Review: Stripped by Tori St. Claire

Wednesday, January 18

Title:  Stripped*
Author: Tori St. Claire
Genre: Erotic Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Format: E Book, Trade Paperback
Date/Year: January 2012
Reviewed by: DD

*This book was provided to the reviewer by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from the publisher:

Body of secrets…

As a member of the CIA’s elite, Black Opals, Natalya Trubachev must live a lie, working undercover as the lover of Dmitri, a Russian mob boss. His business is trafficking vulnerable Las Vegas strippers overseas for twisted sex games. Natalya’s business is to blow the ring wide open and bring down Dmitri and his American contacts. But the stakes are raised when she learns that the next target is her own sister Kate, a dancer in the famed club Fantasia. Only now does Natalya realize how personal her mission has become, and how far she’s willing to go to complete it.

Body of lies…

The manager of Fantasia is Brandon Moretti, an undercover detective who keeps a close eye on his girls, and an even closer one on his sinfully sensual hire. For Natalya, working the club could be the break she’s been waiting for. But for Moretti, Natalya is a possible link to a killer. Only he never counted on her being so lethally seductive or so dangerous to get close to.  As every forbidden pleasure between them is stripped away, his own secrets threaten their security, but it’s Natalya’s that could destroy them both.

My Musings:

If I'm not mistaken, this is Tori St. Claire's first novel. I am super duper duper impressed. Reading through the first couple chapters, I am reminded of one of my very favorite suspense authors, Shannon McKenna. There is great sex, a creepy villain and a deep seated mystery. That is a huge compliment if I say so myself. There is an immediate feeling of "better than your everyday romance”, and  when you dig in you know St Claire is articulate, creative, and seemingly accomplished far beyond her experience.

Natalya Trubachev is a toned lethal CIA kick ass machine who is an expert at compartmentalizing her feelings in order to accomplish her job and protect the people, especially women, of the United States and abroad who may become victims of the sex trade. She has a deep love of children and family but has been a block of ice for so long that she barely recognizes the melting of her soul when her Russian lover Dmitri decides the next victim will be her estranged sister, Katarena.

Natalya is an expert undercover operative. She goes through the motions and acts better than Meryl Streep through her disgusting relationship with the Mob boss who is responsible for several killings and trading of females overseas using critical and sometimes lethal doses of barbiturates. Natalya brings these women under her wing while they mistakenly think she is on their side, and she sacrifices them to the wolves for her Russian counterparts to play with at their whim. Her guilt is suffocating and though she knows it is for a greater good, she has an increasingly hard time living with herself. Natalya is about to meet Brandon Moretti, and finally realize in her soul what true happiness is after being long overdue.

Brandon Moretti is a product of Witness protection gone wrong, trying to right the wrongs in his life by becoming a public servant-undercover of course. Posing as the manager of the famous Gentleman's club Fantasia in Vegas, he is at the very center of the action, trying to pinpoint whom in the circle of his life is responsible for the killing and drugging of young blonde and beautiful exotic dancers. He has lost so many in his life, family, and most recently, a close friend and coworkers.  One of his best dancers, Kate, recommends a seasoned entertainer-her fraternal twin sister Natalya. No one knows the relation and are blind to it, with the exception of a few of the inner circle. Brandon has no idea. All he knows is that he has an immediate and violent reaction to her. His need to possess Natalya is so strong upon first glance that while he realizes her performing will be a huge draw, possibly the best bait he has had access to so far, he cannot stomach her on stage for others to devour. He immediately casts her as house mother. Their relationship is heated and strained from minute one and they both struggle with their secrets while unaware they are both striving for a common goal. Their stories and fabric of their lives and families are woven together in a quilt of coincidence and circumstance, bonding them in love before they even realize it.

This book was excellent for many reasons. First off, not only was it highly, highly erotic and sensual, but it was a great textbook suspense. My heartstrings were pulled many times. I felt so sad for Natalya and who she had become. I wanted Brandon to realize that he was worthy of love and that the things that happened in his past to shape him were not his fault. I know I have said this about other novels and in other reviews, but these are the essential elements of a romance that pull you in and make you want happiness for the characters. The bad guy in all this is of course a twisted sick freak which we all love in a mystery/suspense novel. What I enjoyed, or loathed, whichever you prefer is that to a kindhearted reader, he was particularly disturbing and cruel not only with his physical manifestations and dire warnings, but his emotional and psychological warfare. This guy was really off. It's great.

If I had to criticize at all, it would be that the "red herring" meant to throw us off from the real goon wasn't that convincing. I knew who the villain was relatively early, which was a little disappointing but it didn't lessen the enjoyment of the novel for me. Also, I felt, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of coincidences occurred. It was necessary to tie and bond the characters together, but I felt it needed just slightly more backstory to make it plausible. But this was a great book, and I urge anyone who is a fan of Roxanne St Claire (relation?), Shannon McKenna and others in that class of Grande Dames to give this one a try. You will not be disappointed.


Overall: 4.75 Stars (Excellent book. Some issues, but nothing that she can't nip in the bud with the next one.)
Sensuality: 4.95 (Way erotic in my opinion. Nothing kinky, but just freaking awesomely hot.)

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