The Devil’s Playground Review


Synopsis: Professional burlesque dancer Francesca “Frankie” Strong has learned the hard way: on San Francisco’s cutthroat party circuit, crime has a way of going unnoticed. When her best friend is brutally attacked, she’s determined not to let the case fall through the cracks, even if that means crawling through every alley and back room in San Francisco to find the truth.

Undercover cop Johnny Marsden is in desperate need of a win. His career on the rocks, he’s infiltrated the infamous nightclub Cafe Outré, rumored front for San Francisco’s Chinatown mafia. Johnny has never seen anything like the glitter-and-sin-encrusted world he’s now a part of. He’s certainly never met anyone like Frankie Strong.

Realizing they’ll get farther together than on their own, Frankie and Johnny forge an uneasy partnership. Neither expects the heat that flares between them. Neither is ready for what it could mean. Together, they run down a trail that leads directly to Chinatown, and a faceless terror its residents refuse to name.

Frankie’s only interest is in protecting her friend, and she’s willing to make a deal with the devil to do it. But Johnny suspects the attack was part of something larger, something darker… and he’s right.

Buy Link: Amazon

Review: I’m not going to lie. I read the synopsis and thought it sounded like a good book, but I usually don’t steer myself towards detective type novels, but this one through me for a loop! It literally sucked me into it’s world and wouldn’t let me go!

Francesca “Frankie” Strong is a burlesque dancer, but that wasn’t always what she was. She started at the bottom and from there bottom there is only one way up. Her best friend, Cookie, gets brutally attacked and she tries to save him. In the process she is hurt as well and could have quite possibly ended up dead, but the new act at Cafe Outre swoops in and saved her!

Johnny is undercover as “The Blade” and plans to make a big comeback with his career with this case, until he gets distracted by Frankie Strong. He sees her at Cafe Outre and it seems like electricity flies between them, but Frankie is stand offish and gruff with him. He watches her show that night and is mesmerized by her! Later on after meeting her is when he swoops in to save her.

Her friend Cookie ends up in the hospital and Frankie and Johnny are left to pick up the pieces and put them together. What has Cookie gotten himself into? All the signs point to some bad stuff and they plan on finding out and trying to help.

Along the way their attraction for each other grows and neither one are sure whether they should take the next step or not. Johnny thinks about her all day and Frankie can’t seem to get him out of her head either.

If you love romance mixed with suspense, then this book is for you! This was an easy read and I ate it up! It’ll be interesting to find out what happens in the next book. WoOt!



The Devil’s Playground Excerpt:

Johnny Apocalypse was bad juju.

Frankie scowled down at the tops of her shoes, glad the heavy curtain was blocking her from view. She wasn’t sure she could handle anyone else looking at her tonight.

Easy, Slim. You got something against knife-throwers? She blew out a breath. Only when they looked like the devil incarnate.

Catfish started his introduction. “You’ve seen the posters…”

Cookie hadn’t been kidding. The Blade was a ladykiller, all right, with that tall, broad frame and scruffy chin. And she’d been right in his sights.

“You’ve heard the reviews…”

Frankie closed her eyes, but she could still see -hell, could still feel- the way he’d looked at her. The odd murmur in her stomach morphed into a fully-fledged windstorm. Damn it, what the hell was the matter with her? She couldn’t go out like this. She needed to get a grip.

“You may have even seen her name written in the sky…”

She opened her eyes again and looked around. Mistake. Her eye immediately found Bianca, staring openly at her from the wings on the opposite side of the stage. But for once, it wasn’t Bianca who had her worried.

It was Johnny Apocalypse, standing right behind her.

“Now, in the flesh, exclusively for Cafe Outré’s Hotsy Totsy Revue…”

Frankie looked away from both of them and took a deep breath. Then another. She’d performed after worse nights. She could do this. She was a professional, and this was show business.

“Frankie Strong, the King of Swing!”

The audience was already on their feet when she came out. In the corner of the stage, the leader of the band caught her eye and struck up what he knew was her best song. Rockabilly swing. Easy, sexy, guaranteed to make her feel good. Frankie tossed him an appreciative wink.

The deep, languorous tones of the double bass worked their way through her gut. Frankie slid across the stage, the black-and-white checkerboard tile smooth under her feet. The crowd settled back, and the weight of all those eyes suddenly didn’t seem quite so heavy. She relaxed, flirted a little. Sauntered down the walk. Swaggered back up it.

