The Last Dance

The Redhead and the Preacher

Scarlet Lady

Shotgun Groom

 
Baring It All by Sandra Chastain
(Harl. Tempt. #768, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25868-2
***
Baring It All is only my second experience with a male dancer as a hero. The first was Phillip Brooks, hero extraordinaire, from the incomparable Lightening That Lingers. Phillip, I thought, would be a hard act to follow. With some trepidation, I began Baring It All, only to discover that the hero is the best part of the book and far from the weak link.

Ryan Malone is one of Atlanta's top bachelors, a rich, important entrepreneur. What he doesn't want the world to know is that he got his start as Lord Sin and was an extremely successful stripper. Ryan quit performing five years ago, but is doing a farewell performance as Lord Sin. Sin is going to donate a million-dollar property to the Atlanta Arts Council for a community theater.

TV reporter Sunny Clary is new to Atlanta and is assigned to cover Lord Sin's farewell performance, an event she considers fluff. When Ryan spots her coming in, he has her seated in the front row and dedicates his performance to her. Later, when Sunny meets Ryan, she finds that she's sexually aware of both men. The secrecy surrounding Lord Sin whets her curiosity, and she decides that exposing his identity would make a good start on her career as a hard-hitting journalist, a journalist that people would take seriously.

Ryan is in a quandary. He's interested in Sunny and shamelessly promises her that he'll use his influence to get her an interview with Lord Sin. He plans on using the time to wine, dine and bed her. Ryan also realizes that he'll have to walk a fine line, hopefully getting Sunny to believe the background that he's fabricated for Sin, who now supposedly lives on the French Riviera. What surprises him over and over is that he's telling this woman things that he's never told anyone, parts of his past that he never wanted to share before.

The sexual tension in Baring It All is topnotch. When Ryan is concentrating on Sunny, this story moves along beautifully, like a sailboat on a windy day. The problems occur when Sunny decides to be Woodward and Bernstein. First of all, why would a stripper be so noteworthy? My hometown is the size of Atlanta, and frankly, I don't think this sort of charitable donation would make the front page, much less the headlines. Secondly, there's a distinct line between reputable journalism and exploitative sensationalism. Occasionally, reporters should question whether their story is even newsworthy. Sunny's exposure of a stripper, one whose last performance was five years ago, just didn't seem to be worth her energy, much less a whole plot. To what purpose did his exposure serve?

An interesting secondary story deals with Sunny's father, a minister who spent time unjustly in prison and Ryan's mentor, an ex-stripper with the proverbial heart of gold. Watching these two behave as if they invented love is a delightful side trip.

Sunny's pugnacity toward Ryan/Sin just to prove to herself that she has ‘what it takes' seemed to stifle the love story. Perhaps you'll have a different take on it and be able to look at Sunny more kindly. I doubt you'll find much wrong with Ryan, a hero who makes the story come alive when he's on the pages.

--Linda Mowery


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