Welcome to Eye Candy, the East Side’s hottest nightclub where the bartenders are hot, the cocktails are fancy, and danger lurks just under the surface…
Eve Webber, the gorgeous and savvy owner of Eye Candy, knows better than anyone that growing up on the wrong side of the tracks comes with certain complications. Determined to run a clean business and fix up the East Side, Eve’s plans get temporarily stalled when a potential new hire walks into her bar. The sexual chemistry crackling between them is a potent distraction…even if she refuses to mix business with the promise of pleasure.
Detective Matt Dorchester lives by strict rules that have kept him alive in impossible situations. When his latest undercover assignment has him playing a bartender, his desire for the passionate owner has him breaking every single one. Eve is in danger and her life depends on his secrecy. But once their attraction reaches a climactic conclusion, Matt must make a desperate choice: Tell her the truth about who he really is—or risk a once-in-a-lifetime love to save her life?
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Under the Surface
By Anne Calhoun
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Anne Calhoun
All rights reserved.
Sex on a stick, Lord, that's all I need ... walking, talking sex on a stick. If he can mix a decent drink, so much the better.
Eve Webber shifted two boxes of limes to the far end of the bar and considered apologizing to the Almighty for making the risqué request. Not a single lesson in eighteen years of Sunday school covered petitioning the Lord for a good-looking man. But with a location on the edge of Lancaster's struggling East Side and nine people depending on her for their paychecks, Eye Candy's success depended heavily on gorgeous male bartenders who lived up to the bar's provocative name. She'd take all the help she could get.
"Drop-dead sexy, knowledgeable, with just a smidgen of honor. That's all I need," she muttered.
She picked up her iPhone and scanned for chatter on Facebook and Twitter. A couple of posts from women in her target market, young professionals, about meeting up at Eye Candy after work, which was very welcome news. She replied, tweeted her drink specials, then set the phone in the portable speaker unit for background music while she finished prepping the bar for the evening rush.
The heavy steel door swung open. She looked up from the limes and saw a lean figure silhouetted in a rectangle of thick August sunlight that cloaked his head and shoulders, shrouding his face.
"Chad Henderson?" she said, and if her voice was a little breathier than usual, well, he'd caught her off guard.
The two words ran together, automatic yet without a hint of deference, not a drawled opening to flirtation. "Come on in," she called, consciously steadying her voice.
She moved out from behind the bar to meet him. He didn't offer any of the small talk applicants often used to connect with her, so she leaned against the end of the bar and watched him scrutinize Eye Candy's interior as he wove his way through the tables toward her. The walls were black-painted cinderblock, and tables and stools surrounded the oak parquet dance floor on three sides; her DJ's booth comprised the fourth side and backed one short wall of the rectangular room. The solid oak, custom-crafted bar she'd purchased for a pittance at a bankruptcy auction ran along the other short end of the room. The place was empty and echoing now, but in three hours couples would pack the dance floor and every table would be occupied.
Chad stopped in front of her and slid the earpiece of his Revo sunglasses into the V of his shirt, exposing surprisingly hard ridges of pectoral muscle, given his lean frame.
"Eve Webber. I own Eye Candy." She offered her hand and got a firm grip in return as she took inventory. Maybe six feet tall, because her heels brought her to five ten and their eyes were just level. He wore running shoes, faded jeans too loose to draw attention to anything underneath, and a dark green button-down with the top two buttons undone. Reddish-brown hair long enough to show finger-combing ridges curled at his ears and shirt collar, and hazel eyes met Eve's assessing look without a hint of expression.
"Thanks for the interview."
Definitely not anxious, or eager, or any of the other adjectives normally used to describe a job applicant in a tough economy. She liked the cool confidence. It made him very watchable. Some women liked to flirt openly with a sexy-yet-safe bad boy. Others wanted to watch, and wonder. He wasn't exactly sex on a stick, but if he had any skill behind a bar at all, Chad would round out the eye candy quite nicely.
"Make yourself comfortable," she said as she leaned against the bar and gestured to one of the bar stools.
He braced himself against the stool and crossed his legs at the ankle, effectively trapping her between his body and the bar. After another glance at her, one that seemed to take in every detail of her face and body, he folded his arms across his chest and scanned the room again. "Nice setup."
"Thanks. I've only been open a couple of months, but business is good so far." She'd made a high-stakes bet on a building on the edge of the proposed Riverside Business Park, an urban renewal project due for a vote in the city council in the next few weeks. If it passed, Eve's lifelong neighborhood on Lancaster's East Side would get a much-needed influx of money, jobs, and attention.
