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Authors: Christi Barth

Love on the Boardwalk

BOOK: Love on the Boardwalk
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Love on the Boardwalk
By Christi Barth

Atlantic City is the perfect place for detective Bradley Hudson to nurse his broken heart. A week of beer and strippers is sure to erase his former fiancée from his memory for good. What he didn’t count on was running into a sassy redhead from his past. Maybe a rebound romp is an even better plan...

Trina Trimble, private eye in training, is thrilled to be reunited with the hottie she almost hooked up with last summer. She’s undercover on her first solo case, but there’s always time to lock lips with a sexy cop. Besides, a fun fling with Brad doesn’t have to last beyond his week in town.

Brad and Trina are supposed to be just flirting, not forging a new forever. Brad’s still healing, and although Trina changes careers the way other women change shoes, she has finally found her calling in her new life of disguises and stakeouts. But when an irresistible job offer threatens to lure her away, Brad will need to decide to let her go or bet it all on love and risk his heart again.

51,000 words

Dear Reader,

September might herald the end of summer fun and the vacation season, but the one thing you and I both know, as avid readers, is that we can always escape the daily grind thanks to books! This month, Carina Press is placing extra emphasis on the mystery genre, with the last week of September dedicated to not only our entire backlist of mysteries, but also four brand-new frontlist releases in four different subgenres of mystery.

Within the mystery program, we welcome debut author Ricardo Sanchez with his novel
Elvis Sightings.
In this unique mystery that absolutely delighted our team from the first moment we read it, Floyd is a private detective who lives his life the way he thinks Elvis would have wanted him to—fast and hard in a sequined jumpsuit—and if he can avoid the billy clubs of government agents, a Viking reenactment and the amorous attention of the bearded lady sheriff, he just might prove, once and for all, that Elvis is still alive.

Rosie Claverton brings us the second book in The Amy Lane Mysteries (a series that has some of my favorite Carina Press covers!). Welsh amateur sleuths Amy and Jason return in
Code Runner
, with Jason framed for the murder of a gang runner. When his prison transport is broken open, Jason is caught between the police, the gangs and the mastermind behind Jason’s downfall, while Amy races to prove his innocence.

In
Mistress of Lies
, a historical mystery by Holly West, a young beggar girl claiming to be Isabel Wilde’s niece—previously unknown to her—shows up unexpectedly and reveals that Isabel’s brother Adam was murdered, compelling Isabel to take up an impossible task: discover the truth about her brother’s death, twelve years later.

And joining these three in the mystery category, with a new release in her Patience Price Mystery series, Julie Anne Lindsey brings us
Murder in Real Time.
When a popular reality show host is murdered at the local bed-and-breakfast, Patience’s small town is overrun with grieving fans, paparazzi and a gunman who puts Patience in the crosshairs.

If mystery isn’t your favorite genre, we have nine new releases in September in romance subgenres. Starting with contemporary romances, first up is
Breaking His Rules
by Alison Packard. If you love the friends to lovers trope as much as I do, you’ll love this story of two good friends pretending to be a couple at a coastal wedding, who find things get passionate when their true feelings rise to the surface.

Rebound flings are supposed to have soft landings, but one sexy cop is about to fall hard in Christi Barth’s fun romantic caper
Love on the Boardwalk.
And in Emma Barry’s
Private Politics
, when a glamorous non-profit fundraiser becomes entangled in a political scandal, she turns to a savvy DC blogger for help clearing her name. As their hearts and ambitions collide, they find that everything in Washington comes with a price.

If you like contemporary romance with an edge, reach for new adult romance
Losing Streak
by Kristine Wyllys. Rosemary Young was just another bartender until her boyfriend, Brandon Williams, lost a bet, leaving them with no choice but to sell their souls to the Lane’s crooked king.

Author Stina Lindenblatt returns with
Let Me Know
, a contemporary romance with a new adult flavor. College freshman Amber Scott is propelled into the media spotlight when love letters she supposedly sent to her stalker surface prior to his upcoming trial.

Switching gears to three books outside the contemporary romance genre, I’d like to turn your attention to Tyler Flynn’s newest male/male historical romance,
Hunting the Spy
. Nathan Kennett is hunting down a traitor who is selling the secrets of England’s defenses to the French rebels—could it be Sir Peter Ross, the man he loves?

Don’t miss the final book in Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance Covenant of Thorns trilogy. In
Rogue’s Paradise
, our scientist heroine discovers the origin of the fae and of her own nature, and whether she can make true love actually work. And it’s not too late to catch up with the first two books in this fantastic trilogy,
Rogue’s Pawn
and
Rogue’s Possession.

