STRIPTEASE by T. L. Lawrence and T. D. McKinney
GENRE: M/F Contemporary romantic adventure
WORD COUNT: 60,000
CONTENT RATING : 3
Click here if you just want the book without the story. But it’s a good story. 🙂
FBI Special Agent Justin Hensley thought he’d left it behind. Two years with an elite undercover unit, specializing in the sexy, seamy underside of politics and pole-dancing. And her. Rachel “Rack” Coleman. The woman who broadened his horizons and then pushed him out into the world with the sure hope he’d fly.
Leaving the unit cleansed his soul. Leaving her broke his heart.
Now Rachel’s back for one last sting before she retires. And Justin discovers it’s not just his talents on the dance floor she needs.
“Couldn’t get any closer without writing from a case file.”
¾FBI Special Agent Rick M.
A not-so-long time ago, in a corner of cyberspace not-so-far away, T.D. McKinney and I took the biggest left turn into La-La Land imaginable. We deviated from our much-loved Amber Quill Press and submitted a manuscript to a publisher we were both editing for at the time.
The Imperial Death Star of mistakes.
(You’ll see who it is on the eBook file, so I’ll just call the grand nemesis Publisher to avoid any screaming accusations of “slander!”)
The manuscript got lost in the editing pool until we made some noise about it, our well-intentioned assigned editor said “I can’t see a thing wrong with it” on the first read (which meant we ended up editing ourselves, so we didn’t get that crucial second set of eyes), and then when it finally was released (Dec 31), we were told it hadn’t sold a single copy. Which is a lie, because the book was at the top of their best-seller list the month it came out. But hey, no sales, no sales, right? Shrug and move on.
Then February rolls around and I get a 1099-MISC in the mail – with a figure of $119 and some change under “royalties.” I believe it’s the first time in my life the phrase “What the FUCK?” has crossed my lips.
So I emailed Publisher, who is also the Editor in Chief, the Accountant, the Managing Editor, the Official Schmoozer of Potential Authors and every other title the control-freak can tuck under her belt. “Oh, there must have been a mistake. We (ha!) will send you a corrected version immediately.”
It never showed.
In the six months I worked as an editor, and the now two years the book has been out, I never received a royalty. I edited at least six books for Publisher, and not once was I paid. The only income was the flat rate I’d agreed on ($25 a month) for MANY, MANY hours of work as the acquisitions “gatekeeper,” a submissions reader, and sort of a production-line set of eyes for the editing pool (I lost count of how many manuscripts had to be resubmitted because they’d simply been lost). I received exactly ONE royalty statement in that time, and that was only after I sent a breach-of-contract letter to Publisher. The letter was ignored, by the way.
The book is still up on numerous sales sites, and as it has actual RANKINGS I know it hasn’t just been sitting there collecting dust. And by this time we had the right to end the contract at any time. So we BOTH asked for it to be taken down in accordance with the contract.
Other authors also found breach-of-contract problems and sent similar letters and emails to Publisher.
Ignored. Blatantly. Certified letters refused until it was outside the “time frame” stated in the contract. (everyone has paperwork proving the letters were delivered on time, but Publisher is just ignoring them).
So. Screw it. We’ll GIVE it away.
It belongs to us – Theresa did the cover herself, so no problems there. We’ll plaster it as far over the Net as we can. We won’t make a cent – but neither will Publisher. And that’s the important part.
So here it is – STRIPTEASE, a M/F romantic thriller with some interesting non-formula twists thrown in just because we’re contrary that way. J Feel free to pass it along to anyone and everyone you like. Hell, pass it along to people you meet on the street. And we’ll gleefully drain one more source of Publisher’s ill-gotten gain.
“What the hell?” Justin heard her voice, that little lilt of surprise and confusion. “Vicky, I don’t– Vicky?” A soft huff of frustration and the click of heels on the stage. “What’s this stuff doing out here? We’re not doing the biker routine.”
Perfect. “Aren’t we?” He stepped onto the stage. “I think I got everything the way we liked it. Except for this.” He brought his offering from behind his back. “Late-night florists are wonderful things.”
Rachel’s eyes widened at the single rose he held out — yellow, not red. Red was for expensive hookers, unless you grew them yourself. “Trey? What are you talking about?” Even so, she moved close enough to take the flower from his hand.
She always used his stage name. Ever since the day he left. He shook his head. “Trey’s on a break. Do you still remember me?”
