Susan's guest review made me wonder if maybe this book would work for me. The fact that I didn't like it and didn't finish it is entirely my fault. I should have known better. I was made more curious by the solid reviews on GoodReads, and the number of people who say that Rice is among their “crack” authors. Also, it was on sale very recently for $1.99.
But I should have known that despite all those things combining to tempt me, this was not a book I would enjoy. All the signs were there, and I ignored them. This DNF is my fault, but I also read enough to understand Rice's crack appeal. So while this is a DNF review, if you like romantic suspense with a lot of overt sexual tension, extreme alpha males, and some up and down over the top emotional tempo, you might really like this book.
For me, the over sexed alpha male was tolerable, but I went to bed queasy because of the despair and violence. If you do not like violence or portrayals of children and young people in peril, you won't like this, as the villain's subplot involves human trafficking.
The book opens with the hero, Mike, in bed with some woman, who is nameless at that point, because Mike doesn't know her name. She's not the heroine and the hero doesn't actually want to be banging her. Well, he sort of does. But not really. Unable to handle the feelings of agitation created from being with the families of his two business partners/best friends/adopted brothers, he gets shitfaced drunk and picks up this woman and goes back to her disgusting place to have sex. He realizes that she wants him to hurt her physically, and his reaction is so much revulsion, he backs out, jumps off the bed, runs into the bathroom and hurls. Nameless Woman is very irritated that he's stopped with the banging and tries to provoke him, but he apologizes, grabs his clothes and runs out the door.
Mike then runs and runs and runs all the way to the ferry then across the ferry then home, some 15 miles, but he can handle it because all that running gives a LOT of time for introspection, or, better yet, info dump. He's a former Navy SEAL, he ran twice that while wearing fifty pounds of gear while in training, he's going to sweat out the toxins, pain is weakness leaving the body, run run run, etc. He's sad about not having a home and family like his partners now do (they were paired off in earlier books with some really interesting women) and he's feeling left out and angry with himself for his history of random boning of faceless, nameless women, so he beats himself up and runs some more until he gets home. Then he looks at the ocean meaningfully, and goes to work.
So in the opening scenes, I know that the hero is a former SEAL, he's strong and has a lot of endurance, he likes to have a lot of sex but he's having moral and ethical cringes at his sexual behavior, he's ashamed of himself and he isn't sure what to do with himself.
The heroine, Chloe, shows up in the next chapter, and she was a fascinating character. If not for the Fuckathon Hero and the children in peril, I'd have kept reading. She was so interesting. Chloe is in the offices of the private security and investigation firm run by Mike and his partners without an appointment. Because one of their specialties is helping battered women escape from their abusers, the receptionist is very kind and finds an appointment with Harry, the partner she is requesting to meet, despite his busy schedule.
Chloe is afraid because she's come to the firm with a very big piece of news, and she's not sure how she'll be received. Also, because she's spent most of her childhood in a hospital recovering from a horrible accident, she's unsure of herself around people. Chloe feels like she's lacking the roadmap everyone else has which spells out how to interact with strangers or acquaintances, and she feels out of place and awkward much of the time. While she's waiting in the lobby for her appointment, she feels conspicuous, which is very unsettling for her:
So she sat back in the extremely comfortable and attractive armchair and . . . disappeared. It was her trick, harshly learned throughout her childhood. Bad things happened to her when she got noticed. She’d learned very early to sit back and become unnoticed. She didn’t become literally invisible. It’s just that she could turn off all the subconscious signals humans sent to one another, so that no one noticed her. She sat there, unmoving, saying nothing, and observed.
I liked Chloe. She's brave, but aware of her limitations. She seemed a little too perfect and marvelous in the first few chapters (she can sooth the teething baby! with just her touch!) but she'd overcome a lot, and knowing her struggle and the extent of her injuries made her recovery extraordinary.
And of course, the minute Mike and Chloe see each other, there's instant magnetic assignment and they can't keep their eyes and yearnings off one another. Plus, Chloe piles on a few more indications of Mike's supreme alphaness:
Chloe knew many rich men who thought their money gave them top dog status anywhere, anytime. Often it did, but not always. This man, striding across the room, was the alpha male. He’d be the alpha male in any grouping, rich man, poor man, didn’t make any difference. He wasn’t tall but he was immensely broad—wide shoulders, thick arms, strong neck. A bodybuilder but without that bodybuilder waddle because he clearly built onto muscles that were already there. His movements were fast, precise, powerful.