She wasn't going to think about what it would mean to her and the East Side if the vote failed. She'd poured her life savings and a hefty small business loan into the interior. Any hint of insolvency and her family would pounce on the excuse to send her back to a desk job.
The way Chad blocked her in left no other option than to use the heel of her boot to hitch herself onto the stool next to his. She crossed her legs, and his gaze flickered over their length, displayed to their best advantage in the short skirt slit to the top of her thigh. His gaze slowly returned to her face, and when that green-brown gaze met hers, she felt a heady charge flicker across her skin.
"Tell me about your experience," she said, trying to focus, because each second of silence amped up the current crackling between them.
"I'm at Gino's."
Not good. A neighborhood bar south of downtown, Gino's was a cop hangout, a laid-back, low-energy, peanut-shells-on-the-floor, ESPN-on-the-TV kind of place, where local law enforcement went to unwind, not raise hell. As bars went, it was about as far from Eye Candy's high-energy dance club vibe as possible.
"Why leave? Getting beers for cops is much easier than mixing hundreds of cocktails a night."
"I need full-time hours." He looked around again. "And better tips."
"This isn't Gino's. Not by a long shot," she said. "You'll work for your tips here."
She didn't mean to infuse a sexual overtone into that comment, but somehow the insinuation hung between them. His eyes darkened from hazel to mossy green, and a hint of color stained his cheekbones. Okay, they had chemistry, that heart-pounding, shallow-breathing feeling that meant the pheromones were surging.
Chemistry with me means chemistry with customers, she thought firmly. Watching him work would tell her all she needed to know. "Feel up to making me something?" she asked lightly.
"Mojito? Cosmo? Cum in a Hot Tub?"
He got points for naming her three most popular cocktails, in order no less, and major points for including the last one without a hint of innuendo in his face or voice. "Let's try a cosmo," she said.
He moved past her, close enough that she felt the soft denim of his jeans brush against her bare thigh, then strolled behind the bar, found the Absolut, the triple sec, and the juices, and measured all the ingredients over ice scooped into a metal shaker, his movements precise. A couple of deft twists of his wrist, then he poured the drink into a chilled glass snagged from the fridge under the bar.
"I haven't sliced the oranges yet," she said when he scanned the half-filled tubs of garnishes.
He set the drink on a napkin in front of her, offering it to her with the stem between his index and middle fingers to avoid leaving prints on the glass. She sipped as he splashed the shaker through the wash, rinse, and sanitize sinks, then set it on a towel to dry. His ease in his body boded well for someone who'd spend eight-plus hours a night on his feet, handling glass and premium liquor.
He nodded his thanks and reached for a bar towel.
"You'll have to pick up the pace, though. We've got a line out the door nearly every night."
"No problem," he said as he dried his hands, then looked at his abraded knuckles. Not a wince, or a comment.
"You don't talk much."
In the silence that followed, the door between her office and her apartment slammed closed. Chad looked up at the noise, then back at her, clearly expecting an explanation, but she held his gaze and waited. Finally he said, "Bartenders should be good listeners."
Based on that comment, she'd better set the tone now. "Eye Candy isn't just a bar. It's an experience. Women come for hot bartenders, dance music, great drinks, and a chance to unwind with girlfriends. The hookup quotient is high because the men come for what they call 'prime pussy.'" A small smile lifted the corners of his mouth and formed crinkles around his eyes, the flash of personality an appealing insight into an otherwise blank front. So she added, "My office is over the men's room and unfortunately voices carry up the ductwork.
"The ground rules are that you've got a smile for everyone, no matter if she's the prettiest girl in the room or her chunky, self-conscious best friend. No outrageous flirting, no requests for phone numbers or email addresses. No calling numbers if they come across the bar on a napkin or a twenty or a thong, which happened on Tuesday and led to one of my bartenders hooking up with a customer in the back of a pickup in my parking lot. I fired him before he had his jeans up. She went home alone, unsatisfied, and pissed off. That's not good for business and therefore pisses me off. Are we clear?"
A moment of silence, then, "Your bar, your rules."
Not many men could make that sound sexy, yet coming in Chad's whiskey rough voice, it sounded like temptation poured from a bottle. Eve thought for a moment, unable to put her finger on how he struck her, but the weekend was coming, he was clearly competent behind a bar, and her gut told her he wouldn't get caught bare-assed in the bed of a Dodge Ram.