Her throat worked. “Justin.” It came out sharp and breathy. Well, it seemed Vicky and Mona weren’t too off in their suppositions. If not love, something was certainly going on with his Rachel. She swallowed and tried it again. “Justin. Since when is the name a problem for you?”
“Just curious why you haven’t said it since the day you decided I wasn’t worth a special request to stay with your unit.” Soft — he had to keep it soft and even or she’d bristle and run and he’d never find out the truth. He reached for her hand and ran his fingers over the back of it. “Maybe in a discussion about me, but never to me. Why, Rachel?”
“You were worth a request to stay! You were just worth too much for me to keep you.” She still sounded breathless. “What does a name matter, Trey? We’ve used dozens over the years.” And she really sucked at avoiding the question. That was a bit telling all on its own.
“I remember the last time you used my name, Rachel.” Justin watched that wall around her heart tremble every time he said hers. He pulled her hand against his chest, letting her feel his heart beat under the red silk t-shirt. “You whispered it in my ear the night before I left Chicago for DC. You know, I didn’t know until later that you had a personal rule about never sleeping with your agents more than once. I didn’t know I was the exception.”
“I heard that story got around.” Her hand trembled just the least bit against his chest. “I had rules. It’s dangerous to get too close to my agents. Someone ends up dead when you let things get too emotional.”
“Then why me? Wasn’t I too dangerous as well?” He grasped her shoulders gently and stepped to her, noting her hand stayed on his chest without guidance. The citrusy scent of her hair brought back so many wonderful memories. “Or is that the real reason you allowed my transfer? Did I get too close?” He brushed her cheek with his lips. “Did I get in under all those rules?”
“You know you did. For two years you were…more than the others.” She swayed closer to him, those absurd shoes making her only a few inches shorter than he was. He knew he could press his body close to her and still reach her lips without bending. “Trey, please. This is all the past. Why ask this now? You didn’t ask it seven years ago.”
“Because I never suspected I was anything more in your heart than a talented dancer and a very good lay.” He felt her flinch and stroked her cheek. “Rachel. What else could I think? Why didn’t you tell me? At least I would have understood why you needed me to go. Or we could have been together all this time, instead of both of us struggling to avoid admitting we were empty inside.”
“How?” A wail hid in her soft question. “I’m undercover for months at a time. Doing whatever the government wants me to with whoever they designate. How could a man sit home and wait for a woman like that? You deserved better. I thought by now you’d have a wife and a couple of little Hensleys. I don’t see how you can still be…alone. You have so much to offer.”
His breath escaped in a laugh. “Unfortunately, the bulk of the female population out there doesn’t seem to have your keen sense of taste.” He felt his shoulders lift in a shrug. “I kept looking for someone who made me feel as alive as I did when I was with you. Sadly, there’s a shortage of truly passionate, dedicated women out there who can also samba to bring a man to tears.”
Her laugh contained a sob or two and she now pressed close. “Are you sure? I’ve seen you dance with Vicky. Looked like an awful lot of passion there. I’m way too old to play the other woman.” Her fingers knotted in the silk knit of his shirt. “What are you trying to say to me, Trey? Seven years is a long time to carry a torch for someone.”
“Who are we talking about, Rachel? I never got the chance to carry a torch. I’m still trying to adjust to the idea you might have been carrying one for me. And while Vicky makes me feel alive, we’re just friends who like to cuddle up.” He threaded his fingers into her hair, scattering pins and letting that firefall spill. “You’re up for a Deputy Director position, yes? One that puts you directly above me, or not?”
“Not.” Blue eyes met his steadily. “You report up through domestic and foreign terrorism chains. I’d still be working graft and corruption. White collar crime.”
Her face felt so good in his hands. “Then I just have two questions for you. One: If you’re worried about Vicky, who do you think pried the truth out of Mona and then nearly tripped over her own tongue trying to tell me? And set up this little role-play in the first place?”
“Looks like Special Agent Moss is a damned good investigator. And an awfully decent person.” Rachel didn’t try to pull away. “You said two questions. Was that both?”
“No. That was just the first one. Second one might be easier or harder to answer. I’m just not sure.” He pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth. “But I’m asking for the truth, Rachel. Will you give it to me?”
She nodded, lips still, not reaching for his, not yet. “I will.”
“Question Two then: What do you want?” He pulled back, letting her breathe, just waiting. His choices would depend on her answer.
Maybe she expected something more specific, because her eyes went wide and silence stretched between them. “I…I want you, Justin.”