Turning It On has a couple of scenes that really stand out for me, but one comes late in the book, when Hannah my shy, wallflower heroine has started to come into her own as a sexy, confident woman. One night she confesses to Vlad, the male stripper hero, that she’s never watched an exotic dancer. Vlad decides to remedy the situation, pronto.
To write the scene, I watched “Magic Mike” a time or two, listened to the song Vlad would strip to, The Black Crowes’ Hard to Handle, and thought about what Hannah, who’s never seen a stripper in a crowded room, let alone one on one, might think and feel.
So pour a cold glass of your favorite beverage for a steamy tropical night, picture a deserted beach front bar, and enjoy…
When Hannah arrived at The Smiling Shark just before midnight, Vlad was waiting on the love seat, his arm resting along the back; a glass of wine was on the table. For a long moment, their gazes locked and Hannah drank in the sight of him.
“Is this what I’m doing to thank you?” she asked.
“Nyet,” he said. “That, I’m still deciding. This is because seeing you only this afternoon with your boys was not enough. Not after how we left things last time.”
“I didn’t like how we left things either. Especially since you might go home after talent night.”
He lifted his hand, inviting her to sit beside him. She settled into the circle of his arm, the brush of his fingertips against her bare shoulder making her skin tingle. Across the room, the bartender smiled.
“Getting eliminated wouldn’t be the worst thing,” Vlad said softly. “Except for leaving you.”
“What about the money?”
“Maybe I’ve changed my mind about how important it is to win.”
Did that mean he had changed his mind about trying to start a new life? Though she was disappointed, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. He hadn’t had a clear picture of what that new life might be, and it was hard to walk away from what one knew. Without an education, it would be hard for him to earn the sort of money he earned from stripping. She wouldn’t demean him by suggesting that he ought to “better” himself. Instead, she smiled and took his hand. “This show has changed my mind about a lot of things, too.”
Her smile felt strained. “Once we’re back in New York, things between us will sort themselves out. Being here has made me see that so much of what I always believed wasn’t necessarily true. I mean, in twenty-four hours, I’ll be tap-dancing on live TV!”
“Feel ready for it?”
“I think so. You saw me rehearse. What do you think?”
“I think you move very well.”
“For a big girl, you mean.”
“Not at all. But you’re still not confident enough to look your audience in the eye.”
“Can you blame me?”
“You have no reason to doubt yourself, and showing confidence matters. In skating, the judges wanted to see we were not afraid to look right at them. It is even more important for me now. Ever seen a stripper afraid to make eye contact?”
“I’ve never seen a stripper at all.”
He blinked in surprise. “Really? Not even a fake cop dropping in on a bachelorette party?”
“My friends aren’t like that. We don’t get enjoyment out of degrading people.”
Vlad raised his brow. “Degrading them?”
She winced. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Sometimes, it does feel like I’m a piece of meat, and nothing else.” His voice was resigned.
“Vlad, I’m sorry.”
His touch reassured her that he didn’t take her comment personally. “No harm done. Still, the fact you have never seen an exotic dancer troubles me. I think we should remedy that right now.”
It took a moment to grasp his meaning. “You’re going to strip for me, here? Now?”
“If you’re only going to see one, might as well be the best.” He turned to the bartender. “Miguel, you don’t mind, right?”
The bartended laughed. “Oh, no, senor, I don’t mind at all.”
“First we need some music.” Vlad took her hand and led her across the room to the jukebox, where he perused the selections.
She was conscious of his strong hand still clasping hers. “What do you usually strip to? Disco?”
“Depends on the character I’m playing. I just did a routine to Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause,’ where I played a movie star. I’ve done construction workers, cops, the usual. You won’t get the full effect though, because I’m not wearing tear-off pants.”
This sounded intriguing. “There is such a thing? Where do you get them, Stripper Supply?”
He laughed. “It’s just normal pants cut up and held together with fasteners. Can’t be too tight though, or I’ll break out of them too early.”
Hannah shook her head. “The things you learn.”
“This song’s good.” He fed money into the slot and punched a number, then gestured at a nearby chair. “You sit here. And take out some money. I don’t do this for free, you know.”
His teasing wink made her laugh. “I didn’t bring any.”
He grabbed a cocktail napkin and folded it in half. “We’ll pretend.”
