Striptease delivers on the naughtier-than-usual promises of the Harlequin Blaze line, and still manages to be a satisfying series read. While I wish that the story had more room to explore the more challenging questions it raises about women’s careers, on the whole I enjoyed this book by new-to-me author Alison Kent.
This latest installment in an ongoing series chronicling the romances of the women executives of gIRL-gEAR.com tells the story of Melanie Craine. In charge of the company’s technology and gift lines and stage-managing her friend Lauren’s wedding video as her story begins, Melanie’s control issues strike sparks with videographer Jacob Faulkner. When Jacob jokingly sends her a clip reel spotlighting her anal-retentive streak in all its glory, Melanie retaliates by sending him a video of her shadow as she dances on the stripper’s pole she just happens to have installed in her bedroom (for exercise, don’cha know.) After a bit of similarly demure back-and-forth, they fall into a sizzling affair, although both believe they are too commitment-phobic and devoted to their work.
The story demonstrates some considerable strengths, especially given the limitations of the series format. Melanie and Jacob seem genuinely molded by their personal histories. Jacob’s perceptions, for instance, are colored by his visually-oriented career, and much of the eroticism of the book plays on his role as an experienced voyeur. From the brief glimpses of Melanie’s co-workers I feel confident that the series’ heroines are individually crafted with distinct personalities, as well. Though the sex scenes never pushed the boundaries into full-tilt erotica, they did demonstrate an enjoyably playful inventiveness.
While Striptease met my expectations for an above-average series read, unfortunately it never exceeded them. The gIRL-gEAR documentary that is Jacob’s pretext for hanging around could have been much more interesting. This film is supposed to be Jacob’s best work ever, but the descriptions sound like a tedious corporate puff piece and the writing just isn’t evocative enough to match the overblown praise. A more serious problem emerges late in the book, as Melanie begins to worry that her gal-pal co-workers are letting their romantic bliss interfere with their job performance. Rather than facing this intriguing issue head-on, the story airily dismisses it, using the problem only to generate a contrived bit of last-moment conflict.
The situations in Striptease were so promising that I would have liked for the story to be richer and more provocative than it was, but at least it’s savvy enough to pose the right sort of questions, with a cast that seems rich enough to bear the weight of many stories to come.