Forbidden Stranger

Marilyn Pappano
January 2008, Series Romance
Sil Rom Susp #1495, $4.99, 249 pages, Amazon ASIN 037327565X

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Forbidden Stranger is an interesting book from the always reliable Marilyn Pappano. The heroine is a stripper who is good at and unapologetic about her work.

Amanda Nelson owns a nice home, a nice car and has recently accepted a job as an English instructor at a small college. She has money in the bank and lives a quiet middle class life. Only by day though – at night Amanda trades her jeans and Crocs for g-strings and mile high heels. She is a stripper at Almost Heaven, an upscale gentleman’s club in Atlanta.

Rick Calloway is the new bartender at Almost Heaven. He’s a nice guy with a girlfriend named Julia Dautrieve. Amanda doesn’t want to like him – he’s a Calloway and she has no reason to like the Calloways. When Amanda was a little girl, her beloved father was in a wreck on the job that left him paralyzed. He was working for a Calloway company at the time, and they offered their sympathy, but nothing else. Amanda’s mother had to work several jobs to make ends meet and the experience left her embittered and angry. Then, when Amanda was a teen, she took a job at a Calloway resort and became friends with Robbie Calloway, or so she thought. He pressed her to have sex with him and when she refused, he spread vicious rumors about her and called her Randy Mandy.

Amanda always loved to dance, but with no formal training, all she could find were jobs in strip clubs. They paid well, very well, and Amanda kept working. Amanda realized that strippers don’t work for a long time and she had a plan for her life. So she stayed out of trouble – she doesn’t drink, never took drugs, she refused to work private “parties” - has saved her money and worked hard to get her degree. Amanda has reached her goals and has a new job as a teacher, and only has a few weeks to go before she quits stripping entirely.

Rick Calloway is not just a bartender. He works for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and he and his partner Julia are investigating Almost Heaven. Several of the strippers who worked the private parties are missing. The owner, Rosey, will only say that they left for a better job. Well, then why are their cars missing and parts showing up in chop shops? There is something going on and the GBI wants Julia to pose as a dancer, and Rick as a bartender to see if they can find the answer to some questions. When Rick asks Amanda to teach Julia how to dance, sparks begin to fly between them and even though she has no reason to like or even trust a Calloway, as she gets to know him, Amanda senses that Rick is different.

The book's suspense plot takes a backseat to the romance between Amanda and Rick, but it never totally fades away. Both Amanda and Rick are very believable characters and act like adults thoroughout the book. They don't whine or pout like teens. I really liked that Marilyn Pappano doesn't solve all their family problems with a wave of her wand at the end. Robbie Calloway is still a creep, and Amanda’s mother is still hateful and bitter. But Rick and Amanda have their eyes on the future and don’t waste time angsting about what might have been. The one big problem I had with the book was that Julia was so unbelievable as a stripper wanna-be. She was quiet, almost mousy and would never have made it as a dancer. I also wondered how Amanda got the job at the college. I got the impression she only had a bachelor's degree and you normally have to have a master's to teach on that level.

Forbidden Stranger is the first series romance I have read for 2008, and it’s a good one. When it comes to series romance, Marilyn Pappano always delivers and she is an automatic buy for me - one of the dwindling few in the series romance subgenre.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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