Eleri Stone’s
Gun Shy
has a wonderful
Firefly
-esque Western feel in a paranormal romance world. When criminal boss Gideon Moore sends men to steal the fort’s dwindling supply of Reaper cure for sale on the black market, Jane Fisher offers to guide Lieutenant Lyle Dalton through the shady side of Stormking Territory in an attempt to recover the serum.

And last this month, we’re thrilled to present
Shattered Bonds
, the final book in Lynda Aicher’s Wicked Play erotic romance series. At the same time, we’re sad to see these characters go, as Lynda has captivated us with the emotional ups and downs of the relationships between this compelling cast of characters. Don’t miss this book, in which everything could change when the past comes back to destroy the members of The Den. Look for
Game Play
, the first book in Lynda’s new erotic romance trilogy, in spring 2015.

Coming in October 2014, Dana Marie Bell returns us to the world of Maggie’s Grove, we welcome co-authors Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels and their incredible male/male romance duology, and R.L. Naquin is back with her urban fantasy Monster Haven series.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Editorial Director, Carina Press

Dedication

For my darling husband, who insisted we kiss on the AC Boardwalk even in the frigid cold of New Year’s Eve. Because that’s the kind of awesomely romantic husband he is.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Stephanie Dray for giggling her way through a beta read, and totally getting my quirky heroine. Deep gratitude to Joe Curinga, croupier at Caesars Atlantic City Casino, who dished some great insider secrets. A nod of appreciation to M.D. Waters for letting me borrow her name for a stripper. Hugs to the MRW Scribblers for keeping me on track every month.

I’d be a wreck without the Fearsome Foursome as a sounding board. And thanks to my wonderful editor Angela James for letting me run with another beachside caper!

Chapter One

Worst honeymoon ever. Not that Bradley Hudson had experienced much in way of comparison. But he knew it was missing some key ingredients. First clue? He was
not
sitting on a sunny Caribbean beach, sucking on a rum punch. Second clue? No sex. And the third, most telling piece of evidence?

No wife.

He took a sip of something brown and tasteless that was as weak as it was pricey. Oh, well. Not as if he’d come here to get blitzed. Brad could drink for free when he hit the casinos. At a strip club, the draw was the eye candy. What he could see of it past all the fake greenery.

The strip clubs here weren’t just your basic stage and a pole like the ones he’d raided as a beat cop back home in Baltimore. No, in Atlantic City everything had to have a theme. Here at Club Eden, each of the stools at the edge of the stage was shaped like the ass end of a different animal, complete with tails hanging from the back. A spiky green plant poked at the top of Brad’s head. More surrounded him, giving his fake grass-covered banquette in the corner the feeling of a private cabana. A very green, very tacky cabana.

So his view was limited to straight ahead. Only about a third of the stage. Since Brad only gave a third of a rat’s ass about seeing the gravity-defying racks on the dancers, it didn’t matter. After all, he hadn’t even wanted to come. But his dad—of all people—made him promise to engage in the age-old custom of staring at fake boobs at least once, just to stick it to the memory of his ex-fiancée. And everyone at his Maryland State Police barracks had pitched in to give him a wad of singles to stuff...somewhere.

What he did enjoy was the view of the waitress who was to-and-fro-ing it in front of him. She wore a green bikini top with a few strategically placed twining vines. A grass skirt was too long by the width of a single blade of grass for him to arrest her for indecent exposure. Her butt twitched the grass with every step in a hypnotic swish that pulled him far more than the gyrations on stage. As did the cascade of deep red curls that skimmed the top of it.

Not that it mattered. Not that Brad intended to do anything more than just look. ’Cause if you dug a hole straight through to the opposite side of the earth, you still wouldn’t get low enough to rank women on his priority list. Right now, for him, they just made good scenery. Like the backdrops he’d painted the summer he pitched in with the school musical to catch the eye of Kerri...no, Cammie? Some hot blonde a year ahead of him who’d kissed him across an enormous canvas covered with wheat fields and haystacks. The night the backdrop got stuck up in the fly system, the show still rolled on. The music and story came out just as well without the backdrop. And for now Brad’s life rolled on, better than ever without the complication, heartache and headache of a woman in it.

The music switched from Eurotrash pop to a technobeat that buzzed in his molars. Brad shifted to pull his phone out of his pocket. He wanted to take a picture of his cheesy fake grass-covered seat and shoot it to Coop. Chances were his cousin wouldn’t believe the description without photographic evidence. Distrust for what he couldn’t see was part of what made Coop such a good detective. Not quite as good as Brad, of course, but close.

As soon as the flash went off, little Miss Grass Skirt barreled over, long hair almost covering her face. “No photos in here, hon. You’re lucky the bouncer didn’t see you, or you’d be losing an arm along with your phone.” She held out a hand.

“Sorry. I didn’t think.” Brad passed over the phone. “Look for yourself—there aren’t any people in this photo.”