"Take a shift tonight," she said. "If I like what I see, you're hired. If not, we go our separate ways."
"Fair enough," he said.
"Come back around just before five and I'll get you your shirt and introduce you to the rest of the crew."
This time all she got was a nod. She continued to study him, absently running her thumb and index finger up and down the glass stem. He met her eyes without reservation, as comfortable with her assessment as he was without it. The silence stretching between them took on an increasingly intemperate life of its own, and she broke eye contact first.
She handed him the glass. His fingers brushed hers as he took it from her, and the brief contact struck sparks along her fingers and halted her breath for a long second.
"Thanks for coming by. I'll lock up behind you."
He came around from behind the bar to follow her to the big steel door. She didn't peek over her shoulder at him. She didn't put any additional sass into her walk. Yet with each click of her heels against the cement floor, the tension hovering in the bar's dim, silent air ratcheted up another notch. She opened the door and waited while he slipped between her body and the edge, into the parking lot. Then it was her turn to watch him walk to his Jeep and climb in. The engine caught, revved, the back end of the Jeep skittered a little as the tires spun, then got enough traction to propel the car into traffic.
Startled into laughter, she leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and watched the Jeep zip away. "Not what I expected," she said. "Not what I expected at all."
She let the door swing shut, shot the bolt, and was halfway back to the bar when a knock on the door had her turning on her heel and retracing her steps. When she opened the door, her father stood blinking in the sunlight.
"Dad," she said, hearing delight and surprise in her voice.
She stepped back to let him in, then gave him a quick hug. "I didn't know you were coming. What can I get you? Juice? Soda?"
"Just water," he said.
Her father, a pastor for a small, vibrant church in the heart of the East Side, didn't drink. She scooped ice into a glass and dispensed water from the nozzle, then set the glass on the bar. Despite a grand opening that drew hundreds of Lancaster's young professionals, and an entertainment reporter and photographer from the Times-Courier, this was her father's first visit to Eye Candy. Her heart was pounding, so she picked up the knife and took refuge in the never-ending prep tasks. "What brings you by?"
"I was in the neighborhood," he said, and looked around. As he did, Eve knew he was seeing a sound system that cost more than the average East Side family spent on housing for a year and a wall of premium liquor that represented money that could have helped families facing shut-off notices or repaired the only vehicle available to get a breadwinner to a job.
The silence stretched. Eve swept the ends of the lemons into a trash bin, felt the juice sting a small paper cut on her index finger as much as the old argument stung her pride. Pastors' daughters didn't open nightclubs. They married sensible, stable men, got nine-to-five jobs with sensible, stable companies, and raised sensible, stable children. She'd tried "sensible and stable" on for size right after college, because her family deemed her dream of opening her own entertainment venue a frivolous waste of her time and education. So she'd dutifully gone to work in the marketing department of an insurance company, and spent two years gasping for air in a sea of gray-walled cubicles before "throwing her life away" to return to her position as an events coordinator for the Metropolitan Club. She'd saved her commissions, studied the market and the community needs, written business plan after business plan, and a year ago bought the building housing Eye Candy.
"I'm glad you came. Nat and I missed you at the soft opening," she said as she ripped open the top of a box of limes with a little more force than necessary. Getting her parents to the grand opening never would have happened.
"Your mother and I thought this was another one of your impulses." His normally deep, confident voice came with pauses between. The heart attack earlier in the summer had left him weakened, and he'd rushed his recovery to return to his vocation: taking care of the people in his congregation, and on the East Side. They'd fought over Eye Candy, and for a moment Eve considered closing her doors to ease her father's mind.
"It's two years of work, Dad," she said simply, "not an impulse."
The words fell flat in the empty bar, but her father said nothing about the folly of putting all her eggs in one basket. "This will help the East Side, Dad."
"I was out at the prison yesterday. Victor said Lyle showed up without warning during visiting hours last Friday," he said. "Victor says his son is full of big talk and improbable dreams, like always."
Her heart thudded against her breastbone, then stayed lodged in her throat. That's why she wouldn't shut down. Her family had a long history with the Murphys, from her father's lifelong friendship with Victor to her own unpredictable, complicated relationship with his ambitious son, Lyle. Lyle had paid her a visit, asking for some help with his own startup.
"A business associate of mine will bring you some cash during the evening, when you're open. You deposit it with your nightly take, then transfer it into another company's online account. A trip to the bank and a couple of clicks of the mouse."