She took the napkin and settled back, imagining she was a customer at the club where he danced. As she sipped her wine, he braced his hands on the arms of the chair and whispered in her ear. “A private dance, just for you.”
A rush of heat spread through Hannah’s cheeks and her heart thrummed wildly as she gazed up into his chiseled features and warm, gold-flecked eyes. Deep within, the muscles below her belly tightened and quivered. Her mouth felt dry, despite the wine. This was unquestionably erotic, yet at the same time…safe. An experience enjoyed by millions of women, though never her. Until now. The sexiest man she had ever met was about to perform, and she didn’t have to share this moment with anyone else.
The opening beat of The Black Crowes’s “Hard to Handle” burst from the jukebox, Vlad pushed off from the chair in a powerful, fluid motion. Standing with his legs spread, he rocked his hips to the music, smoothing his hands over his denim-clad thighs. Hannah’s grip tightened on her glass and in her lap, her fingers twitching as she imagined touching his smooth, warm skin and watched the movement of his toned muscles. His dance was infused with sensuality and masculine grace. She swallowed and pressed her thighs together, aware of the dampness between her legs.
As Chris Robinson growled out the second verse, Vlad undid the buttons on his shirt, slid it off and flung it. Hannah caught it, and the alluring scent of him wafted from the soft fabric. The garment was still warm from his body. She clutched the shirt as he moved closer to plant his feet on either side of hers. He rocked in time to the music, and thrust his hips in a raw, suggestive motion.
Mesmerized, she couldn’t look away. Her lips moved. “Oh my.”
His laugh broke the spell, reminding her it wasn’t some sexy stranger dancing for her pleasure but a man she trusted and cared about.
Even so, she couldn’t tear her gaze away from his lower body, the ripple of his tight abs, and the sensuous motion of his hips as he unbuttoned his tight jeans.
“Eyes, Hannah,” he said. “The lesson’s all about the eyes. Look up here.”
“But it’s so hard!”
“Sweetheart, you have no idea.”
Actually, she had a very good idea, judging from the bulge between his legs. She forced her gaze upward, over his smooth, tan torso, broad shoulders, to his stubbled cheeks and beautiful eyes.
He was close enough for her to see the light sheen of sweat on his bare skin. Without thinking, she reached to touch him, but he moved out of reach. “Not allowed.”
She snapped her hand back, disappointed. “No?”
“Only way to touch me is with money.”
“But you keep moving!”
He winked. “Then catch me. Come on, Hannah. Don’t be shy.”
What the hell? When he approached again, she hooked a finger into the waistband of his jeans and reeled him in. She stuffed in the folded napkin, aware of his closeness, and all she wanted to do was press her mouth against him and taste the salt of his skin. She gazed up into his eyes, feeling bold, powerful and yes, thoroughly sexy.
The music played on, but Vlad stopped dancing and coaxed her up from her chair. They stared into each other’s eyes and her knees felt weak. She raised a trembling hand to stroke his feverish skin as his chest rose and fell with each breath.
In his low, sensuous voice, her name sounded like a seduction, and instinctively, she knew that no matter how many other women he had wrapped in a spell of desire, this moment was as precious to him as it was to her. Vlad threaded his fingers through her hair to cup the back of her head, and then brought his lips down on hers.
Post originally published July 8, on Plain Talk Book Marketing
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Book editor Hannah Levinson couldn’t be happier. This “Nice Jewish Girl” is ready to marry the man she’s longed after for half her life. When her fiancé suggests they audition for Last Fling, a steamy new reality show for engaged couples, she lets herself be swayed. Maybe she’ll learn a thing or two.
Vlad Shustov’s fall from a once-bright career as a competitive figure skater was swift. Now trapped by a shameful past and an uncertain future, “Vlad the Bad” strips for cash. Joining the cast of Last Fling could earn him a fortune—or at least enough to finally leave stripping. But to win the show’s prize, he must seduce an engaged woman, something he can’t even bear the thought of.
Hannah’s not like any woman Vlad’s met before. Betrayed by the man she thought she loved and relegated to the ugly-duckling role she’d worked so hard to shed, can she trust there’s more to Vlad than meets the eye? With sleazy TV tactics shattering the last shreds of the contestants’ confidence, they’ll have to believe true happiness is not only possible…it may be looking right at them.