An offer she can't refuse.
Kate Blessing is not your typical high school junior. She's a good student who's into guys and the latest designer jeans...and she's also part of the mob. Her father, Bobby Blessing, is the head of the family, and her mom, Amanda, is the brains behind the operation. Kate may not partake in the "family business," but she knows what goes down. She's proud of her family -- and of course, there are plenty of perks: her indoor pool, Caribbean vacations, expensive haircuts...
But when Amanda gets fed up with Bobby's cheating and moves out, someone needs to make decisions, give orders, and keep things running. Kate has no choice but to step into her mother's shoes and prop her dad up.
Bobby may be the face of the mob, but it's not long before the princess is running the show.
Kate's mother is moving out, her father's latest girlfriend is pregnant and a rival mob family is threatening the "territory" of her father's crime family, in the first title in Strasser's (Boot Camp) Mob Princess series. This latest twist on the clique lit genre follows a fairly predictable path, except the money that Kate spends on designer clothes comes from mostly petty crimes, such as selling knockoff clothing. The plot heats up as her father, who has taken Kate under his wing as a protege, allows her to start spending time with Nick, the son of the rival Blattaria family, to "lead him on a little, maybe find out what he knows." Readers may have a hard time believing that her father's "associates" would listen to a high school junior, and they may also be puzzled that Kate does not seem to struggle with her conscience, even after providing information that leads to an armored truck robbery of over a million dollars. In the end, nothing is resolved in this first installment, but the author has created sufficient intrigue-from a possible turf war to a romantic triangle involving Kate-to make the next installment impossible for some teens to refuse. Ages 14-up. (June)
Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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June 24, 2007
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Excerpt from For Money and Love by Todd Strasser
Listen, Kate," Tanner Westfall said. "I don't know any other way to say this. It's just that this is the longest I've ever gone without...well, you know."
Kate Blessing hooked her long black hair behind her ear and gazed at the front of her house through the windshield of Tanner's Jeep Grand Cherokee. They were parked in the circular driveway with the naked lady fountain in the middle. The glittering green and red Christmas lights strung between the tall white front columns were anchored by the security cameras. An evergreen wreath hung from the metal bars that protected the front door.
"I mean, we've been together for more than three months and I have needs," Tanner continued.
Kate nodded slowly. It was Christmastime. The season of goodwill and peace among men. As an extra-special gesture of holiday cheer, Tanner was breaking up with her.
"You understand, don't you?" Tanner asked.
Kate glanced up through the windshield at the darkening late-afternoon winter sky. Tiny white particles of ice were falling on the glass, then gently sliding down and collecting on the windshield wipers. She wondered what exactly Tanner expected her to say. That she understood that teenage boys would say anything to get what they wanted?
"Kate, are you even listening?" Tanner asked.
Kate turned and gazed into his blue eyes. Not just any old blue, but dazzling blue. As dazzling as his teeth were sparkling, had he been in the mood to reveal them. Tanner Westfall was quite the physical specimen, from the always popped-up collar and wavy brown hair right on down to his...ankles.
But not his feet. Kate had often wondered how a guy as gorgeous as Tanner Westfall could have such ugly feet. Bumpy, stubby caveman feet with thick, stubby caveman toes. Feet only a mother could love. With Tanner, Kate had learned something about herself that she'd never known before: She could date a guy with ugly feet.
But she could never love him.
Of course, there were plenty of other reasons not to love Tanner Westfall. Such as the fact that if she gave him what he wanted, the odds were extremely good that he would discard her like a used tissue.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Tanner asked, as if he felt he deserved an explanation for her ridiculously selfish behavior. Imagine any girl not giving Tanner Westfall what he wanted when he wanted it.
"I'm sorry, Tanner, but I'm not ready," Kate said.
The crunch of tires on the gravel driveway caught their attention. A large black Mercedes sedan with tinted windows rolled past them and parked. Three men wearing black leather coats got out. Each paused and looked up at one of the security cameras before being allowed in.
"But it's been three months!" Tanner said in pained disbelief. The way he might have addressed a waiter after waiting two hours for a meal. "I mean, I've never -- "
"Waited that long?" Kate finished the sentence for him. "I know, Tanner. You said that after two weeks. And again after one month. And at least once a week since then."
Tanner crossed his arms and pouted. "Well, it's true."
"I believe you," said Kate. "And I'm sorry I've wasted your time."
And that was true. She was, absolutely, sincerely, authentically sorry. Dating Tanner Westfall was like having a magic key that opened previously locked doors. With Tanner she could get into any party, any rave, any scene. Tanner Westfall was the Platinum Visa card of boyfriends. Accepted everywhere.
