May 12 2015 8:30am

First Look: C.L. Parker’s Playing Dirty (May 12, 2015)

C.L. Parker
Playing Dirty (Monkey Business Trio #1)
Random House / May 12, 2015 / $15.00 print, $9.99 digital

For fans of Bared to You and Beautiful Bastard comes the start of an irresistible new series in which competition is the ultimate seduction.

“Loaded with wit and snark, great characters, and lots of hot, steamy, naughty sex, Playing Dirty is sure to satisfy.”—New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner

Shaw Matthews plays to win, and he intends to snag a coveted partnership at San Diego’s hottest sports agency by signing America’s top athlete. Only one woman stands in his way: rival agent Cassidy Whalen. But eliminating the competition will be Shaw’s pleasure when he concocts an ingenious plan to seduce Cassidy and show the beautiful ballbreaker who’s the better man for the job. That is, until Cassidy turns the tables—and their steamy encounters start breaking all the rules.

Cassidy has worked hard to make it in a man’s cutthroat arena, and she isn’t going down without a fight, not even against the six-two alpha hunk whose rock-hard body awakens desires she’s never known before. As Cassidy shares night after night of unending passion with Shaw, the game begins to change. Now Cassidy stands to lose everything—unless a fiery contest of wills can become a winning proposition for two people who keep raising the stakes.

Playing Dirty is intended for mature audiences.

The trend of books about men that are assholes is going strong, and C.L. Parker knows how to write an asshole. Playing Dirty is the first of a series following two characters that love to compete with each other, as well as fuck each other. It’s the kind of contemporary erotic romance that will appeal to lovers of the alphahole, the hate fuck, and several other examples of so-dirty-it’s-worth-it romance. Playing Dirty is a book that pushes the envelope of how much competition there can be in a romance, and it’s a great way to start off a series that gets people talking.

If there’s one thing that Cassidy Whalen knows about hard work, it’s that you have to be a bitch to make it count. Cassidy has spent years working her way up the ladder as a sports agent; as a woman in an industry dominated by men, Cassidy has pulled no punches in becoming a success. Now, she’s being considered for partner, but she’s being pitted against her archrival: Shaw Mathews. Shaw is a known playboy and asshole, but he’s got just enough pull that he could completely destroy Cassidy’s chances of achieving her goals.

Their mission is to bag a football player at the peak of his career, one that’s just let his latest agent loose and is ready for a change in direction. Cassidy and Shaw are both tasked with getting him to sign for Striker Sports Entertainment. The one who becomes his agent is the one who makes partner. For Cassidy and Shaw, this means doing anything necessary to get the win. Nothing is off of the table, even seduction.

Shaw may be an asshole, but he appears in Cassidy’s life a lot more than she would like, especially now that they’re competing with each other. She starts noticing him more at her favorite dive bar, the one she frequents with her best friends, and before long she starts noticing him sexually. Terrible person or not, Shaw is one attractive man.

He’s also the kind of man that would dominate her completely in bed to make up for how she destroys him at work on a regular basis. Cassidy likes it rough, and before long her fantasies about Shaw turn into sexual tension that sends them both spiraling into physical action that neither of them is prepared for. They still hate each other, but the sex is great, and that’s just enough to complicate everything they’ve been working so hard to get.

When you first pick up Playing Dirty, it’s important to know that it’s a trilogy with a cliffhanger ending on this first book. It’s also worth noting that, cliffhanger aside, this is clearly not a couple that can resolve their problems in a singular book. Parker took the route of writing a headstrong woman with clear goals and an alphahole that doesn’t know just how terrible of a person he really is. These two characters come together in continuous showers of sparks.

Shaw is a straight-up horrible person in some respects. Parker gives him a sympathetic backstory to keep him from being one hundred percent irredeemable, but she also shows how that backstory led him to be more focused on his goals than his morals. Shaw is not a moral character in any sense of the word – he’s ruthless and uses any tactics (some that made my hair stand on end) he deems necessary, and those include tactics that make Cassidy seem like she’s not capable. These characters aren’t normally my cup of tea, but Parker’s ability to write good hatefuck chemistry is off the charts.

Through her soaked shirt, I could see her green bra. Nice, but it was in the way. Creamy mounds of flesh dipped into a delicate valley on her chest. Something told me her breasts were going to be fucking beautiful. In my enthusiasm to see for myself, I ripped her blouse open, sending buttons flying through the air.

Cassidy froze and looked down at what I’d done. “Really? You’re such an asshole.”

“Want me to stop?” Without waiting for her answer, I took the weight of her breasts in my palms, kneading them through the soft silkiness of her bra.

“Did I say I wanted you to stop?”

The pad of my thumbs teased her  hardened peaks. “I’m just asking to be polite.”

This chemistry and Cassidy’s ability to fight back saved the book for me. Cassidy is a fierce defender of her friends and her family; her loyalty is in many ways a testament to how her character will ultimately do is best regardless of circumstances. Her ability to spar with Shaw verbally is also excellent and gives the couple a better feeling of parity than one would expect. I think that feeling of Cassidy being more than a match for Shaw made the romance more plausible, without making it seem like a cure-all for their many relationship dysfunctions.

“You’re going to meet Denver without panties on?”

To be precise, I wasn’t wearing the bottoms to my bathing suit. In my hurry, I’d forgotten to put them on. But I was in a unique position to screw with Shaw’s head a little bit more, so I took it.

I threw his grin back at him. “Jealous?”

He set me back on my feet as if that one word had scorched him. “No.” But he’d taken too long to answer.

The elevator came to a somewhat jerky stop with the ding of a bell that seemed entirely too loud in the awkward space we’d created. I may never know why at that exact moment I was suddenly glad I wasn’t wearing panties, but I was. Maybe it was because there was a sense of freedom about going commando. Something that put a little sultry pep in my step and gave me cause to wave the upper hand I’d been given. And so with no more than a confident smile, I said, “You should be.”

Some of Playing Dirty could use improvement. There’s a hard use of the gay best friend trope, and some of Shaw’s actions veer too far into asshole territory. For the most part, C.L. Parker keeps the envelope pushing to places that are interesting and delivers a contemporary erotic romance that’s perfect for readers who love a good contemporary with difficult heroes and equally difficult heroines. Playing Dirty is dirty indeed, and I think it’ll hit the spot for readers who want something sexy and a little bit difficult.


Learn more about or order a copy of Playing Dirty by C.L. Parker, available May 12, 2015:

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John is a student, reviewer, and editor with a taste for social justice.  He's queer/LGBTQ and has always loved a good romance novel.  A current student at Ithaca College, he is majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications and trying to pick up a creative writing minor on the side. If you observe him in the wild, you may see him reading—or find him watching reruns of The Golden Girls while sipping his first/second/third cup of coffee for the day.  You can find his reviews on his blog, Dreaming in Books, and listen to his random musings on Twitter @DreamingReviews.

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