Skin by Karin Tabke
(Pocket, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 1-4165-2492-4
**
Karin Tabke’s second novel has a plot like cotton candy. It’s totally bad for you, but it tastes really good and gives you a sugar high. Unfortunately, as more pages pass by, the reader will find it hard to overlook an unconvincing romance.

Francesca “Frankie” Donatello is a mafia princess. While her father had his fingers in a lot of dirty pies, Frankie has her heart set on running Skin – a legit women’s magazine owned by her father. While profits for Skin have been marginally respectable, it’s in a creative slump. Frankie has dreams of making it over into Cosmo meets Playgirl – a move that her father didn’t approve of. He hates the idea so much that he tells her she is “dead to him” and angry words are exchanged. The next day, daddy is assassinated and Frankie is more determined than ever to make over Skin in her vision. For that she needs one hot male model.

Enter Reese Bronson, an undercover cop assigned to getting the dirt on the Donatello clan. With daddy dead, the cops are concerned about a turf war, so what better way to stop it by finding out who hired the hit? Infiltrating Skin seems like a good plan, plus Frankie being her father’s daughter, she might have had something to do with his death.

If the plot sounds over the top, that’s because it is. Skin screams beach book. It’s undemanding, entertaining, and there’s plenty of hot sex. Unfortunately the characters do everything in their power to sabotage what could have been a campy, fun read.

Frankie doesn’t trust men. She made the mistake of having an affair with a man who pillow-talked all of her business secrets out of her then took them to the competition. Reese sets off all of her hormones, and because of this she almost doesn’t hire him. She doesn’t trust herself around him. But he plays up the attraction, and soon she finds herself hiring him because really, he is the best man to rise to the occasion. What will happen when she finds out that he’s a cop who only wants to get her in the sack so she’ll spill all of her family’s secrets? Take a wild guess.

Reese carries around the requisite baggage that every other stereotypical Alpha male in Romance Novel Land has. His mother abandoned him. He blames himself for his sister’s death. He’s estranged from his father. Lather, rinse and repeat. He’s hot for Frankie but given that she’s a mafia princess he’s not sure he can trust her. And there’s the rub. The romance doesn’t work because the characters don’t trust each other.

Reese believes the worst, thinking Frankie played a role in her father’s death. Frankie suspects Reese is a cop, but jumps into bed with him anyway. When the truth comes out, she’s hurt, stunned and totally surprised – even though she suspected as much starting at the halfway point of the novel. To say Frankie runs hot and cold is an understatement. One minute she’s determined to not have sex with Reese because 1) she doesn’t want to mix with business with pleasure and 2) he’s hiding something. But what does she do? She practically seduces him out of his pants. Then she’s back to saying they can’t have sex with each other. Make up your mind.

The suspense thread isn’t half bad, except the author doesn’t give the reader nearly enough suspects to work with. Having read enough suspense novels in my day, it was pretty easy to see the climax of the story coming a mile off, which leaves the romance to keep the reader entertained. With Frankie running hot and cold, and the total lack of trust, it’s more than a little hard to buy into. Plus, Reese is determined to believe the worst; even with his gut telling him that Frankie is innocent of any wrongdoing.

On the surface, Skin is a campy, entertaining read that could be perfect for killing time on the beach. Unfortunately, the lack of trust really puts a damper on the fireworks. It’s hard to recommend, but as a guilty pleasure Tabke certainly shows promise.

--Wendy Crutcher


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