But now Tanner had decided that payment was due. She'd gone over her limit. It was time to pay up or watch her credit rating go down the toilet.
"If you're really sorry," Tanner said, "you could do something about it."
Part of Kate was actually surprised that they were still sitting in Tanner's Jeep, and that he had not simply dropped her off, said good-bye for good, closed her account, terminated her credit, and sped away in search of a new cardholder. Lord knew there were lots of girls around who were eager to fill out an application and get down to business. In addition, Kate was aware of at least three "friends with benefits" a mere text message away who had already proved more than delighted to relieve Tanner of any lingering frustrations caused by these past three months of sexual starvation.
Thus she suspected that what was keeping him from canceling her like a bad loan wasn't merely typical teenage boy horniness. No, what was keeping him there in the Jeep in her driveway was a mixture of determination and disbelief. While Tanner had never said so out loud, he clearly believed that he could have his way with any woman he wanted. But as long as Kate refused, that belief was on shaky ground.
From behind them came the sound of more tires crunching on gravel. A black Hummer with tinted windows rolled past and stopped. Four men in black leather coats got out and went into the house.
"What's going on?" Tanner asked.
"A Christmas party," said Kate.
"And the only people invited are tough-looking guys in leather coats?" Tanner said with a knowing smirk.
Kate knew it was time to change the subject. Or at least, get back on task. This really looked like the end with Tanner. So why try to prolong it? She'd had fun with him, but from the beginning she'd known it wasn't meant to last. Not with those feet. Not with those expectations. She took his hand in hers and patted it gently. "Tanner, I've had a great time with you, and I really like you a lot. But maybe you need to find someone who's got, er, more to give."
Tanner stared down at his hand in hers and gave her an astonished, disbelieving look. "You're breaking up with me?"
"I wouldn't call it breaking up," Kate said. "I'd say that we've agreed that we're not right for each other and we've chosen to remain good friends. I hope you'll still come to my New Year's Eve party next week."
Tanner blinked and actually appeared stunned. Was it possible, Kate wondered, that no girl had ever refused him before? She slid her hand around his until they were in a handshake. "Tanner, seriously, let's agree to tell everyone that we've decided to part as friends. No hard feelings, okay?"
Tanner looked down at her hand again and then back at her with those dazzling blue eyes surrounded by white. They narrowed slowly as he withdrew his hand from hers. "Uh, sure, Kate. Just good friends."
Kate leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then reached for the door handle. But before she could get out, Tanner closed his hand around her wrist and stopped her.
"Uh, Kate?" he said.
"Yes?" She turned and looked at him.
"You won't tell your dad, right?" Tanner said, biting his lip. "I mean, like the real reason we're breaking up?"
Kate pretended to frown. "I don't know what you mean, Tanner."
Tanner kept a firm but gentle grip on her wrist. "Look, Kate, I understand that you don't like people to know about your father, but I kind of found out. Like those guys in the leather coats, you know? They work for him, right? I just don't want to come home some night and find a couple of goons with baseball bats waiting in the shadows for me."
"Tanner, I truly don't know what you're talking about," Kate said. "But even if what you're implying were true, you've always been a perfect gentleman. I can't imagine you'd have anything to be afraid of."
"You sure?" Tanner asked.
"Absolutely." Kate removed his hand from her wrist. "Merry Christmas, Tanner." She got out of the Jeep.
The late December air was moist and cold. The little white ice particles drifted down like flour. Kate breathed in and exhaled. Her breath came out in a white plume etched with regret. The one thing she had admired about Tanner besides his fabulous looks was his courage. The truth was, a lot of people around Riverton had an inkling of who Kate's father was and what he did for a living. As a result, most boys were reluctant to even approach her, much less date her. She blamed it on those damn Sopranos. She'd never watched the show herself, but her best friend, Randi Stone, said that Tony Soprano had once had one of his daughter Meadow's boyfriends whacked. Every girl wanted to think of herself as someone to die for, but not literally.
Behind her the Jeep's engine revved and its rear wheels spun on the driveway gravel, kicking up a dozen tiny rocks that ricocheted off the tall white columns of the house as Tanner sped away.
