Today I'd like to welcome erotic romantic suspense author, Tori St. Claire who is joining us with a great post on her new release Stripped. Also, make sure to check out my 4.5 review on Stripped here!
Hi, everyone! Thanks for having me here today. I wanted to do something unique, something that really highlighted my new Berkley Heat release, STRIPPED, as opposed to a generic Q&A or a monologue on the story itself.
One of the things that makes STRIPPED stand out from its counterparts is Natalya, the heroine, and I wanted to bring her to life here for you. Within the book you’ll find a few brief mentions of her involvement with another Opal on the assignment, and this is a glimpse of both, immediately before the events that take place in STRIPPED.
And, if you’ve looked at my website at all, you’ve noticed that the companion novel, LIE TO ME, is Alexei’s story. So here’s a chance to meet not one, but two Black Opals.
This is exclusive content, not present in either book.
Natalya sat alone in the dark, staring out a grime-covered window, listening to the rustlings drifting from the hole-in-the-wall bathroom where Alexei Nikanova attempted to squeeze into the matchbox sized shower. A cool breeze from the open window wafted over her bare shoulders, stirring her hair. It should have made her cold, should have at least produced a shiver. But she was too numb, too dead inside to feel much of anything anymore. She’d sunk too deep into the underworld. So far she questioned whether she could ever rise above the sin and deceit.
Even now, with the prospect of a few stolen moments of genuine feeling experienced at her fellow Black Opal’s hands, she could barely connect with the woman she once knew. Dmitri had killed that. Or maybe it was Kevin Clarke, director of the Black Opals, who had pulled her in to fill the role Alexei and all his experience couldn’t handle. Now, Alexei handled the girls after she betrayed them, while her immediate partner Sergei dug for information.
The bathroom door opened, and Alexei entered the darkness, his heavy footfalls making the warped floorboards creak as he moved behind her. A large hand settled on her shoulder. Strong fingers radiated comforting warmth. She glanced up at his serene expression and tried for a smile. “Hey you.”
In the dim light of streetlamps, a frown registered on Alexei’s brow. It lasted only a second before his fingers squeezed affectionately, then gently slid down her upper arm. “It’s almost over.”
“Is it? We still don’t know the names. Dmitri’s not going to be back again for another week. Tomorrow night I have to deal with Tatiana. When does it end, Alexei?” As she searched his bright green eyes for the answers he couldn’t give, the same nothingness that registered in her soul reflected back at her.
Alexei shook his head. Muscled arms encircled her, and he drew her back against his bare chest. The faint whisper of his breath danced across her neck an instant before soft lips touched her skin. Then, he settled his chin into the crook of her shoulder, merely holding her. For one, infinitesimal heartbeat, feeling registered inside Natalya.
“How would you write the end?” he asked quietly.
The question had become routine. He asked, she never responded. They sat in silence a few moments, and then, they turned to each other, two broken people searching for something they couldn’t find, grasping at what little bits of life they could hang onto. A few hours later, they parted. No promises. No sentiment. No nothing until they met when once again duty became too much and the need for escape overwhelmed.
Only tonight, Natalya knew the answer. “I’d kill him. I wouldn’t turn Dmitri over to Kevin. I’d watch the bastard choke on his own blood. Then I’d go to
, and drag every one of those women out. I’d make it right. Then we could forget. Live a normal life.” Dubai
Behind her, Alexei turned as rigid as stone. His back stiffened, the thick muscles of his biceps flexed with restrained tension. “Some things you can never forget.” He released his hold on her and turned away.
But not before she saw pain flash behind his eyes. Wounds he bore, that he refused to share. In that instant, Natalya realized she’d made a mistake. A Black Opal never let down their defenses, never confided too much. Alexei had his own demons to contend with. He didn’t need to bear hers, and she had no right to expose him to them.
This was her assignment, the duty she’d agreed to take on. No matter the cost, she had to see it through to the end.
And this, these liaisons that she tried to convince herself held feeling, was as much a farce as her involvement with Dmitri. True pleasure didn’t exist here. It couldn’t in
. Hell, it couldn’t in her line of work. Moscow
No, emotions had no place in a Black Opal’s life, not if an Opal wanted to survive.
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.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 newest 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 secrets that could destroy them both.