She took it. Snorted. “Talk about pointless. Did your butt form a deep, sentimental attachment with the fake grass beneath it? Wanna remember it forever?”

Wow. Bet she didn’t get many tips with that kind of an attitude in this place. But it did tease a grin out of him. “I don’t have to explain my spank bank to you.”

“Funny. Or really sick and twisted, if you’re not kidding.” She flipped the hair out of her eyes. Gasped. “Brad?”

He looked at her.
Really
looked, past the glitter caked on top of green eye shadow. Past the fake lashes and scarlet lips to the face beneath the painted-on mask. The delicate, almost elfin features. Eyes the same green as the beer bottles on her tray. And realized he’d ogled this particular face and figure before. Four months ago, to be exact. On the beach. Where she and her best friend Darcy stumbled across a counterfeit green-card scam. Since Brad’s cousin Coop was falling ass over heels for Darcy at the time, he and Brad got dragged into their investigation. They got the bad guy, and Coop got the girl.

“Trina Trimble?”

A dimple formed at the corner of her smile. “You remember. Even my last name. I’m impressed. Here I thought you detective types had to consult your pocket notebooks to remember anything.”

“Two minutes, and two insults. You haven’t changed a bit, Trina.” Knowing it was her now, and not just some random set of great legs, Brad gave her a slow head-to-toe. The view from the front was just as good as the one from the back. Tan, freckled legs were bare all the way down to feet jammed into clear, well, he had to call them hooker shoes. No other way to describe the Lucite stilts she wobbled on, with toenails peeping out the same glittery green as her eye shadow.

“Why fix what’s not broken?” she sassed back.

“Good point.”

Trina set his phone on the table. “What’s a nice boy like you doing in a skeezy place like this?”

“Seriously?” Brad huffed out a laugh. “Good or bad, young or old, most men come to a strip club at least a couple times in their lives. You really think you need to dig deep to discover my motivation?”

“Most men like you don’t come alone and drink in a corner. Unless...” She slammed down her tray, bottles rattling. Leaned forward far enough he could see the emerald satin edge of her bra. Made him wonder if her panties were the same color. “Are you here on a stakeout?”

This was the Trina he remembered. The one who jumped to conclusions faster than a kangaroo on speed. “Hope not. Since you just yelled that loud enough for everyone within ten tables to hear.”

The sparkle of excitement in her eyes snuffed right out. “Sorry. I got excited. Thought I’d get to see some action in here.”

Her choice of words cracked him up. “I’ll bet you get to see all sorts of action in here most nights.”

Trina grimaced. “Not the kind of action I want to see. Or even think about. I sort of want to bleach my memory bank after every shift.”

Exactly the feeling Brad had after some of his shifts. As a homicide detective, he saw things all too often that he didn’t want popping up in his dreams. Which they invariably did. It was a hazard of the job. Worth it, though, to catch the scum who perpetrated the crimes and make sure they never repeated themselves.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up, so no, I’m definitely not on a stakeout.”

“Bummer. Of course, if you’re not on official business, then I get to do this.” Trina slid in next to him. Leaned over for a hug. Even with the plastic vines attached to her top poking at his chest through the open collar of his white polo shirt, it was one hell of a hug.

In the short time he’d known her, Brad had noticed that Trina threw herself into everything she did with whole-hearted enthusiasm. This hug was no exception. Most people did a polite squeeze and release. In and out as fast as the flu shot the department made him get every year. But Trina clung tight. Which was fine with him, as it pressed those perky breasts right up against him. Her face burrowed into the hollow of his neck. Brad could swear her lips rested on the pulse point that hadn’t picked up its pace over a woman in six long months. All of a sudden, blood pounded through him, on a much swifter course due south, away from one head straight down to his other.

Oh yeah. This hug was chock-full of potential. And the night suddenly looked a hundred times brighter. Brad tightened his hold around her petite frame.

“Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” An Amazon of a woman with caramel skin and a crown of dreads clawed at Trina’s arm. A swift yank lifted her up to her feet.

Brad half rose to his. And glanced toward the door to look for the bouncer. Unfortunately, all he saw was a mosh pit of guys all wearing caps that said
Dead Man Walking.
So, a classy bachelor party. Although she wore only a sparkly gold thong, this woman looked dangerous. And he knew that a catfight could kindle into an all-out brawl in a split second.

“Sheena, what’s wrong with you?” Trina swatted off the red-tipped hand.

The woman’s bare breasts—about two cup sizes too big to be real—heaved. One hand fisted on her hip, while the other jabbed at the air in front of Trina. “You
know
this table is on my rotation for lap dances. If you want to upgrade to a dancer, go hassle the management. Don’t try to do it all secret-like by horning in on my tips.”

This could be easily resolved. Hell, Brad would even spot Sheena a tip just to keep her from manhandling Trina again. “There’s no lap dance going on here. We’re old friends. Just catching up.”