Farewell, not-so-sweet prince, Kate thought wistfully. She went up to the front door and pressed her code on the keypad. The barred metal gate across the front door opened and Kate let herself into the black marble-floored foyer. The foyer was round and two stories tall. A large glittering chandelier hung from above and the walls were decorated with statues, murals, and broad mirrors in gold-leaf frames. A wide marble staircase dominated the far end of the foyer and double glass doors stood on either side of the stairs. Kate opened the front closet to hang her tan shearling coat. Out of habit she glanced at the dozen small black-and-white monitors inside the closet, which were connected to security cameras situated around the grounds. In one monitor Tanner's Jeep was driving through the tall, spiked front gate at the end of the driveway. The gate automatically closed behind it.
Kate shut the closet door. She could hear men's voices. The glass doors to the living room were ajar, and seated on the plush, overstuffed couches and chairs were the men who had gone into the house earlier. Behind them in the far corner of the living room stood the Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, tinsel, and candy canes.
The men were all seated except for one -- her father, Sonny Blessing. He had the same black hair she had, and was a handsome man despite the slightly too large and somewhat bent nose -- a result of having been broken several times in fights. He was tall, but like many tall men tended to stoop slightly after years of bending over to listen when people spoke to him. Tonight he was wearing a dark gray turtleneck and black slacks. As Kate watched through the doors, she could tell by the arc of her father's body and his bunched-up, furrowed brow that there was a problem.
Kate knew almost all the men sitting in the living room. They represented about half of her father's "associates." One of them was an older heavyset man with dark stubble across his jaw and small beady eyes. He was wearing a totally out of fashion beige velour track suit. A candy cane jutted out of the corner of his mouth. He was nicknamed Leo Sweets because of his sweet tooth. When he saw Kate out in the foyer, he waved. Kate waved back. Leo was one of her favorites, although she really wished he'd spend some money to buy some new clothes and have some of his missing teeth replaced.
When Kate's father saw Leo wave, he swiveled his head and looked through the glass living room doors. The next thing Kate knew, he came through the doors and closed them quietly behind him. Kate could tell by his troubled expression that things were tense, which was strange considering it was Christmas Eve.
"What's going on, Dad?" Kate said in a low voice.
"I'll tell you later," Sonny Blessing said. Kate caught a whiff of his cologne as her father pointed up the stairs. "Right now I need you to go upstairs and talk to your mother."
"About what?" Kate asked.
"She'll tell you," Sonny said, then turned and went back into the living room.
Kate took a deep, frustrated breath and let it out slowly. She hated being the go-between for her parents, and lately she'd been placed in that position a lot. The two of them had been married for more than twenty years and it seemed to Kate that they should have figured out how to speak to each other by now. She headed up the stairs and at the top turned right, toward the suite of rooms that were her parents' domain. Had she turned left, she would have passed the guest room and upstairs den and then come to the set of rooms belonging to herself and her fourteen-year-old brother, Sonny Jr.
She passed the room her father called his office, and the one her mother called her sitting room. The next door, the one to her parents' bedroom, was open. Two large brown-and-tan Louis Vuitton suitcases were lying open on the vast king-size bed. Dressed in a light blue maid's outfit, Mary, the Filipino housekeeper, stood beside the bed while Kate's mother, Amanda, rummaged through her dresser drawers. Kate's mother was shapely, blond, and Botoxed. People said she looked like an older Cameron Diaz, but Kate thought Amanda more closely resembled Michele Pfeiffer.
Each time Amanda found something in a drawer that she wanted, she'd toss it to Mary, who would fold it neatly and place it in one of the Vuittonbags.
Kate stopped in the doorway. "Hey, Mom."
Amanda looked up and said, "Oh, hello, Kate." And then went back to rummaging.
"So what's going on?"
"I'm leaving your father," Amanda said with about as much emotion as if she'd said she was going food shopping. "There's plenty of food in the refrigerator and I'll make sure there's always money in your checking account. My cell phone will be on twenty-four-seven so if you need anything, just call."
"Why?" Kate asked.
"Why will my phone be on or why am I leaving?" Amanda said, moving to the large walk-in closet.
Kate rolled her eyes. "Guess."
"I've had it," Amanda said, holding a sheer green dress against herself and studying it in the full-length mirror. "What do you think?"
"What do I think of the dress or about you leaving?" Kate said.
"Guess," Amanda said. Over the past year her teeth had become an even and dazzling white, thanks to a major overhaul by Marvin Goldberg, her dentist.
"Come on, Mom, this is nothing new," Kate said, getting exasperated. "Dad's been this way for years. You've always lived with it."
While her parents had lots of little differences and peeves with each other, there was only one issue big enough to send Amanda packing:Sonny's inability to remain faithful for more than a few months at a time. But the truth was, Sonny never strayed far or for long before coming home with his tail between his legs, begging forgiveness and presenting his angry wife with a fabulous present. Thanks to Sonny's indiscretions over the years, Kate's mom had scored diamonds the size of acorns, furs, first-class trips to Paris and Tahiti, and several small, sporty Mercedes-Benzes.
