Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Blake Lockhart
Length: 9 hours, 1 minutes
Joe Portelli is the “bastard” son of a mafia boss from Brooklyn. He fulfilled his promise to nonna to stay out of the crime family business and worked on the docks for his half-brother to pay for his own degree and MBA. Joe now works for Wolfe Athletics as an analyst, which is how he has insights into company practices that frustrate him. Rand Wolfe Jr., the new CEO of the company, has been spouting his father’s tired and inaccurate business philosophy that stresses that employees should be willing to sacrifice more unpaid time for company business. And Joe has decided: no more. He stands up in a company-wide meeting, destroying Rand’s arrogance publicly, and getting fired in the process.
Joe has no idea that an unauthorized video of his speech at the meeting went viral, but he’s even less happy when Rand shows up at the docks, spouting BS to Joe and his half-brother, a murderous mafioso in his own right. Joe’s choices are to save Rand from certain death, while simultaneously cutting his family ties and signing his own death warrant, or let his brother kill Rand and bring the FBI and crime task force down on their family. Joe opts to save Rand (and his family), only to have his father put out an order for Joe’s extradition back to Brooklyn. Any mobster in Manhattan can return Joe to his father for payment; his death will make a final, brutal, example of Joe for the family.
Rand’s pretty clueless about real life, as he shows time and again, but he’s not a bad guy and he doesn’t want to endanger Joe anymore than he unwittingly already has. He offers Joe living quarters in his posh Manhattan penthouse, and the full protection of his private security detail. Joe doubts this will be enough to keep the mafia from attacking, but he really has little choice. Rand decides to listen to Joe’s progressive business ideas, since this Brooklyn hood is really the straightest shooter he’s ever encountered. Genteel and closeted, Rand really does enjoy the commanding nature and presence Joe embodies, experiencing a growing attraction for Joe. Their close proximity and dangerous encounters engender an uneasy camaraderie that is further cemented when Joe’s ideas begin to stave off the stock hemorrhaging that occurred in the wake of the viral takedown. Both Rand and Joe have deep family issues, with “bad dad” blues. The growing connection between them fills a need for respect and care that each man desires. Also, Joe’s erotic dominance gives Rand the freedom he needs to explore his vulnerable side.
This is an interesting close-proximity, enemies to lovers, odd couple romance and the first in the Mobsters and Billionaires series. The disparity in money and common sense sets up a fun dynamic; Joe’s Brooklyn sensibilities are a fresh perspective to Rand, who really is a decent guy. They make a supportive couple, behind the scenes. I loved how Joe’s irreverence showed Rand how little his family’s net worth affected him. Joe’s ability to demonstrate true leadership, with compassion instead of brutality, supports Rand’s own progressive instincts. The sexy times are intense, and passionate, with a strong dose of humiliation kink that Rand very much enjoys. There are lots of mobsters, and expect violence of the first order. I liked how Joe made use of any and all connections he could, to ensure both he and Rand were safe from his father’s dire plans.
The audiobook is intense, with lots of emotional moments where Rand and Joe experience the highs of passion and the lows of despair. I really enjoyed the alternating points of view, because otherwise each character might have seemed too callous. The narration really brought home the passion and intensity, as well as the vulnerability and the playfulness that each character had within them.
The romance sets up quickly, and it seems as if these guys are really going to have a happy ending. But then one needs to consider the book title and remember that there are really bad men with terrible intentions after Joe and Rand. The whole corporate takedown was *chef’s kiss* in line with the anti-corporate zeitgeist of this time, and Joe is immediately likable (lickable?) in his role as a rumpled class warrior, and only more formidable when he’s wearing the mantle of stone-cold Brooklyn mafia killer. I wanted to eat his primavera and fresh pasta, and maybe drink some of Rand’s $1000/per bottle wine with him. Despite Rand’s billionaire status and attitude, it didn’t take long for Joe to warm up to him, especially with so many supporting characters pretty much loving Rand and lauding his praises from the outset.
This is a good first-in-a-series book, since we get to meet some other mobsters and billionaires to connect with in future stories. I’m in for reading on, and would ADORE another audiobook by narrator Blake Lockhart. I’ve already listened to this one several times, and will go back again.