A little of the outrage cleared. “You sure? ’Cause I’ve heard that old friends line before. It’s usually a way to keep my hard-earned money from going where it belongs.” Sheena slid her hand beneath the gold tie that was all that stood between her and full-on nudity. God, Brad hoped she didn’t undo it. Hard to have a conversation with someone when their naked crotch was right at eye level.

“Oh yeah, Brad and I go way back,” Trina affirmed. “His cousin’s dating my best friend, Darcy. You’ve heard me mention her a ton.”

“Maybe.” Her bottom lip still jutted out. But she did back off a step.

Bouncing a little, Trina reversed their roles, grabbing Sheena’s arm. But her face was awash with eagerness, not anger. “Listen, do you really think I have what it takes to be a dancer? Because I’d love to learn how to do that upside down spin thing you do on the pole. It’s so cool!” She looked down at her arms. “I thought I was too scrawny to execute a move like that. But if you think I’m buff enough, could you teach me?”

“Girl, those chicken arms are the least of your problems. I wouldn’t know where to start.” Shaking her head, the other woman stalked away.

That five minutes had been a better floor show than the last three dancers. Brad definitely felt he’d gotten his money’s worth for the night. But he didn’t want a careless comment to poke at Trina’s ego. “You’re not scrawny. You’re, uh, compact.”

“Geez, and you’re horrible at compliments.” Trina wrinkled her nose. “Compact makes me sound like a bulldog. Or a trash bag you tamp down to squeeze in another milk carton. Don’t you know how to talk to a woman?”

How the hell was he supposed to answer that without coming off as an arrogant dick or an idiot? Brad swirled the ice cubes in his drink. Couldn’t even hear them clink over the relentless thump of the music. Did she really expect him to be Mr. Smooth Talker when they were screaming at each other just to be heard?

“Depends on who you ask. My mom says I’m a closed book. My homicide captain says I joke too much. And my ex-fiancée was never around enough to notice if I opened my mouth or not.” Shit. Where did that oversharing dump come from? Maybe he had a second-hand high from the weed he was trying to ignore being smoked three tables over. Not his jurisdiction, not a dead body, and so not his problem. “Regardless, I haven’t had much practice lately.”

She spread her arms wide in invitation. “Want to practice on me?”

That stung. Brad might be on a break from all things soft and feminine, but he could still get a girl—any girl he wanted—with the verbal equivalent of crooking his little finger. Being on the bench for a few months while he got over being dumped didn’t mean he’d forgotten how to play the game. Brad stood. Stretched himself all the way up to his full six feet and three inches. Even in her ridiculous shoes, he loomed over Trina. Then he cupped a hand to her ear, making sure to let his breath warm it before he spoke.

“Honey, the things I want to do to you, I don’t need any practice. I’m an expert.”

Her hand fluttered up to her heart, covering up that just-enough-of-a-handful cleavage. At the same time, her eyelids fluttered shut. Then Trina suddenly sucked in a deep breath.

“You ought to carry a license to chill. Look at me.” She stuck out her arm. “I’m covered in goose bumps now. Oh, you’re good. But you’re not a super hero. Why bother hiding a talent like that from the world?”

“‘With great power comes great responsibility,’” he quoted in an ultra-serious voice.

Trina burst into delighted laughter. “A man who knows his Spider-Man, I see. Impressive. I’m more of a Superman girl, myself. I do love a man in a cape.” She narrowed her eyes. Gave him a head-to-toe onceover identical to the one he’d given her a few minutes ago.

“You look like you’re measuring me for a cape. Let me stop you right there. That’s never going to happen. Not on Halloween, not ever.” Brad hated dressing up. One of the perks of making detective was not having to drag on his uniform and god-awful hat every day. His go-to for costume parties was to wear trunks and a bathrobe, and claim to be a medal-winning swimmer.

“No, I picture you as Captain America. The shield. Protecting the country against wrongdoers, just like you do now. You’ve got the hair for it.” Her hand reached out to skim along the side of his head. “Probably the agility, reflexes and endurance, too.”

“Definitely the endurance,” he said with a significant double waggle of his eyebrows. That squeezed another trill of laughter from her. And Brad realized he was having a great time flirting with the cute redhead. As long as he ignored the eardrum-busting music, the lap dancer sticking her tongue out at him while she dry-humped the guy in front of them, and what had to be a frat guy puking in the fake bushes in the corner. He’d never thought of a strip club as a good pick-up joint before. Hire by the hour, maybe, but not really a place to get his flirt on. Who knew?

Trina slid her tray off the table and onto her shoulder. “I’d better go deliver these drinks. But if you can stick around, I get my dinner break in a few minutes. We can chat more then.” She swished away, her grass skirt revealing just the slightest hint of under-ass. Damn, it was hot.

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