by Claire Kent
Published by Loveswept on November 24, 2015
Sub-Genre/Theme: Contemporary, Erotic
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Preschool teacher Elizabeth Marks isn’t exactly thrilled to be attending a college friend’s bachelorette party at a male strip joint. The sights—screaming women, half-naked hunks—are just as sleazy as she expected, with one exception: the man standing at the back, radiating sensual heat despite being fully clothed. When Elizabeth takes refuge outside, he chases her down and dares her to stay. It turns out that her mystery man is the owner—and, as tonight’s headliner, the one guy Elizabeth wouldn’t mind seeing naked.
Matt Stokes lives his life one day, one dance at a time. But as he challenges Elizabeth to get in touch with the passionate, impulsive woman behind her prim façade, she brings out another side of him as well. This girl isn’t just another pretty face—or paying customer—and Matt can’t help wanting more. Onstage, he’s used to exposing his body. Now Matt will have to expose his heart. Because when it comes to real love, that’s the one striptease that matters.
I started reading Taking It Off with the expectation that it would be definitely sexy, and maybe light, fun, and sort of fluffy. It’s marketed as a romance for fans of Magic Mike, after all. What I got from this book was so much more. Taking It Off turned out to be a deeply emotional surprise that I just loved.
Matt (who I’m so tempted to call Magic Matt, but it’s just Matt) owns a male strip club called Bare Assets. While he’s a former stripper himself, he doesn’t get out on stage much anymore. Until he meets Elizabeth.
“You wear the ice princess like a costume, and the very first time I saw you, I wanted to take it off.”
Elizabeth is an art therapy teacher at a prestigious preschool. She makes a good living and is independent. Her father is seriously considering running for governor. Although Elizabeth would eventually like to meet a nice guy who’s marriage material, she doesn’t necessarily need a man right now.
Elizabeth’s upbringing has always been very ordered and polite. Maybe a little too polite and even forced. So when Elizabeth accompanies her friends to a bachelorette party at Bare Assets, she’s noticeably uncomfortable. She doesn’t understand the appeal of the dancers or the over-the-top atmosphere. Matt takes notice of her and issues a challenge: if Elizabeth will agree to come to the club twice a week for the next month, Matt is convinced that he can help her loosen up and let down her defenses.
At first, Elizabeth is super hesitant and skeptical about the strip club experience. She sees that it’s fun for the other women, but she writes it off as just not being her thing. Slowly but surely, Matt convinces her that she doesn’t need to have her emotional guard up all the time, the way that she has her whole life. She can let go, let loose, have fun, and be free. He helps her with that and along the way, he and Elizabeth start to fall for each other.
Elizabeth felt like someone else–someone more fun, more spontaneous, less vanilla–had taken possession of her body. She liked herself this way.
Meanwhile, Matt’s got some secrets that he’s not keen on sharing with Elizabeth. Matt’s mother is a drug addict. He tries to help her, but she refuses to help herself. Matt’s almost ready to give up hope with regard to his mother when he meets Elizabeth. Elizabeth gives Matt new perspective. She helps him see that some things aren’t hopeless and encourages him to keep trying with his mother.
Matt had long ago given up hope about the important things in life, so it was a nice change to feel a spark of it about anything at all.
In the midst of all this–the juxtaposition of the fun club scenes and the heavy family stuff–there are some seriously smoking scenes between Elizabeth and Matt. We’re talking 5 out of 5 jalapenos, people. My ebook is highlighted within an inch of its life and I’m not complaining.
There’s some additional drama with regard to Elizabeth’s family, which I’ll avoid spoiling here. I’ll just say that it helped put the story in perspective, seeing how swept away both Elizabeth and Matt were with their new relationship. When this incident occurs, they realize they need to step back and decide who they each want to be–as well as what the future holds for them, separately or together.
As I mentioned, I really adored this book and have no hesitations giving it 5 enthusiastic stars. In Taking It Off, the author took a subject that I initially expected would be fun and lighthearted, and she created an intense story that’s incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. Claire Kent is a new author to me, but I’ve already bought a couple of her other books and I’m excited to read those.
Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I’m slowly working through my NetGalley backlog and this book has since been published. My review is for the published version of the book.
Rating: 5 stars