Seems like cougars are the new black: I think there are three new TV shows this fall about older women and younger men, pointing to a cultural fascination with the experienced female and young energetic male pairing. Much of the portrayals I’ve seen in the promotional trailers and ads for these shows seem superficial at best and uninteresting – and the idea of tension based merely on age difference and maturity does nothing for me.
Liberating Lacey is a story that would fit that mold, with an older woman meeting a younger man, but it is much more complex and thought-provoking than any sitcom treatment of the cougar fascination.
Lacey is newly divorced, exceptionally stylish and classy, smart, cultured, and holy shit wealthy. She doesn’t have to work, but she enjoys what she does, and likes the challenge of her job in commercial real estate finance. She’s just alone, and wants to try a one night stand, after hearing so much about the hotness of it from her best friend.
So Lacey goes to a club to scope out the men, and meets Hunter, a cop who notices her right away because she stands out. She’s a little older, a little more polished, a lot more classy, and a lot out of place in that club. The tension between them is immediate, and they leave together. But instead of a one night stand, something Hunter has some experience with, he finds he can’t get Lacey out of his head, while she’s trying to adhere to the rules of commitment-less sexual encounters. She doesn’t want to be needy because she knows the rules of hooking up, and because it may cost her emotionally, but as Hunter finds that he wants more of her, he fears needing her as well.
I loved that the tension was enormous and based on incendiary sexual attraction and a vast craggy and complex valley of differences between them. They aren’t so different when they’re horizontal, but vertically they’re so different at times Hunter doesn’t know what to say to her.
The handling of these differences isn’t always balanced, though. Lacey doesn’t struggle with the differences so much as she realizes that she’s sheltered and should take into consideration his feelings. Hunter as all kinds of neuroses to overcome, and the narration spends a lot more time in his angsty head as he struggles with his feelings for Lacey.
Hunter is not at all immature, which one might expect since he’s younger than Lacey. He’s a police officer, and he takes his job and his responsibilities very seriously. He’s also the only son of a very experienced and sought-after contractor, one Lacey and her former husband almost hired when Lacey wanted to renovate her kitchen. Hunter helps his father whenever he’s not on duty, and jokes that he might have worked on her kitchen if his father’s schedule would have allowed him to accept Lacey’s timeline for the renovation project. (As an aside, there’s a scene where they compare, item by item, the tools of their respective jobs that’s so steamy I had to fan myself with the nearest piece of paper.) Hunter is not emotionally immature or juvenile; he is, however, very limited in his experience with lasting and enduring relationships, and his encounters with Lacey are entirely unmeasured territory for him. He has no training nor technique to deal with how he feels, and he is used to having a path or a routine or a rule to follow. That vulnerability is powerful.
For Lacey, as it often is for people of exceptional wealth, things are a little easier – at least, the depth of her worries made it seem that way. She’s very driven and competitive, but at the same time gives off the appearance of having everything under control. Her moments of insecurity aren’t full-on stumbles where she falls to the ground. It’s more like she catches the heel of her shoe in the crack of the sidewalk and has to bend one knee to pull it out – that’s the extent of her emotional change as she realizes she wants Hunter to be part of her life.
Lacey is savvy and very likable though. Even though she’s a ferocious competitor professionally, scheming and networking to achieve her goals, she never once schemes to acquire Hunter. She’s mature enough to recognize that he’s not a goal to meet or a deal to negotiate, and she waits for him to potentially realize that he feels something for her, and to welcome her into his life on his own terms.
The sex between them is wow. It’s not over the top spicy like one might expect from EC – no one breaks out the barnyard animals or hoses down the shrubbery with sexual fluids. But it’s descriptive and, more importantly, their sexual encounters cause as many problems for them even as they increase the attraction and attachment. Sex is not an accessory to the plot of this novel – their relationship starts out as a one night stand but they can’t get enough of each other.
For Lacey, Hunter is a way to sexually experiment, to reveal parts of her sexuality she’d never been able to indulge in her sheltered marriage. But she doesn’t use him for very long – she genuinely likes him. And for Hunter, Lacey is an unexpected pleasure that turns into a sort of dream or aspiration, that one day he could be with someone like her.
I wish I’d learned more about Lacey’s marriage because her encounters with Davis, her ex, are so boring and polite and I wondered why she tolerated his cardboard ass- probably because she didn’t know anything else. The resistance to Hunter and Lacey’s relationship on the part of their friends and family is told through their conversations with one another – at least, Lacey’s is. Hunter and his father are onscreen; Lacey’s friends who use the dreaded C word are offscreen, and we only see Lacey’s reaction. She’s a tough lady – but it hurts her to be cast as a stereotype. That onscreen/offscreen imbalance is one of the most frustrating missing elements of this story. The reader learns all about Hunter’s issues, and why he is so resistant to the idea of a relationship with Lacey, but Lacey isn’t onscreen with any major hangups, except needing a bit of sensitivity training when she brings Hunter into her clubby world.
The tension is thick and the sex is hot and most importantly, the characters are believable and real and empathetic. I wish there’d been more backstory in equal measure to make the characters absolutely as luscious and spicy as the plot.