This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Sue D. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance Category.
Damien Stark’s need is palpable—his need for pleasure, his need for control, his need for me. Beautiful and brilliant yet tortured at his core, he is in every way my match.
I have agreed to be his alone, and now I want him to be fully mine. I want us to possess each other beyond the sweetest edge of our ecstasy, into the deepest desires of our souls. To let the fire that burns between us consume us both.
But there are dark places within Damien that not even our wildest passion can touch. I yearn to know his secrets, yearn for him to surrender to me as I have surrendered to him. But our troubled pasts will either bind us close . . . or shatter us completely.
Here is my description of the book:
Here is a book about two people with terrible upbringings that you hope have a great adulthood but you mostly end up worrying about their mental health and emotional maturity, and can’t quite shake the feeling that this relationship is really not healthy — particularly for the woman because it starts with her posing for a nude painting and having sex with a billionaire for a million dollars.
Oh yeah, and more sex.
Trust me, mine is more accurate.
First, a few details, this book is the second in a series of 3.5 books, all dealing with the couple of Nikki and Damien. I did not read the first book so this was my first (and last) time reading a Stark novel.
I’m going to start with the good stuff…hmmm…Oh!
The female protagonist is apparently incredibly intelligent. I don’t believe she is emotionally intelligent, and we don’t actually see any proof of this, but she was accepted into a MIT PhD program right out of undergraduate school!
The sex! There’s a lot, and though she seems to be bionic in the amount that she orgasms, all of it seems to work as it would in the real world. No random fingers in places that would be impossible to reach, no positions that are impossible to hold for any length of time.
Yeah that’s about it.
Here are the problems with the book.
1. In 2014, the billionaire/beauty queen trope is still alive and kicking. Guess who’s the billionaire? It’s not the female because that would be UNBELIEVABLE. So I get that the story is about BDSM and control, yada yada, but couldn’t a man without billions of dollars still be a control freak? Couldn’t a woman with billions of dollars want to be submissive?
2. I question the mastery of language and human behavior. For example, at one point the author describes an orgasm as an explosion of “a cacophony of colors that rival the shining lights of the pier.” A cacophony is a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds, which means we’re…hearing colors while orgasming?! I wonder if I’m supposed to be high to understand and like this book. The idea has merit.
3. Nikki and Damien talk about money. His money. A LOT. Within the first chapter there are roughly 600 references to Damien’s many possessions (not including Nikki) such as cars, real estate, and most disturbingly, the thousands of dollars of clothes and shoes he has bought Nikki. Now boyfriends buying girlfriends gifts, not a problem, but these two aren’t even dating until about 50% of the way into this book. So these gifts and his use of money seem a lot like payment and bribery and teetering on the edge of prostitution. Example, regarding a scene where he decides to not go to work for a day.
“Tempting,” I’d retorted. “But I don’t think that I could stand the guilt knowing that I traded an orgasm for fiscal ruin.”
“Trust me baby. It would be more than one orgasm.”
I’d laughed, and in the end we’d managed to avert global economic disaster (the shoes he bought me are truly awesome) and let me have my orgasm as well. Three, actually. Damien is nothing if not generous.
This is a day after spending an afternoon on Rodeo Drive celebrating her new job shopping with…not her money. Ten pages later she mentions:
“It would take me years to wear all the clothes that Damien has bought for me…I’m ninety nine percent sure that at least a dozen new outfits have been worked into the mix since the last time I changed clothes here.”
SOUNDS COMPLETLY NORMAL AND HEALTHY TO ME.
4. They seem to talk and function how caricatures of people do. The first thing the billionaire for an international corporation says to a woman who could have gotten a PhD from MIT is “Perfect. Shit, Nikki, you look perfect.” I’d feel confident as a board member entrusting millions to this man. At one point, the artist who is painting the controversial nude of Nikki makes that square out of both of his thumb and forefinger to put Nikki in a frame. NO ONE DOES THAT. They go to dinner at a famous fondue restaurant (what?!?!?!). He feeds her literally a strawberry, a piece of cheesecake, and then he gets her off, and they go home. You want me to be submissive? Make sure I don’t get hangry.
5. I am seriously worried about both his and her mental health. I should mention that both Nikki and Damien have had difficult pasts. She would cut herself and Damien was sexually abused when he was a young pro-tennis player (Oh didn’t I mention that the billionaire was a former pro athlete who now does tai chi…GIANT EYE ROLL). So here are two people with PTSD, and traumatic pasts that are now entering into a BDSM relationship. I IMMEDIATELY HAVE CONCERNS. I want both of these people in happy, healthy relationships which can include this kind of sex, but everything that describes the way these two are with each other ends up concerning me more than anything.
a. Nikki constantly talks about being owned and claimed and bought by a man who is 8 years older, economically in a position to destroy her livelihood, and literally binds her, putting her physical safety in his hands. In chapter 2 (moving along quickly aren’t we?!), Damien actually calls her his exclusive property.
b. Nikki also still cuts herself, or hurts herself to gain control when she feels out of her environment. There is no talk about therapy or professional help that she herself wants, or that HER BOYFRIEND OFFERS TO PAY FOR HER. Stop buying her shoes damnit, get her some therapy. So Nikki enters a relationship where she soon starts to talk about Damien spanking her, whipping her, and giving her pain that she will then turn into physical pleasure…ANYONE ELSE WORRIED YET?
c. Nikki knows N.O.T.H.I.N.G. about this man. She doesn’t know what his company does, and she doesn’t care because she doesn’t think it’s important. She doesn’t know all of the places he has houses. She doesn’t know the people in his life. She doesn’t know about his past. She knows nothing, but by the end of this book she declares her love for him and trusts him even though there is talk of an international indictment and oh yeah…MURDER.
d. She puts herself in his hands entirely with the idea of trusting him, except she has no reason to trust him. Nikki in every sexual situation is like 'Oh he’d never hurt me, he’s totally in control of himself.’ The fondue restraint scene where he gets her off while she’s bound in with a hidden leash? A page earlier after an elevator ride after they were accosted by paparazzi (which, frankly it's just hard to believe they would even be accosted), he smashes his fist into a glass table at a private dining booth. Later in his Malibu house, something goes wrong, he punches a hole through a wall and then five minutes later they’re laughing and making out. Later, again, they’re bombarded by paparazzi and he punches one of them. Then they race back home to have sex where she’s submissive yet again. YUP, I completely trust this man with my emotional and physical safety.
So there’s a lot of steamy sex in this book, but no matter if it was Pulitzer-worthy sex (totally should be a category), I’m never going to buy into a story when I’m just concerned about the health and safety of the characters.