I didn't read Karin Tabke's first book for the sole reason that it featured a plot device I loathe - the good girl who goes "bad." Blech. Too many crappy romance novels featuring virginal librarian heroines who want to be "naughty girls" has a way of ruining that particular type of story for a person.
Anyway, Skin is Tabke's second novel and I have to admit that for a while I was really enjoying it. It has a plot like cotton candy - totally bad for you, but it tastes good and it gives you a sugar high. Unfortunately the story hits the 350 page mark - meaning it's long enough for the cracks to begin showing.
Francesca "Frankie" Donatello is a mafia princess. She wants nothing more than to run Skin - a women's magazine and one of the few legit holdings owned by her father. Unfortunately sales are starting to slump, but Frankie has a great idea. Why not make over Skin? Her plan is Cosmo meets Playgirl. But her father is very old-school sexist and hates the idea. So much so they have a heated argument, he tells Frankie she is "dead to him" and the very next day he is assassinated. Frankie pauses for about five seconds, then is determined to hire a hot male model to be her first ever centerfold. No moss grows under this girl's feet.
Enter Reese Bronson, an undercover cop assigned to get the dirt on the Donatello crime family. With Daddy dead, the cops are worried about a turf war. Infiltrating Skin seems like a good way to sneak in, plus Frankie being Daddy's daughter, she might have been the one to order the hit. After much convincing, Frankie hires Reese as her model. He's perfect, but he kicks her hormones into overdrive - and she has sworn off men. Her last boyfriend pillow-talked all of her business secrets out of her and took them to the competition. So no more mixing business with pleasure. Anyone want to guess how long this lasts?
Reese's plan is to get Frankie into bed, have lots of hot, sweaty monkey sex, then pillow-talk all of her family's secrets out of her. That's about it when it comes to his top-notch investigative police skills. He's also a paint-by-numbers Alpha hero. His Mommy abandoned him. He blames himself for his sister's death. He's estranged from his father. Gee, where have I read this before?
Ultimately what sinks this story is the "romance" and I use the term loosely. There is no trust. Zilch. Nada. Reese is determined to believe the worst in Frankie, even though his gut tells him otherwise. Frankie suspects Reese is a cop, but dang her clothes just keep falling off of her. More problematic though is the fact that she runs hot and cold. One minute she's determined to keep her pants on, the next she's ripping Reese's shirt off with her teeth. I swear, I half expected to see the old "her body betrayed her" line in this story (To Tabke's credit, she doesn't use it - but the word "sexily" appears a couple of times. Sexily? Is that even a word?)
Skin is the kind of book you can enjoy if you don't look beyond the surface. The plot is over-the-top, Reese is very alpha, and Frankie is a "woman in peril." But the author is determined to work the romance angle into this story, and she just never quite pulls it off. Too many trust issues. Too many unsavory details. I know undercover work is messy - but there's something not kosher about a hero who is 1) using the heroine for sex and 2) using her for sex so he can work a case. Yeah, I know it could probably happen - but I don't want to read about a romance hero doing it.
A word about the police angle in this story. I read the Harriet Klausner review that called Skin a "police procedural" and about choked. Reese doesn't really do any "cop stuff" except 1) save Frankie from hired goons and 2) try to solve the case by having sex with her. I don't know much about police work - but I'm thinking your average cop doesn't solve cases by ripping women's panties off of them. If they did, I think most 16-year-old boys would be begging to be junior detectives. Just saying.
No, Skin is a "beach read," pure and simple. If you go into the story with that attitude, and don't look below the surface, it's entertaining. There's a definite camp factor here. Unfortunately I was assigned to review this bad boy - and I was reading it from a glass-bottom boat. Final Grade = D+