There is nothing more delicious to me than a book that is so addictive that even when dawn is on the horizon and I haven’t slept a wink, I’m still unable to put it down. Equally emotional but significantly edgier than its prequels, this novel changes the tone of the series by stepping out of its ‘vanilla’ comfort zone and delving into darker sides of human nature. While the previous two instalments in the series, Ten Tiny Breaths and One Tiny Lie, are all-time favourites of mine, I must admit that this book is now my top pick of the lot.
As the owner of a popular strip club and a former underground fighting champion, Cain Ford could have easily adopted a seedy lifestyle as many others in that industry have, but Cain is no stereotype. He has fought all his life to escape his past and gain independence by becoming his own boss, his club now giving a chance to women who choose stripping as a way of making ends meet to do it safely and without being exploited. His professional life constantly dangling on the precipice of morality, Cain’s chosen line of work is a source of both comfort as well as torment for him.
“All I see are girls who need a second chance. Girls who need someone to protect them because no one ever has.”
Charlie is no stereotypical heroine either. The stepchild of an organised crime boss, her relatively happy childhood came to an end when her now only parent decided to taint her innocence by coercing her into participating in his drug trafficking transactions. When suddenly forced to leave her real identity behind and adopt a new one in a brand new city, Charlie starts slowly planning her escape from being under her stepfather’s thumb. Her young age and lack of work experience leave her very few profitable employment options, stripping being on top of an already very limited list. When she steps into Cain’s club, the last thing she expects is a protective boss who treats her with respect and colleagues who immediately want to befriend her.
“I’m living a life where safety is a luxury, where the only family I have risks my well-being without thinking twice. Yet it took this man – a stranger – mere seconds to decide that he would protect me.”
But from the moment Cain lays eyes on Charlie, she manages to shake all his resolves and make him act out of character. He watches her shows night after night, the two of them playing an open flirting game that only leaves them even more conflicted and aching for one another. Both having valid reasons for staying away from each other, they fight the attraction as stubbornly as they can, but when two lonely souls find each other and each stolen moment, each furtive touch becomes a moment of indescribable happiness, eventually their bodies cannot but succumb to the pull as well. As Charlie’s real life starts looming more and more over her new made-up one with Cain, staying together becomes the only risk she cannot take.
“I’ll take one night with him, with whatever he’s willing to give me, to earn myself memories that I can hold on to.”
This was a truly exceptional story of putting one’s past behind and seizing the moment that could change your entire life. It’s a story that explores morality’s many different shades of grey, it shows that no man is a saint and that one should be judged by what is in their heart, not by what they had to do in order to survive. In so many ways, this is also a story of redemption, of forgiving others for their mistakes, as well as forgiving oneself.
“I don’t care what you’ve done, Charlie… Your slate is clean with me.”
I loved every part of this book – I loved Ms Tucker’s sophisticated and truly engaging way of storytelling, I loved the chemistry and emotional connection between the main characters, I loved all the secondary characters, old and new, and the way their humorous contributions ‘lightened’ the storyline, I loved that I could not and would not put this book down even for a minute, real life be damned. The only slight weakness that I felt in the story were the ‘fade to black’ moments during a few potentially sizzling scenes between Cain and Charlie. I did not expect explicit details, but I felt that further attention to those scenes would have only communicated even more the overwhelming attraction between these characters. I felt that this story would have allowed it, it would have made sense to push those boundaries a step further, and it would have been ‘truer’ to the edgier nature of the storyline. But, my smutty brain put aside, this is a stellar must read, no other way to put it.
“I’m hanging from a pendulum as it swings back and forth between a nightmare and a dream. Only the nightmare is real!”
“What do you mean you can’t deliver until after the weekend?” Despite every effort to keep my cool, my tone is biting.
“Sir, I’m sorry. As I’ve already explained, we’re experiencing labor shortages. We’re working as fast as we can to cover orders. We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” the customer service rep recites evenly, sounding like she has said it a hundred times today. Because I’m sure she has.
Pinching the bridge of my nose to dull the sudden headache forming, I fight the urge to slam the receiver against the desk. This conversation is a complete waste of time. It’s the same one I’ve had every day for two weeks. “Tell your management that ‘inconvenient’ isn’t the right word.” I hang up before she has a chance to spew the prewritten response for that.
With a groan, I lean back in my leather chair and fold my arms behind my head. I survey the walls of my office—lined floor-to-ceiling with shelves, doubling as supply room overflow. Five weeks of abnormally busy nights at Penny’s coupled with sporadic beer deliveries means I’m out of our top brands for the coming weekend. That means I’ll have to spend yet another Saturday night explaining to customers why being out of Heineken doesn’t entitle them to a free lap dance.
I hate this business, some days.
Lately, I hate this business all days.
Cracking open a fresh bottle of high-end Rémy Martin, I pour the deep golden liquid into my tumbler. It’s my vice—a glass before the club opens to take the edge off and one to close the place down. Unfortunately, the edge doesn’t come off so easily anymore and I find myself topping up the glass a lot. It’s a good thing our hours are limited or I’d have a drinking problem. At two hundred bucks a bottle, I’d also have a money problem.
My office door cracks open just as the comforting burn slides down my throat.
“Cain?” Nate’s deep voice rumbles a second before his six-foot-six, 280-pound frame eases through the doorway. I’m still in awe of how that twiggy little kid turned into the giant now standing before me, almost overnight, too. It shouldn’t surprise me, though, given that I was the one footing the steep grocery bill through his teenage growth spurts. “Just got a text from Cherry. She’s sick.”
“She texted you?”
He nods slowly, his dark eyes never leaving mine.
“That’s the third time she’s called in sick in two weeks.”
“Yup,” he agrees, and I know his thoughts are on the same wavelength as mine. No one knows me better than Nate. In fact, no one really knows me but Nate.
Cherry has worked for me for three and a half years. She has the immune system of a shark. The last time she started missing shifts because she was “sick,” we found her battered and strung out on blow, thanks to her douchebag boyfriend.
“Do you think he’s back?”
I shove my fingers through my hair, gritting my teeth with rising frustration. “He’d be the world’s biggest moron if he is, after what happened the last time.” Nate put him in the hospital with a broken femur and two dislocated shoulders as a warning. I have to think that was an effective deterrent.
“Unless Cherry invited him over.”
I roll my eyes. She’s a good girl with low self-esteem and terrible taste in men. Though I’d be surprised, I wouldn’t put it past her. I’ve seen it happen before. Many times.
“I think I’ll just swing by her place to make sure this isn’t something more than a bug or chick issues.” Nate grabs his keys from the rack.
With a sigh, I grumble, “Thanks Nate.” We’ve helped her stay clean and idiot-boyfriend free for a year. The last thing I want to see is a repeat. “And, here.” I pull a twenty-dollar bill out of my wallet and toss it across my desk. “Her kid loves Big Macs.”
Nate scowls at my money, leaving it where it lays. I should know better. “And if he’s there?”
“If he’s back in the picture…” I run my tongue over my teeth. “Don’t do anything yet. Call me. Immediately.”
With a lazy salute, Nate exits my office, leaving me with my elbows on my desk and my folded hands against my clenched mouth, wondering what I’m going to do if Cherry has taken a turn for the worse. I can’t fire her. Not when she needs our help. But… f*ck. If we have to go through this with her again…