by Joely Sue Burkhart, contemporary (2010)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60928-215-8
Joely Sue Burkhart's Hurt Me So Good combines BDSM, reality TV, and cable network wars in one heady concoction, assuming that you can overlook the head-scratching irregularities in the reality TV premise. I can't, hence my problem with this story.
We have Victor Connagher, our hero, who has built up VCONN into the hottest adult channel in Dallas. However, it seems like someone inside his company is leaking inside information to the rival channel KDSX, as KDSX's fall lineup seems suspiciously similar to VCONN's. What makes Victor grit his teeth is that KDSX has beaten him to the punch in unveiling new shows that seem to be plagiarized from the shows by VCONN that are still in production. After being forced to scrap Internet Secrets, he needs a new show ASAP to replace it in the fall lineup. This time, only a handful of crew will be involved in the production, the better for Victor to sniff out the mole.
So, what will the new show be? Imagine our Dom's surprise when Shiloh Holmes, who has been onboard VCONN for only a year, pitches a new show: America's Next Top sub: Submit to the Master. Could she be...? The attraction is there, oh yes.
Someone unfamiliar with reality TV shows may find Shiloh's pitch ridiculous, but take it from me: there are comparable reality TV shows out there on adult channels in America. There is one coming up about the search for the next great gay adult film star, or so I read recently. Unfortunately, someone who is familiar with reality TV shows - like me - may also find this premise hard to believe, but for a different reason. Ms Burkhart spoils the fantasy so far on page 9 of this story by having the reality TV show - a contest, mind you - stacked with "volunteers" from VCONN in order to portray a positive image of BDSM and to allow easier control under the short time they have to produce this show. It is one thing for a candid reality TV show to be planted with insiders, but when we have a prize money at stake, I understand that the show will be subject to laws that govern contests and games. The way the participants of the show are picked from employees of VCONN makes the whole thing seem suspiciously rigged... even illegal. And then we have Victor on the show as well - the CEO of the very production house making the show.
While I'm no expert on BDSM and therefore I cannot say for certain how accurate the author has been in the depiction of that lifestyle in this story, she manages to sell me the fantasy in a most believable and very intriguing manner. The psychology behind the use of the riding crop is fascinating, and the love scenes are erotic. The author also gets bonus points for a rather dignified treatment of the hero's ex-sub without degrading her into merely another notch in the hero's bedpost. The hero has control issues when it comes to being a Dom, and I have to admit I raised an eyebrow at that scene where he pleasured himself while whacking his thighs with the riding crop. But Ms Burkhart sells the whole deal to me nicely despite my unfamiliarity with the BDSM scene.
It is unfortunate that the reality TV fan in me has me a hard time overlooking the fact that we have a reality TV show that is supposedly a contest but features employees of the company producing that reality TV show. And this isn't even kept a close secret! The whole thing is a potential legal disaster waiting to happen, I can't help feeling.
Hurt Me So Good is an intriguing and memorable erotic romance with ample characterization to complement the carnal aspects of the story. Indeed, I'd normally enjoy a story like this. Shame about that angle about a reality TV show with insider participants, really.
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