I want to mention that Rice's writing is really vivid. There may be cliched characters I don't like, but the descriptions of the setting and of the characters' feelings are sometimes ingenious. Here's Chloe in the office, trying to locate her courage to explain why she's there:
She’d thought and thought about what she would say but nothing occurred to her. Her mind was empty, hollow and shiny with panic.
“Empty, hollow and shiny with panic.” I know that feeling, but I'd never have put it in those words. I liked a lot of the ways Rice described things, and was really impressed with that aspect of her writing.
But as I mentioned, the oversexed alpha and the violence were what made me stop reading. The violence was both in the beatdowns handed out to people who threatened Chloe, but also in the description of how young women from Russia were trafficked as prostitutes, and the way they were selected, transported, deceived, and used. The information established the villainy very quickly, and explained what motivated the bad guys, especially when their business is threatened, but reading about all the young girls crushed me inside. I knew the happy ending wouldn't overcome or sufficiently alleviate the feelings I had about the trafficking. It was going to make me more sad and angry than anything else, and that's not what I'm looking for in romance. I don't want lasting feelings of helplessness and anger. (That said, it is an endorsement to Rice's writing again that I felt so strongly at all).
Then there's Mike, the alpha hero. He has all the required alpha hero parts, in overblown, hyperbolic fashion.
Chloe's already identified his alpha-ness in a room of other men. He's The Man when he walks into any room.
He's also instantly connected with Chloe, drawn to her without explanation. All the relationships in the start of the novel go from zero to BFF let's-cry-together in a handful of pages. Chloe and Mike have something, and Chloe is the instant perfect sister to the other men's wives. Emotions are like potato flakes in this book: add water, and they're fully formed and cohesive.
It was Mike's alpha manhood that caused me the most eyerolling. I can accept some potato instalove, and some over the top nefarious evil, but Mike's relationship and use of his dick was the stuff workouts are made of. Every chapter, there's a mention of Mike's sexual history in hyperbolic terms.
At one point, after meeting, Chloe and Mike hug, and of course it's the hug that leaves all other hugs in the dust. They fit perfectly:
Mike had fucked hundreds of women, but he’d never felt anything even remotely like this.
She's something special in a sea of faceless women? Check!
A mild electric shock as he held her raced through him. Everywhere he touched, it felt as if he’d never touched a woman before. Never felt such silkiness, such warmth. Never felt as if she’d moved her body into his like magnets of opposite poles meeting. A force that was unstoppable, natural, utterly right.
Electric zing? Check! With bonus magnetism!
She rested against him and he wanted to keep her there forever, but when he felt himself harden, he moved away subtly, mentally rolling his eyes. Goddamn. His dick had never known how to behave itself.
Dick with its own mind? Check!
He couldn’t really blame his dick, though. His dick was right to move. He felt it wasn’t getting erect so much as trying to get closer to her, close to all that silk and gold. His dick would get closer to her eventually. Close to her, in her. Oh yeah. Only not right now.
Sentient dick as divining rod? Check!
Chloe is not immune to this mega hug, either:
She actually felt bereft when he stepped back.
If you're working out at home with this review, that's 25 straight leg kicks. Go!
Mike is troubled very little by his attraction to Chloe. He knows just what to do. Or, his dick does:
Harry didn’t have to worry because Mike was on it, and just as soon as humanly possibly he was going to be on her. Mike would have sworn that last night had put him off sex for a while. A long while.
There is something singularly bothersome for me when the hero mentally discusses the heroine as a target that's been identified, or some object he wants to tap.
But nope. Sex came roaring back, it was in his head, buzzing in his veins, pooling blood between his legs.
Could be sex, could be the flu. Hard to tell sometimes.
He fought off an erection—if the past twenty years of industrial-level fucking had taught him anything, it was the ability to control his cock—but he could feel the heaviness between his thighs, a concentration of sensation and heat.
