If the Seas Catch Fire
At the start of L. A. Witt’s If the Seas Catch Fire, Sergei Andronikov is giving a lap dance in the bar where he works as a stripper. But after the dance, he discovers a disturbance outside – two thugs are beating up a man. Realizing they’re employed by one of the three Mafia families who control the town, Sergei goes outside to deal with it, aware that with his slender build and skin-tight red leather shorts, no one is going to think he’s a threat.
Sure enough, the thugs see nothing but a pretty-boy twink, and soon they see nothing at all Sergei questions their victim, who turns out to be Domenico Maisano, nephew to the boss of one of the three Mafia clans. Sergei then disappears, because getting involved with the Mafia will never be part of the plan. A stripper by night and a ruthless contract killer by day, Sergei plans to bring down all three of the Mafia clans in revenge for what they did to his family.
Meanwhile, Dom recovers from the beating and wonders about his savior. Dom is the most unlikely person ever to rise to the upper echelons of la cosa nostra. In his family, he keeps the accounts – money-laundering, payments from illegal immigrants and so on, though he cooks the books al dente to help as many of those immigrants as he can. And since he’s so deep in the closet that he’s discovered Narnia, he’s under pressure from his uncle to marry a Mafia princess from a rival family to form an alliance. Seems someone’s been trying to destabilize the crime lords’ grip on the town of late.
I liked Dom at once, and he has some genuinely funny moments, which were welcome since this is a gritty and sometimes bleak read. For instance, after he’s been treated for the beating, his uncle tells him someone will bring new clothes for him.
Dom nodded slowly. “Thanks.” He didn’t need to tell his uncle he’d sworn off clothing forever. There was no way it would be any less painful to dress than it had been to undress, and dressing meant eventually undressing anyway, so he was going to be a nudist for the rest of his life.
You can be nude any time, man. Just saying.
Curious, attracted and in need of a respite from his family, Dom finds the bar where Sergei works. He quickly realizes Sergei is buttoned up tight as far as anything other than his body is concerned, so Dom pays for a lap dance. And to his shock, Sergei finds himself enjoying it. He knows it would be a huge mistake to become at all involved with someone who’s chin-deep in the underworld he hates, but after that he can’t seem to stay away from Dom either. That becomes a problem when Sergei, who is after all a contract killer, gets a certain new assignment.
The suspense in this book is intense, especially when Dom is ordered to kill a potential traitor in his family – someone who he likes and who doesn’t strike him as guilty. That scene draws out the tension to the breaking-point, because it’s clear that Dom doesn’t have a choice. What existence has he got beyond the Mafia? And he knows too much to be able to walk away. However, a similar scene towards the end didn’t quite work for me, because one hero is not going to kill the other no matter how high the stakes are. I was also unhappy about some of the innocent collateral damage sustained by Sergei’s efforts to bring down his targets.
As for the sex scenes, they’re emotional as well as hot, but there are so many of them that they eventually became a bit predictable. There’s a pattern where someone Dom knows is murdered, so he meets Sergei for desperate sex in order to feel alive and to forget about the killing. That said, their deepening relationship is believable, and it was clear why Sergei couldn’t tell Dom the truth. I did wonder, though, why Dom seemed to forget that this guy was able to take out two thugs on his own. He worried a lot about Sergei’s safety, when it should have occurred to him that there was a good reason Sergei wasn’t afraid of anyone.
If The Seas Catch Fire is fast-paced and well-written, although I probably won’t pick up another Mafia romance because this was a little too dark for me at times. Still, it’s a recommended read if you want to kick back with a professional who knows exactly what they’re doing and how to take you for a wild ride – whether that professional is a lap dancer or an author who crafts a gripping tale.