore(Shayla Black writing as Shelley Bradley), and whose books I have been consistently giving 4 & 5 stars. And here's the reason why Strip Search earned a 3 star from me. I love having a tormented & tortured duo (or trio) in lust and love. I loved the premise of Strip Search and the possibilities that the characters' backgrounds provided. I was thrilled to pick up this sequel to Kerry Sullivan's story - that revolved around saving her brother Mark. So here we have Mark's story. Freed from jail, cleared of embezzlement charges and in excellent health having recovered from melanoma, he's going undercover to help expose financial shenanigans in a strip club. He's got a brain for math and a bod for sin. At least that is what club owner Nicola DeStefano discovers after she hires the CPA as a stripper. "Starting over" he says. Starting her engine is what he does. So, sounds great, right? Two tough and determined characters dealing with their own issues and smokin' between the sheets. Everything that Black/Bradley does beautifully. The problem arose when the tension and friction and conflict grew to such proportions that it overwhelmed my ability to believe the characters would continue to come together. The tone of anger and suspicion forced me to question that there could be such hot sex between them. Mark's treatment of Nicola made her feel horrid. His suspicions of her connection to money laundering, possibly even murder, made it impossible to believe he'd take one for the team. No matter what he was trying to prove (and the motivation was not a deeply personal one). So while I enjoyed the story, and Black/Bradley deftly moves from steamy encounters, to some humor, and into the dangerous waters she writes so well, the experience was not as powerful as I've come to love from her. Simply because I could not get past how angry and bitter the lovers were. The ending was suitably wonderful. And of course I read the entire book. But I discovered that even my own taste for dark and conflicted characters does have a limit. Don't forgo the book - it's a signatureWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 5, 2013
Berkley Heat is re-releasing one of Shayla Black's most sexy novels. Strip Search is the second book in the Sexy Capers series written under the pen name, Shelley Bradley. With a steamy new cover and just as much passion and romantic chemistry as before, this is a novel full of excitement and surprises. Black's trademark sexy banter and dialogue skills are at their peak. When Mark Sullivan goes undercover to nail a mafia kingpin, his new job as a stripper in a Vegas club has more than one perk. The super sophisticated owner Nicola DiStefano has a lot that could be exposed if she follows her heart. A great steamy novel just in time for colder weather.
Shayla Black is one of those writers that has a real knack for writing to a niche. She has created a career that focuses on the adult side of romance and readers flock to her books in droves. She allows readers to indulge in their own fantasies about sex and love, but she also adds an element of suspense to most of her novels that is both intriguing and central to the story. Readers get real 'double whammy' when reading one of Shayla's books, and her latest re-release is no exception to that rule. Strip Search is exactly what the reader ordered.
The protagonist in this novel is a man. Mark Sullivan is an undercover agent with a body that is sexy enough for the stage. Black takes her time with this character letting readers warm up to him as he starts his new gig at a Vegas club. Readers get to see Mark at his worst and his best throughout the novel. He's a man who knows what he wants and he wants Nicola DiStefano. I liked the fact that Black makes him a take charge kind of guy, but also one with a heart. He has his vulnerable side and plenty of secrets of his own. A great hero for this type of novel.
Nicola is woman with a plan. She's a shrewd business woman. Sophisticated, worldly and her life is spent in the company of beautiful men and women, but there is just something about her latest hire that heats her blood and makes her think about possibilities she hasn't thought of in years. She is too busy for love, to invested in her business and her life. She doesn't have time to pursue these feelings that she is starting to realize she has for Mark. I liked the fact that Black made Nicola, a little less than perfect. She has dabbled in a darker side of business and has a lot of secrets of her own. I liked the fact that no one had really pushed her buttons for awhile and that Mark kind of came out the blue. She was a good heroine and perfect for the hero.
The suspense aspect of the novel was spot on. The thug may be the target but the collateral damage may be more than Mark is willing to accept. Black did an amazing job of making every tense moment count. The characters find themselves in serious danger and Black pulls out all the stops to make it believable.
The romance in this one is HOT! Nicola and Mark are extremely attracted to each other despite the obstacles in their way or maybe because them. They are both very passionate characters who live their lives on proverbial edge, because of the work they do and the people they associate with. When they do come together readers get a feast for the senses. From the sights and smells to the emotions coursing through them and leaping off the page. Black's gift for dialogue only makes the romance hotter. Readers who are looking for a novel that has both eroticism and suspense will love this one.
Posted October 15, 2013
3.5 stars-read as a re release 2013: STRIP SEARCH is the second storyline in Shayla Black’s (aka Shelley Bradley) Sexy Capers contemporary romance, mystery series. This is Mark Sullivan’s story and we first me Mark in Bound and Determined as his sister was struggling to prove his innocence in a multi million dollar theft at the bank where he worked.
Strip Search begins approximately a year or more after Bound and Determined. Our hero Mark is now divorced from his wife, his sister is married to the man she abducted and, Mark is now working for his brother in law’s corporate investigations firm. His latest assignment will pit him against some of the people involved with his ex wife and her attempts to pin the theft of millions of dollars on Mark.
Nicki is the owner of a Vegas strip club and Mark is going undercover as a stripper in an attempt to seduce his way into Nicki’s bed and eventually her books. With an FBI operative non-responsive, Mark must go in blind to try and discover who and what is responsible for the money laundering and missing millions in the Vegas club. But to Mark’s surprise, Nicki doesn’t seem like the type of person to launder millions but her infamous mafic family is in the FBI’s sights.
The sexual relationship between Nicki and Mark is sensual and entertaining but there is a big elephant in the room as it pertains to Mark. He is a man unable to get past his ex-wife’s betrayal and it is affecting his relationship with Nicki. He can no longer trust anyone and everyone becomes a suspect even the woman who has declared her love for him.
Mark is the male version of many of the female heroine’s in romance novels. He is so disillusioned and heartbroken that he sabotages every attempt at happiness; he willingly hurts Nicki at every opportunity using emotional cuts and bruises. He is the epitome of bi-polar personality both in and out of the bedroom. And in this, he is a difficult character to like. He is making love one moment and then his mind begins to wander and he pulls away and runs. I don’t know anyone who would be able to accept his actions on an ongoing basis.
Nicki is a woman who is oblivious to her predicament. She is partnered with a mafic-connected uncle and she willingly allows employees and co-workers access to her computer information. In this, she is definitely heading for trouble.
The world building continues from Bound and Determined. Rafe and Kerry return for a few cameos and their lives are about to be turned upside down as well. But there are also many similarities between the first two storylines including premise and plot scenarios and conversation stylings.
Mark needs to make amends to the woman with whom he has fallen in love, but he cannot stop the accusations and feelings of betrayal. Right up until the end of the storyline our hero pushes Nicki away until it is too late for both. If Mark cannot get past the betrayal, he will lose the woman and his heart.
Copy supplied by the publisher.
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