Curvaceous and feisty, Francesca Donatello is the owner of Skin, an upscale woman's magazine and her pride and joy. To boost sales, she's decided to feature a smoldering male centerfold in each issue - even though it was once forbidden by her rigid father, a recently murdered mob boss. He always doubted her ability as a businesswoman, and now Francesca is even more determined to succeed. So when she meets sexy, charismatic model Reese Barrett, she knows he is perfect, and perfectly chiseled, for the job.
From the moment Reese sheds his clothes for the photo shoot, business becomes pleasure, and both are overcome with unadulterated desire for each other. But what Francesca doesn't realize is that Reese is a cop who's using her to infiltrate the Donatello family and find out who murdered her father. Even she is a suspect. But it soon becomes apparent that someone wants Francesca as dead as her father. As they dodge bullets and bodies Francesca and Reese shed secrets and inhibitions -- and learn that they must trust each other to survive.
Francesca "Frankie" Donatello, a bay area Mafia Princess, has one dream that she'll do anything to bring it to fruition and that's to see Skin flourish. It's one of the only businesses of Donatello Inc. that's legit and despite Frankie's last words with her father and his threat to disown her, she'll make Skin into the premier magazine that it was destined to be. But several roadblocks have sprung up to hinder her goal. One, her father was murdered the morning after their argument. Second, her spoiled half brother has suddenly taken up an interest in Skin. Third, a codicil will has surfaced taking Skin away from Frankie. And lastly, someone wants Frankie dead. But these facts could prove to be the least of Frankie's worries.
Enter Reese Barrett, a.k.a. Reese Bronson, an undercover cop investigating the murder of Frankie's father, notorious bay area mob boss Santini "Sonny" Donatello. The prime suspect: Francesca Donatello. Reese isn't above sleeping with women, lulling them into a false sense of trust and thereby listening raptly when all their secrets come tumbling out onto the pillow. Also Reese's conscience isn't perturbed in the least when he uses those secrets to build a case against said women and/or their families and the delectable Frankie is no exception. Posing as a male model, Reese auditions for Mr. Skin and to be featured as the magazine's anniversary edition centerfold. Reese's intense and immediate physical interest in Frankie gives him slight pause but he's determined to crack this case and hopefully put away some very bad people.
Frankie knows immediately that Reese is trouble but she's also desperate to prove to the family that she is more than capable of making Skin a success. Her body's instant arousal over Reese's sexy good looks and smoldering charisma is undeniable proof that he's the perfect model for the task. But her euphoria is short lived. Three back-to-back attempts are made on her life leaving Frankie shaken but more determined then ever to prove once and for all that Skin is hers and that she'll do anything to keep it. Hoping to find her father's original will, Frankie decides to to head to Carmel with Reese in tow. He's been promoted to body guard after saving her life twice and Carmel's beaches will also be the perfect backdrop for Reese's photographs.
Reese has been working diligently at portraying the man that seems to be lighting Frankie's fire. Normally he isn't anywhere near this outgoing and the facade is draining to maintain but finally Frankie succumbs to the raging need between them. Unfortunately for Reese, Frankie can turn off the afterglow of hot sex faster than any man he knows hence no pillow talk and consequently, no information. Reese knows instinctively that Frankie's hiding something but is it just her loyalty to her family or is she really her father's murderer? So far she's given nothing to Reese that he didn't already know. So he resolves to build an even deeper trust with Frankie in the hopes that she'll spill and for the first time, he feels a twinge of guilt over what he must do. Somewhere along the line Reese started to develop strong feelings for Frankie.
After noticing some suspicious behavior on Reese's part that smells strongly of cop, Frankie is already setting herself up for betrayal but her heart isn't her main concern. She makes Reese swear that no matter if he turns out to be something other than he's said, he must honor the contract with Skin. Frankie can't afford to loose Reese as her centerfold model and time is more than precious at the moment. When the house in Carmel proves not only empty of her father's will but it is the scene of another attempt on her life, Frankie gives into Reese's demands that they get as far away from the San Francisco as possible. A few hours later, the pair land in Wyoming.