"You're starting a new business," she said, her brain whirring furiously away. "Selling ...?"
"I'm in recreation," Lyle said.
Which meant drugs. Lyle would be back only if the opportunity was worth his while, which meant something big, generating enough income that he'd need it laundered. A bar like hers that took in thousands of dollars a week in cash without providing a tangible product was the perfect front. "The bank will notice if my deposits jump suddenly."
"It won't be much," he said easily. "A little more on Fridays and Saturdays, a little less during the week. You're busy. Doing well. No one will notice."
"And you'd want me to transfer it to other accounts?"
"Business income must be accounted for and taxed," she said, as if she was worried about tax evasion. "Taxes pay for schools and roads and business development parks that provide jobs for local residents."
He leaned forward, all earnestness. "I don't mind funding local projects. Five percent ongoing for your trouble, to get you through the dry spells, or to help any community organization you want. Your dad's new program. The basketball court looks pretty beat up. He could buy new computers for the job training program."
He thought he could buy her. She pursed her lips, like she was considering the offer.
"You don't have to give me an answer now," he said. "I'll catch you later, see what you've decided."
She'd seen a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take apart a prominent pipeline of cocaine and heroin into Lancaster, and gone to the police with the information. They'd asked her if she'd help them get the evidence they'd need to take out the biggest threat to the East Side's economic and social health.
Excerpted from Under the Surface by Anne Calhoun. Copyright © 2016 Anne Calhoun. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked the plot, really liked Matt/Chad but Eve and her constant sexual aggression turned me off. When a guy says 'no' it means the same as when it's said by a woman.
I have to agree with previous reviewer. Have some pride lady! Just ok.
Talk about some chemistry! Right from the start, you can feel the chemistry between Matt (aka Chad) and Eve heating up the pages of this book. I've got to say that is one thing I've always loved about Anne Calhoun. She does sexual tension like no other, but I think even she kicked it up a notch in Under the Surface making it an absolute pleasure to read. Matt is undercover trying to get to the bottom of what is going on at Eve's club as well as being there to protect her. He'll do whatever the job takes, even if it means seducing the club owner. He doesn't expect things to go as far as they do, and suddenly the threat becomes even more real when someone makes an attempt on Eve's life. Under the Surface is a sexy, suspenseful, and oh so steamy book that is going to keep you on your toes with all of its twists and turns. Some were expected, but then others totally threw me. The characters are complex and well developed, and the plot was original and engaging. Overall, I think this was a great read, so I'm definitely going to have to go back and read the other books in this series. This one gets my seal of approval for sure, so give it a read!
A sexy & suspenseful read by Anne Calhoun. This author is new to me but I will be checking out her other books. She created dynamic characters in Eve & Matt, both struggling in their own ways to find themselves. Watching them find their HEA is pretty awesome. The suspense part of the book is great, keeps you turning the page, but my favorite part is finding out who the real people are behind Eve & Matt's public personas. And who doesn't love a sexy cop story. The other characters in the story are pretty amazing too & I look forward to their stories. Advanced Reader Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The first full length novel in the Alpha Ops series, is book four but is my first read of Ann Calhoun. This can be read as a standalone. There is nothing like a good romantic suspense and this lives up to the hype. Eve Webber is a sassy go-getter of a woman, and having tried to live up to her family’s request to go for a staid career in insurance, she has finally achieved her dream of owning a nightclub – Eye Candy. Set up in the East Side, Eve is wanting to bring in new business to the area to help the local community. But having lived in the wrong side of town she has grown up with the people who are now making business on the shady side. When she is approached by a friend of the family to help him launder drug money, she takes it on herself to start cleaning up the area by going to the police. Matt Dorchester is assigned to go undercover in Eye Candy to investigate Eve and if she is kosher with her reporting of money laundering but also to protect her if she is. After all the bigger picture shows some dangerous activity that is linked to the laundering. So firmly established as the new bartender, Matt takes his role serious but trying to clamp down on his attraction to Eve is playing a major ball ache to his well-established focus. This was a little slow to start but then in the long run this aided to build up the tension and atmospheric darkness of the danger both Eve and Matt are involved in. The chemistry between the pairing was firmly embedded from the start and I liked that even when Eve found out she had been hoodwinked which brought out her hatred for the cop, she did not deny her carnal lust for him. She was a really likeable character and was not one of these feeble and weak heroines we are usually met with in romance. She was headstrong and determined which was a welcome change. Matt was deliciously broody and detached. His upbringing resolute in his standoffish behaviours and not revealing his true feelings. This helped his ability to portray different characters in his undercover work. He was like an onion that was waiting to be peeled, one beautiful layer after beautiful layer to reveal the amazing and gorgeous man underneath. It took Eve to push his boundaries and unleash the passion within when the sparks spectacularly exploded between them. I would have liked just a little more danger infused with the romance but overall an enjoyable and involving read. Four Stars.
