Rating: 4 stars
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Joe Portelli grew up the bastard son of a mafia kingpin, but was determined to make more of his life. He got an MBA, left his relatives behind in Brooklyn, and now lives and works in Manhattan for Wolfe Athletics. Joe is sitting in a presentation by his boss, billionaire CEO Rand Wolfe, when he can’t keep quiet anymore. Rand’s posturing about being an “alpha” is too much for Joe, and Rand’s suggestion that employees should be giving everything and more to their jobs when the company clearly doesn’t care about them in return is just absurd. When Joe expresses his irritation and amusement with Rand’s speech, the two get in an argument that ends with Joe walking out and Rand firing him. Little does either man realize that someone taped their encounter and it is all over social media within hours.
Rand grew up with an overbearing father who taught him to be dominant in all things, never show weakness, never give an inch, and always be the “alpha wolf” in every situation. His father rules both Rand and the company board with an iron hand and even though Rand disagrees with a lot of his father’s methods, he has trouble standing up to him. So when one of his employees calls him out in the middle of his big presentation to the staff, Rand isn’t happy. But when he realizes that the video of their fight is going viral and Wolfe Athletics’ stock is tanking, he knows he has to do something. Unfortunately, he shows up at the docks where Joe is working, angers Joe’s family, and ends up with the mob wanting him dead. When Joe helps Rand escape, he ends up infuriating his family and finds himself in their sights as well. With nowhere else to turn and the mob wanting both of them dead, the only safe place is for both men to hole up in Rand’s apartment with his top-notch security.
At first, the men can’t help but be at odds, especially when Joe makes it clear what he thinks about billionaires who see their employees as nothing but cogs in the machine. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that Rand is sincere in both his regret at his past behavior, as well as his attempts to do better. It is also obvious that much of Rand’s public persona is in attempt to appease his father and not the man Rand really is inside. He and Joe begin to work together in an attempt to both clean up the PR nightmare of the video, but also to make real changes at the company to improve things for the better. Rand and Joe also begin to act on the attraction that is growing between them. While they are such different men, they connect so well, both in and out of the bedroom. But as much as things are going great for them in their relationship, there is much standing in their way. Rand’s father and the board are resistant to any changes they want to make and it is all an uphill battle. But even worse, Joe’s family is not giving up and wants both men dead. Now, Joe and Rand must figure out how to win their fights both in and out of the boardroom if they are going to have a future together.
Extradition is the first book in Kelly Fox’s new Mobsters & Billionaires series. I have never read anything by Fox and the premise of this story intrigued me and I ended up enjoying it quite a lot. There is a nice opposites attract vibe here of men from totally different backgrounds and walks of life, with two very different personalities, somehow making a perfect fit for one another. The story starts on somewhat of an enemies to lovers note as the men have a big fight that ends up being caught on camera and causing things to explode at Wolfe Athletics. There is a nice forced proximity element as the two have no choice but to stay secluded together for their safety, giving the men a chance to get to know one another beyond first appearances. Despite the fact that they are so different, they are a good fit and really bring out the best in each other. They are also a super steamy couple and there are a lot of intense scenes here. Rand enjoys some light humiliation, so there is some humiliation kink here, as well as a lot of dirty talk. I enjoyed the contrast here of the way these guys can be all hot and intense, but also so sweet and tender together. I do wish we had a bit more of a transition from Joe and Rand being at odds to falling for each other, as it seems to be a little too fast given where these guys start with each other.
The set up to this series is the pairing of the mobsters and billionaires. On the mafia front, Fox does a nice job giving a taste of that world and making the threats to Rand and Joe feel real and dangerous. At the same time, this is not a dark and gritty story, so I think it is accessible for a variety of readers. I liked the way that we see Joe most of the time as a regular guy living a normal life, but when he is angry or Rand is threatened, Joe can let out the mob in him. I appreciated that while Joe has to take some actions that are less than savory, he does them to protect Rand and he never enjoys the hurting or the killing. Not to mention that something about Joe all intimidating makes Rand crazy with lust. So I think the story walks the line well here showing that Joe definitely has this darker side, but still making him approachable as a character.
We also see the darker side of Rand’s world, as he starts off the book arrogant and entitled and parroting his father’s rhetoric. Joe is very clear what he thinks about billionaires (there is no such thing as an ethical one) and doesn’t hesitate to point out to Rand when he is lapsing back into his rich man arrogance. The two work together to make changes at the company and to build something better. Joe doesn’t want or care about Rand’s money and this story isn’t lavish billionaire lifestyle porn. It is more about the social issues surrounding such obscene wealth (for example, Rand notes that in the course of a conversation he earns enough money to spoil and indulge Joe for months). So the focus here is on how the company needs to do better by their employees and see them as assets instead of disposable and interchangeable. As with Joe, we get to see the balance here between Rand’s more snobbish side and the one who is more of a down-to-earth guy who cares. But I do think again the turnaround is pretty quick here. If Rand really believed all these things he father said and the company was doing were wrong, why didn’t he speak up sooner? And if he agreed (or was unaware), how does he turn things around in his head so fast? I just felt like we need a bit more time here to see that transition. Also, I couldn’t help by be struck that this company is hemorrhaging money as a result of the video (literally losing 1.5 BILLION in assets in a matter of days) and they do not have any kind of crisis management or PR company working on this problem. It is impossible for me to believe a company of this size that is losing money like they are setting it on fire wouldn’t be working with an experienced PR team to deal with the problem. Instead, it is Rand and Joe arguing in a boardroom with a bunch of old men. So this seemed somewhat unrealistic in order to allow Joe and Rand to come in and save the day.
Overall, I found this a really fun installment and an intriguing new series. I loved Joe and Rand together and found them sexy and sweet. And we meet a lot of great side characters, some of whom seem fodder for future stories. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what is next for the series.