The last place that Reese ever wanted to see again was his childhood home. Saturated in the past, Reese is once again overcome by guilt for his hand in his younger sister's death but to keep Frankie out of harms way, he'll face his demons. It's at this point in the book that the characters really start to come alive for while Reese is being haunted by his past, Frankie is realizing her love for the man that she knows will ultimately betray her. It's also at this time that Reese is informed that all arrows point to Frankie as the murderer and while his heart screams it's raging denial, Reese has to not only face the facts of the evidence but also the fact that he's fallen in love with a cold blooded murderer. Desperately he tries to come up with different possibilities that may save Frankie from life in prison but once again he starts kicking himself for wanting to deal with a murderer. Reese resolves to seduce Frankie one more time and get her to spill the truth before he's yanked off the case. For surely if his team knew about the emotional turmoil broiling in his head, they'd pull him away from Frankie fast enough to make his head spin.
Frankie decides to give into her desires one last time and in a moment of pure insanity for both Frankie and Reese, the two make love with such heated passion that the memory is burned on them both forever. Frankie can't run away anymore. Hiding out in Wyoming does nothing for her and she must stand up to her family. To do this she must leave Reese and make things right if she ever wants to be with him. But when his ultimate betrayal is uncovered, the pain is like nothing she's ever felt. Despite the fact that she was preparing herself for it, her heart had always denied it despite her brain's warnings. Before Reese can even summon the courage to go to Frankie and do his best to make amends, she's gone. Taken. And Reese finally comes full circle on the truth. But it may be too late. The first horror is that Frankie will end up dead and the second, is that if she lives, she'll never forgive Reese.
'Skin' was a love/hate read for me. The beginning was interesting and unique, drawing in my reader heart like a moth to a flame. But then that flame fluttered and dimmed. I was having issues connecting with both the hero and heroine. I didn't like their decisions, their motives, or their words to one another. I didn't like how their angst always led to sexual tension or straight sex. I'm not a fan of "death and destruction gets me hot and bothered". Plus, Frankie had some real "Too Stupid To Live Moments" that irritated me. But when with these two fierce personalities touch down in Wyoming, the flame began to burn bright again and once more, I was in love with this book.
Frankie is a unique heroine. One that I haven't read before. She's defiant, strong-willed and shockingly sassy yet underneath, she's scared shitless. Truly, she has no idea what she's doing or who she is. At heart, she's a people pleaser to the point where she'll risk her life to prove herself to her family. Frankie is also extremely naive and very trusting even after she's warned by the ones she loves that nothing is as it seems and she must trust no one. Times are dangerous when a mob boss is taken down and all out war is threatening to explode in the battle for power. Besides, she's been horribly duped and used before, but still her trusting nature stays in tact and Reese is able to penetrate her feeble defenses. Frankie also proves to be a conundrum to Reese for she's unlike any woman he's ever known when it comes to sex. She's fierce and passionate but once the party is over, her mind is on her work leaving Reese to fight harder for the intel he's after. Yet this is effective in getting Reese to open for Frankie. He tells her things that he hasn't told a soul in fifteen years.
Reese was also not your run of the mill hero. While his cover made him appear outgoing, in truth he really gave nothing away. It made me wonder if we ever saw the real Reese. He was a safe to crack but when opened, his anger spawned mostly from latent childhood rage. I was extremely happy that Frankie made him work for information in exchange for opening himself up to her in trade. But even still, Reese's story isn't revealed until nearly the very end. Both of these characters had tough shells to break and it didn't help that neither trusted the other fully for a good portion of the book, for Reese it wasn't until the very end. His convictions of Frankie's involvement in the death of her father were hard to take and many times I wanted to strangle him but what angered me the most is the lack of discussion showing a reconciliation of Reese's accusations with Frankie. I don't know if the author ran out of page time or what, but the ending was rather abrupt.
The suspense plot that was woven throughout, actually wasn't that bad. I had my suspicions of who wanted to kill Frankie, but even at the end, Ms. Tabke still had me guessing. Kudos to her on that one.
In an effort to close this long meandering review, I will say that I enjoyed 'Skin' and it won't be my last read by Karin Tabke. The book had all the makings of a fantastic story yet there were some elements that I couldn't get past and for that it merely makes it a good read and one I'd definitely recommend.
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