3.5 Quiet is Hotter Stars This was a fast paced and smoking hot read. No insta-love here ladies. Its slow simmering heat that comes to an explosive finish (both in and out of the bedroom!) I have to say that I really liked Eve. She is definitely not a run of the mill character, especially for an h. Eve is a take charge kind of girl. I normally gravitate towards more mild mannered or shy leading ladies but Eve was so balls to the walls, it's easy to like her. She had attitude and heart. She was refreshing and honest. Definitely rash but ultimately a good person.(I didn't like the part where Eve basically gives Chad/Matt an ultimatum - take her to bed or she was going home with someone else. That was not something I want to read about in a romance. It kind of brought down the special connection between the H and h. Her attitude of anyone can satisfy the itch was off putting, imo. Of course she doesn't go through with it but just the idea of her sleeping with someone not Matt was skeevy to me. I'm all for a strong independent h but that was kind of a buzz kill. ) Her leading man, Chad aka Matt was the tall, dark and silent type. He had me eating out of his hand with the mysterious dominant male thing he had going on. He definitely worked for me. He didn't talk much but when he did . . . Damn! Who knew silence was sexy? *converted* (Now I know! Lol!) Matt is an ex soldier turned undercover detective that carries a ton of weight on those broad sexy shoulders of his. After losing both his parents in a car accident and raising his little brother, Matt basically survived by shutting at his emotions. I loved watching these two together, they ooze chemistry and raw emotions. There was no hiding from the combustive heat that generated between Eve and Matt. This was one hot steamy read! The mystery and action was believable and that big showdown was nail biting and intense! This was a solid 4 star read - great writing, complex and interesting characters and loads of sexy times! Because of my own personal preferences when it comes to the main H and h in romance, I'm rating it a 3.5.
Thank you to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for a copy of this book! This is book 4 in the Alpha Ops series and it's just as good as books 1, 2, & 3! But, there's one big difference in this book...it's a full-length book, whereas, books 1, 2, & 3 were novellas. This one can, in my opinion, be read as a stand alone. Eve is owner/manager of Eye Candy, the hottest nightclub on the east side. She's approached by an old friend who wants her to launder money through Eye Candy. Now, dirty cops and crime in the east side are an everyday occurrence and she has the bright idea that this could be a way to take out some of the crime. She asks for the cops to help her and although they are interested, she doesn't want police inside her bar. She has no idea what's about to happen to her life!! There enters Detective Matt Dorchester to our story. He's placed at Eye Candy undercover as a bartender. There's sparks between him and Eve! She has no idea that he's undercover. That is how our story got it's start! What will happen when Even learns the truth about why Matt is there? This is a must read!! All of this series is amazing!!
5 - "Your bar, your rules." Stars! I have spent the last week or two, working my way through the first three novellas in Anne’s Alpha Op’s series. As an author new to me, the completion of each story gave me a bigger and bigger smile. I started at good, moved onto really good, then great with the third installment, but Under The Surface the first full length book stepped firmly, and with both feet into the stellar category. I love a good old fashioned romantic suspense, and the author delivered it in spades with Eve and Matt’s story. Plenty of twists and turns in the plot, but the slow-burn sizzle between the two of them was what kept me reading well past my bedtime initially. Some authors drag out the build-up to a couple doing the deed, and it feels just that, dragged out but holy hotness, the push and pull between these two… I was as frustrated as they were! "You’re hot as hell, but business comes first." But Matt has his reasons for holding back, and he does try admirably, but in Eve we are given a really strong female lead, she wasn’t afraid to push for what she wanted, and eventually managed to coax the sparks between them into a fully burning blaze. Add in a few giggles, a really great cast of secondary characters, and an edge of your seat finale, and I can without doubt say I am a fan for life of this author now. The next book of the series Going Deep, is due in November, and I am looking forward to seeing what the author offers up next. ARC generously provided via Netgalley, and it was my absolute pleasure to provide the above honest review.