He turned and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children’s candy store, mind you – this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss’s wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
I’ve been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears. Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake. The problem with wanting is that it’s like pouring water into a vase full of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don’t apologize for who I am or what I’ve done in or out of bed. I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven’t wanted anything else.
Until Dan. Until now.
“I’d met men who made me laugh, who made me sigh, even a few, very few, who’d made me come. Until now I had never met one I couldn’t forget.”
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has ever read any of my reviews that I like books that make me blush but this book went so much further than that – it is by far the most arousing, tantalizing, toe-curling, panty-obliterating, sensual read I have ever come across. This story, however, should not be just nicely slotted into the “erotica” genre – this is a beautifully executed psychological drama as well, one with so many layers that the reader just keeps peeling off until the very end.
Our heroine is Elle, a woman of a thousand dichotomies. Elle has a respectable job and she lives alone. She is single by choice and she is adamant that she does not do relationships. But there is a whole other side of Elle that not even her few closest friends know about – she tends to sleep with random men, often without even giving them her real name. Sex is more than just a release for Elle – it helps her to stop thinking because for Elle her thoughts and her childhood memories create a constant prison in her mind.
And then one day she meets Dan, just as randomly as any other guy before, but their connection is different. They slowly begin a series of encounters, always of an extremely intense sexual nature and before Elle realises it, Dan has made his mark on her fragile soul. She unveils parts of her to him that no man has ever been privy to before, he knows her name, he knows about her quirks, he knows what she likes and does not like, and he knows what she needs.
“I will never forget the feeling of standing naked in front of him that first time. How he looked at my body as not pieces, but as a whole, woven together by those small things about me I’d allowed him to know. … He looked at my body knowing my real name, the way I drank my tea, the sound of my laughter. My nakedness came from what he knew about me, what I had let him know, those tiny, irrevocable intimacies I never share with anyone.”
What began as a purely sexual relationship, starts feeling more and more like an actual relationship and that happens to be Elle’s trigger – her every instinct tells her to flee and protect herself from heartbreak and disappointment, but Dan’s pull is equally irresistible. This is not a traditional story of two soul mates finding each other and never letting go. This is a story of overcoming your own emotional scars, of finding the courage to confront your past rather than erase it, and of letting yourself believe that you deserve to be loved.
“Why is kindness so much harder to believe than cruelty?”
Elle is so deadlocked by her past traumas that she pushes love away. Her mother’s disapproval of everything she does has filled her with suffocating amounts of guilt. Her constant criticism and condemnation have shaped Elle into a woman who goes through an act of passion and then self-flagellates herself mentally over it. Her innate sexuality and sensuality are something she indulges but never fully embraces. She experiences even the more intense physical sensations with a certain detachment, never quite letting go.
“Are you a whore?” She sneered. “Is that your work? Or maybe it’s not just work that keeps you from doing what any decent daughter would do. Maybe it’s something else? Maybe you’re too busy being… dirty.”
Elle’s “ever-present need to count, catalog and calculate” is not just a quirk, it is also her coping mechanism, her safety escape when she cannot cope with her emotions. By not complicating her life with romantic feelings, she is not forced to confront other ones deeply buried inside her. She never cries, she never talks about her past and she never moves forward.
Dan is the rope that takes her out of her rabbit hole. He takes away her need to make decisions by always anticipating and knowing what she really wants. He takes away her need to think by telling her what to do. By giving her the illusion of taking control from her, Dan feeds a craving inside her that she wasn’t even aware of having – the freedom of having responsibility taken away from her. Their bond only grows stronger over time, their only obstacle being Ella’s almost violent aversion towards falling in love.
“He made it so easy for me to do what he wanted. I wanted that. I craved it. Having it made easy for me to not have to decide. I rewarded him with my acquiescence. He took away the responsibility, and I shivered with delicious, illicit joy. There is so much freedom in not having to choose.”
There are so many shocking moments in this story, so many heart-wrenching layers that we peel off and immediately wish we could stick back on. Ella’s story is so inspiring and yet so incredibly sad. I’d like to think that her story is one of pure fiction and that things like that don’t happen in real life but I have lived long enough to know better. Ms Hart is an exceptional writer, one that uses language skilfully and purposefully. She has made me feel such a colourful array of emotions and left me wanting more, so much more. Her more erotic scenes are unbelievably sensual and yet so sexy that they will blow your mind. She will stretch the boundaries of your comfort zones, make you pant at scenes that would normally make you uncomfortable, and she will show you that sex is not a dirty word. And then she will simply melt your heart with such romantic ideals that you will be left daydreaming for days.
“Dan smiled at me with lips still moist from mine. I have seen clouds part for the sun. I have seen rainbows. I have seen flowers in the morning, covered in dew, and I have seen sunsets so brilliant with fire they made me want to weep. And I have seen Dan smile at me, his lips still wet from my kiss, and if I had to choose which sight moved me the most I would say it was that one.”
A must read for anyone looking for an intense well-written sizzling-hot romance that is everything but predictable.