She could still remember when she’d first had the idea for the King of Swing, back in her early days at the Revue. She’d already known she wouldn’t be able to pull off a more classic routine. A Bird of Paradise? Not likely. She was too hard. Too sharp. She’d needed something that would let her be hard and sharp.

Never in her wildest dreams had she expected the response she’d get.

The music paused, and a thrill shot through her. Frankie tipped her fedora down over her eyes. Now, the fun part.

Her first cufflink plinked to the stage, loud in the hushed space. Then the second. A whistle echoed from the back of the room. Her lips curved. That never got old.

The music started again. She turned her back to the crowd, bounced one leg to keep time. Shrugged out of the tuxedo jacket, and flung it to the side. A roar went up. She tossed her cane into the air, caught it in one hand. Spun once, spun twice. Spun back to face the audience.

Now her blood was pumping, and with it, the adrenaline. God, she loved this. She’d always viewed her body as an asset, a valuable lesson she’d learned all the wrong ways. For years, it had been someone else’s asset.

Here, finally, it was hers.

Frankie rocked into the music, set her fingers to the buttons of her shirt. Her assets. Her rewards. No one to take advantage of her, push her too far, beat her if she did something wrong. Just her, and the music, and a hundred or so pairs of adoring eyes shining out of the dark below the stage.

A hundred or so plus one. Frankie allowed herself a peek into the wings. Bianca was gone. The Blade wasn’t. His arms were folded across his chest, one foot tucked behind the opposite ankle. The look on his face was pure sin.

Frankie jerked her eyes back forwards. Sudden, unexpected heat gathered deep in her core. He was watching her. Not a performance. Not some anonymous dancer. Her. Stripping. Her fingers shook on the last button. It took all her concentration not to miss a beat.

She wouldn’t think about it. Not about him, and not about why her body was choosing this moment to wake up. She pushed it all to the back of her mind. This was show business. She was a professional. She’d think about it later.

The shirt gaped open. Frankie left it where it was. Her subconscious brain ticked out the moves. Bump to the left. Bump to the right. Grind. She hooked her thumbs under her suspenders. One sharp move and they were dangling from her waistband. She flicked open the top button on the tuxedo trousers. Off in the corner, someone shrieked their approval. It was a woman. Frankie grinned.

The trousers pooled around her ankles. Frankie planted her cane into the floor and lifted out one foot, then the other. Raucous applause filled the dark room at the sight of her sheer black thigh highs and garter belt. Hat still tipped down, she strolled across the stage, pivoted on her heel, strolled the other direction.

Johnny Apocalypse was staring at her. An uncomfortable combination of heat and panic swirled in her gut. She was heading right towards him, and there was nothing she could do about it. One false step now would throw off the whole routine.

Frankie forced herself to stay loose. The Blade watched every move. The intensity on his face drew her in, spurred her on. That strange heat began to travel upwards, invaded her belly, crept up her neck and into her cheeks.

His eyes darkened. Frankie barely contained her hiss. Curse her and her fair skin.

She steeled her resolve and slid the points of her collar under the bow tie. The Blade’s eyes threatened to swallow her. Frankie took a deep breath. The crisp blouse slithered down her arms. She held it captive at the end of one finger, then with a single flick sent it crumpling to a heap inches from the worn toes of The Blade’s boots.

The bow tie still around her neck felt like it was strangling her. The way his hand flexed against his arm almost made it worth it.

Frankie whirled back out onto the stage. The audience did their part and hooted and cat-called. She shimmied her shoulders and sent the tassels on her black pasties spinning. The familiar rush finally flooded her system. Down in the pit, people laughed, gaped, clapped. Off to the side, Catfish and the rest of the crew looked pleased.

Another show well done.

Frankie twirled the cane over her head, brought it back down and straddled it. She gyrated, earning her a standing ovation. Then she slapped her rear with a resounding smack and swept off the stage.

Catfish strutted back on. “Ladies and gentlemen, the King of Swing!”

Frankie hardly heard the thunderous applause that followed. She peered off into the wings opposite her. Bianca was still gone.

This time, so was The Blade.


About the Author: When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering clotheshorse. Laura lives in Northern California with her young son and her remarkably patient husband.


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By Jennifer Laslie Posted in Reviews

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