"Nothing lasts forever," Amanda said. "I've had enough."
"Where are you going?" Kate asked.
"I found an apartment in town," Amanda said. "Like I said, I'll be close."
Kate felt more than slightly at a loss. She was used to refereeing her parents' disputes, but this was the first time her mother had ever threatened to leave.
"Have you told Sonny Junior?" Kate asked.
"I will," said Amanda.
"And what are you going to do?" Kate asked. For the past twenty years her mother had run the household, raised the children, and been her husband's chief confidante. It was hard to imagine what she'd do all day without those things.
"I'll manage," said Amanda. "I'll probably get a job."
"Doing what?" Kate asked.
"I might try interior decorating," said Amanda.
Kate fought back a laugh. Her mother knew only one style of decorating. Kate called it "gaudy casino," and it involved ridiculous amounts of heavy furniture, gold leaf, marble, drapes as thick as blankets, and random statuary. Amanda Blessing wasn't likely to find a lot of customers for that style in Riverton.
"Mom, this is crazy," Kate said. "It doesn't make sense."
"People change," Amanda said. "I've put up with your father's cheating for long enough."
Kate had another thought. "What about the New Year's party?"
Amanda hesitated. "I'm not sure about that."
The annual Blessing New Year's Eve pool party was one of the many goodwill gestures her parents made to the community each year. Parents always wanted to go out on New Year's but they were also worried about their teenage kids getting into trouble. So every New Year's, the Blessings threw a party by their indoor pool for the local teens. It was always a big, noisy bash with a DJ and appetizers, and everyone had a blast.
The phone beside the bed started to ring. When Amanda made no move to get it, Kate went to answer the call.
"Don't," said her mother, who stepped out of the closet and checked the number in the display, then shook her head in disbelief. "The nerve!"
"Who is it?" Kate asked.
"It's her," Amanda said. "Go downstairs and tell your father she's on the phone."
While Kate didn't enjoy being bossed around, she did leave the room to do what her mother said. This was truly strange. She couldn't recall one of her father's girlfriends ever calling the house before. Kate had just gotten to the top of the stairs when her father appeared at the bottom. Kate opened her mouth to speak, but her father quickly pressed his finger to his lips, and hurriedly gestured for her to come down.
"You know who's on the phone?" Kate asked in a low voice at the bottom of the steps.
"Yeah," said Sonny. "I'll take that call in the kitchen."
"You know Mom's leaving?"
Sonny pursed his lips and nodded. "I'll deal with that, too. But right now I need you to take care of the boys."
Kate felt a jolt. She was sure she hadn't heard her father correctly. She knew who "the boys" were, but her father had never asked her to interact with them before. "What do you mean, take care of them?"
"Just talk to them," Sonny said. "Keep 'em calm. Keep tellin' them I'll be right back."
Kate glanced at the men in the living room. She felt her stomach start to knot. "I don't know, Dad. I wouldn't know what to say. And why would they listen to me?"
"Because you're my daughter," Sonny said. "You're a big girl, Kate. You can do it. I need you to do it. And whatever you do, don't let anyone leave the living room. Especially that moron Benny."
That moron Benny was actually her uncle Benny "The Hacksaw" Green, her mother's brother and second in command of her father's "organization." Benny Hacksaw had gotten his nickname thanks to his predilection for using that tool in some unique and unpredictable ways when dealing with uncooperative people.
Kate swallowed nervously. "Okay, Dad, I'll try if you need me to. But what's going on?"
"I'll tell you later," Sonny said, glancing toward the kitchen. The phone was still ringing. Whoever was calling was not giving up. Ever. Kate's father sighed so deeply that he shook slightly. "Right now I gotta get to that phone."
"Dad, wait," Kate said. "How can I keep them calm if I don't know what they're excited about?"
"Crap," Sonny muttered, still glancing toward the kitchen. "Look, I need five minutes on the phone, then I'll meet you back here and explain. But right now, you gotta go in there and settle them down."
Her father dashed into the kitchen. Kate turned toward the glass living room doors. Inside, the group of men gazed back at her with puzzled expressions. Kate had no idea how she was supposed to "take care" of them, especially since she had no idea what was going on. But this was what her father needed. And one thing she could never, ever do was let him down. Kate took a deep breath to steady her nerves. Then she cleared her throat, straightened her back, and went in.