Yes. Industrial-level fucking. You read that right. To quote Hubby, does that mean he's having sex with machines?
Mike goes from smoldering protective man to raging sexbeast every other paragraph in some scenes. Chloe is someone delicate he wants to care for; Chloe is something attractive he wants to bang. I felt kind of bad for Chloe, especially because her fragility is a real thing, not an act.
After Chloe reveals who she is and why she came to their security firm, she's invited to stay with one of Mike's business partners (I don't want to get into the particulars as the reason is something of a spoiler and takes away from the emotional impact should you want to read this book). Mike and Chloe go to her hotel to pick up her things and check out, but while they're there, Mike and Chloe get rather up close and personal against a wall – though they don't do all of the thing because Mike is nearly always in control.
He’d be feeling calm, too, if he wasn’t so goddamned aroused. He’d been on a hair trigger kissing her. Only an absolute lifetime of serious and copious fucking had given him the self-control he needed not to come in his pants, something that would have been seriously uncool, something he hadn’t done since high school.
An absolute lifetime of serious and copious fucking! That's what everyone needs to establish self control.
No, wait, that sounds like the opposite of self control.
Mike's sexual proclivities and the ending of his lifelong fuckathon of copious industrial proportions comes to an end once he meets Chloe. This is a familiar motif as well: the alpha male with no reason to say no to any sexual encounter is reformed to celibacy or monogamy by the power and presence of the heroine's magic hoo-hoo. Plus, Mike has trouble keeping control of himself sexually around Chloe, as she is too much temptation for him. She controls him sexually while also making him nearly lose control of himself sexually, which is also a form of control. His predatory sexual prowess is leashed and focused solely on the heroine, who both stabilizes and destabilizes his sexual control.
Even the other women in the book know about Mike's sexual history:
Mike had stopped, cold turkey, what Ellen delicately called his “fooling around” and Nicole crudely called his “fucking on an industrial level.”
Every time someone mention's Mike's industrial fucking, I wonder if Costco sells coitus in 100 gallon buckets.
Both of them thought he was in love with her, but by the same token were totally unable to process the fact that he never touched her. Maybe because their own husbands couldn’t keep their hands off them. For the Mike they knew, formerly known as the “man-slut,” this behavior was incomprehensible.
By the time I stopped reading, Mike was a celibate horndog, determined to reject all that copious industrial schtupping in favor of being worthy of Chloe, while also refusing to engage in anything else sexual with her because one of the other characters would kill him twice for doing so.
Electric zing, magnetic alignment, divining rod dick and magic hoo-hah aside, there is no doubt that Mike sees Chloe as something that belongs to him. All the standard possessive alpha language is used. In one scene, Mike fights off two thugs who are intent on hurting Chloe (which is really easy, given her history with injury. Her bones would break with very little effort so there's no need to send in two giant men with thuggish intentions), and Chloe reflects on the assing that Mike had distributed:
He’d defended her without hesitation, without any sense of danger to himself. He’d faced two deadly men head-on. He’d risked his life for her. In the most primordial way possible, he’d fought for her, and in the most primitive way possible, she was his.
So if a man she's never spent a lot of time with suddenly beats the living shit out of two guys from the Russian mafia, it must be love and ownership time.
Mike's view of Chloe follows whiplash-causing shifts from seeing her as this gentle, almost virginal fragile being to this sexual object he must possess and bang as soon as possible. She makes him yearn; she makes him sex-itchy.
The plot moves just as quickly as Mike's emotional swings. If there's a question of Mike's honor or innocence, Chloe can call a superpowered private investigator and gather enough security footage from random spots within hours to prove Mike's whereabouts. Everyone has the ability to drop everything else and focus on Chloe, her problems, any threats to her safety, and her general presence. Fast resolutions and impossible solutions appear everywhere.
As Susan said, over-the-top-ness is expected in Rice's books, so I was prepared for that. I enjoyed the writing, some of the phrases Rice used to describe things, and I could see the crack other readers mention within Rice's books. The over-protective alpha, the circumstances keeping the hero and heroine apart, the overwhelming attraction, the great and shadowy danger, and all those other elements that combine to form written crack for some readers – all there. It was just not the crack for me, so I stopped reading.