by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2007)
Harlequin Blaze, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-373-79351-8
After seeing all his siblings having a happy time settling down and popping up babies like nobody's business - especially when his twin brother Mark got down to it in Don't Open Till Christmas - Nick Santori doesn't mind finding a nice woman to settle down with himself. Unfortunately, the woman that sets our former Marine's libido to overdrive is a stripper known as the Crimson Rose in the gentleman's club Leather and Lace. Bringing a stripper home to meet Momma - that won't do, will it? Also, after twelve years of running around in places like Iraq, Nick isn't sure whether he is capable of leading a more normal life like Mark even if he wants to. When Nick becomes the security officer (or bodyguard, to be exact) of Leather and Lace, however, he gets the chance to know the Crimson Rose up close and personal.
Isabella "Izzie" Natale dances at night as the Crimson Rose, but by day she works in the kitchen of her family's bakery. Izzie is actually Nick's sister-in-law. Her sister Gloria married Nick's brother Tony. Izzie has been attracted to Nick for a long time now, ever since she was a rather chubby teenager. A particularly humiliating accident involving Nick and a wedding cake on Gloria's wedding did nothing to dampen the attraction. They meet again at the Sattori family reunion bash early in this story. They haven't seen each other for ten years or so (he was with the Corps so he wasn't always around, you see), and now that they are both older and Izzie has lost weight and has men panting after her, Nick doesn't recognize her at first and comes on to her big time. Izzie doesn't know what to make of Nick's obvious attraction to her. Maybe it's time to show him that she's the one in charge now that she's all hot and sexy.
When Nick realizes that "Cookie" is now all sexy and hot, he is thrilled that he can now have it all - the nice girlfriend he can bring home to meet the parents. Besides, everyone knows she has a crush on him. How hard can it be for him to get her to say yes to everything he asks of her, right? Izzie, however, is only in town to help with the family business while her father is recovering from a stroke. Indeed, the Crimson Rose gig is just a way for her to indulge in her passion for dancing. When her father has recovered, she's out of here, back to New York where she intends to resume her pursuit of a professional dancing career. Izzie doesn't feel that she is ready to settle down and have a family, so she's determined not to succumb to Nick's charms, knowing that the man comes with all kinds of expectations for a commitment that she's not ready to give.
Because Nick still doesn't know that Izzie is the Crimson Rose, the poor man is now torn between the stripper and the sexy gal he can take home to meet the parents, not knowing that both women are one and the same. Things heat up when the Crimson Rose starts getting fan mails from crazy people - you know this subplot is coming, I'm sure - and Nick has to stay really close to the Crimson Rose.
This book is pretty much what I can expect from a story by this author. Which is to say, plenty of red hot sexual chemistry and plenty of heavy breathing. The heroine acknowledges and embraces the fact that she is a human being with the capacity to experience sexual desire and have sex without flailing around as if she is going to hell for even desiring a bloke. The hero is a likable fellow who is hopping around all randy for the heroine. How many fellow do you know won't mind at all that his wife is dancing at an exotic club? I don't know whether Nick is just incredibly secure or just open-minded, but hey, good for him. What makes this one work very well is that this time around, the author has a good reason for the heroine to stay away from the hero so the whole thing doesn't feel like a contrived exercise to prolong the inevitable like some of the author's previous books.
The only downside is the heroine often getting so mired in her own feelings about Nick that she sometimes forgets that he's supposed to be protecting her. The scene where she tunes out his instructions to all the dancers in the club on following security measures has me rolling up my eyes because nobody should really be that self-absorbed to be so foolish. At least not in my books.
Still, that rather perplexing aspect aside, Overexposed is a solid effort that is both sexy and romantic.
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