by Saskia Walker and Sasha White, contemporary (2007)
Heat, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-425-21399-5
Kink is marketed as an erotic romance with emphasis on the "erotic" part, but while this pages of this book can burn careless fingers, there is an unexpectedly strong romantic undercurrent to the two stories packaged in this collection. Both stories are very different, having in common only authors whose initials are SW and plenty of sex scenes that you probably won't find in a more conventional, non-electronically published romance story.
My only exposure to Saskia Walker prior to her story here, Sex, Lies, And Bondage Tape, is her stories in those Secrets anthologies, which don't actually impress me too much. This story, however, sees Ms Walker pulling out all stops to create a most enjoyable sizzle-till-you-drop story of abandoned lovemaking and, surprise, a game of pursuit-and-romance. Martial artist and fitness instructor Kelly Burton attends a rock concert with her friend Helen when poor Jojo broke her leg and passed her ticket to Kelly. Kelly wasn't a fan of Clayton Warren until she sees him on stage rocking it out like Mick Jagger in his prime.
When she sneaks backstage to get Jojo an autograph of Clayton, she ends up accidentally stumbling upon Clayton in a sexual situation with his boyfriend. Oops. When Tommy Sampson, the guy in charge of security, catches her, she pretty much forgets Clayton when the two of them embark on a torrid one-night stand that ends with the two of them trying to find each other again when morning comes.
Despite the title which suggests that this story is more on BDSM than anything else, the sex scenes here feature some bondage elements and mild (playful) discipline rather than hardcore BDSM. Having said that, oh my, these scenes are great. They are sexy, of course, but I also adore how Ms Walker manages to bring forth this strong sense of playfulness and mischief in these scenes. It is as if Kelly and Tommy aren't just going through the motions, they are actually having plenty of fun during their sexual congress, which is of course the way things should be.
I also like the fact that Kelly comes off like this normal woman who isn't afraid to, er, literally reach out and grab the man that catches her eye. The heroine jumps into bed with the hero because she wants the hero as bad as he wants her. In other books, Kelly would probably hate herself in the morning or something. Ms Walker however allows Kelly to have sex with Tommy without being a neurotic weirdo in the process. The author doesn't invite me to cast moral judgments on Kelly by having Kelly moan during the morning after that she is some kind of "slut" like those other Harlequin Blaze or Lori Foster heroines are notorious for. I really like this. Because both the hero and the heroine are having fun without any weird hang-ups on their part, this story is playful and naughty without being bogged down by unnecessary angst.
The characters are normal without having any dramatic baggages. They could be everyday Joe and Jane, only more beautiful and with more glamorous jobs, that is. The plot is simple: connection, sex, and romance. There is a subplot about Clayton finally coming out in public so that he can stop living a lie which is probably too sweet for me. In real life, coming out isn't the wisest thing to do because real life isn't fair and people in the entertainment industry who come out eventually find themselves as niche "gay artists" sidelined by the mainstream entertainment scene. Neil Patrick Harris and Chad Allen, anyone? This story isn't real life, of course, but that particular "coming out is great because your fans will understand" subplot is too much of a stretch for me. But that's just a minor quibble on my part.
Oh, and it's pretty cute how Ms Walker sets her story in London and doesn't try to Americanize things too much. Words like "bloke" and "pants" abound, although "quid" is disappointingly absent.
Sasha White's Watch Me is much darker than the previous story in comparison as it tackles a theme that some readers may find too much of a hazy shade of gray. Bethany Mack is feeling restless and neglected when her husband Grant spends more time at work and she embarks on a potentially dangerous hobby: playing the exhibitionist for male strangers. Wait until you read the part where she manages to get away with masturbating before a stranger in a bus. The thing is, Bethany really loves Grant and she has no intention to cheat on him. But she is so starved for attention, the magic of marriage has somewhat faded, and then there is the thrill of doing something forbidden and getting strange men to pant after her in a "you can look, but you can't touch" manner.
It is hard for me to do this story justice here because Watch Me isn't a simple story of adulterous housewives. Bethany isn't committing adultery, but where do you draw the line when it comes to such behavior? Bethany and Grant will have plenty of things to think about by the end of the story. At any rate, there is a complexity of sorts in Watch Me. Bethany is a heroine that I find pretty real - Ms White manages to give me an insight on her heroine's feelings and thoughts very well. I can't say I agree with what she is doing, but I can understand where she is coming from and heck, I can definitely see the thrill one could get from being so naughty in public. Throughout it all, Bethany's feelings for Grant is pretty clear. She loves him, but at the same time she is feeling bored and restless.
Some readers may prefer a more comprehensive black-and-white kind of story and find the theme of this story as one they don't particularly enjoy reading. That's okay - Saskia Walker's story provides the uncomplicated fun of falling in love and being very naughty, which may be compensation enough. Sasha White attempts to address some complicated issues here where Bethany may be wrong, but she's not completely wrong to me, if I am making sense here. To be honest, I can't say that I have never felt some of the things she felt about life as a married woman. I can relate to Bethany. She and the story feel real to me. But don't worry, there is a happy ending to this story.
Oh, and some of the scenes here are pretty hot too. I really like that scene in the bus.
Saskia Walker's story is pure delicious fantasy while Sasha White's story may be too real, too starkly far apart from the happily-ever-after fantasy of an absolute love that never encounters any bumps for the rest of everyone's lives, and too ambiguous for some readers. These two stories are very different but I adore both. It's hard for me to say which one I like more because apart from the sensuality level of these stories, they are as similar as apples are to oranges. But who says I have to pick only one story?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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