UK Publisher: Orion Books
Genre: Erotica, BDSM erotica, romance
His scars run deep.
His love runs fierce.
Izzy White knows of the darkness in this world. After all, she escaped it long ago. Now, she has a built a stable life, making caring for others her mission. But one act of kindness upends her efforts when the notorious and wildly attractive Theo Kane crashes into her world.
His reputation is terrifying yet with Izzy Theo is tender-a complete gentleman-and she falls hard. As Theo’s demons come to light Izzy knows she should run, but she can’t leave, not now. Yet staying together could doom them both.
We all make mistakes. Mine was requesting this book on NetGalley as an impulse without really paying attention to what it was about. Lesson most emphatically learned, let me tell you. It was clear very early on that I was not the target audience for this book, but as it was from NetGalley, I had to review it or my rating would be impacted. This has led to some… personal conflict. In the history of this blog, I’ve never not finished a book. I finished Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe. I finished Daughter of Light and Shadows. Surely I could finish this?
I don’t know if this is just significantly longer than the others, or whether I don’t have the patience for nonsense right now, but I struggled. It was over a quarter of the way through before we got to the first sex scene, which would have made sense if the two characters had managed to have any sort of significant interaction leading up to that point. Aside from Theo acting like an A-grade stalker, and setting off all sorts of fun alarm bells, there was no development of their relationship at all.
Where to begin?
Izzy is a nurse, and the book opens with her finishing her shift at the hospital and taking a shady shortcut home, where she encounters a concussed prostitute who she attempts to help, only to get assaulted by the pimp. He’s about to, it’s presumed, rape her when he is interrupted by the arrival of a Bentley in the shady shortcut, and a very large man who throws him clear and then roughs him up a bit. This very large man isn’t Theo Kane, Theo Kane appears shortly afterwards and is EVEN LARGER. So much emphasis is placed on how big he is that I am only able to picture a height difference similar to that between Hayden Panettiere (5′ and a smidge tall) and her ex-husband Wladmir Klitschko (6′ 5″ or near enough). This height difference is so continually emphasised I find myself forced to consider logistics more than being swept up in the romance.
Not that I was particularly in danger of being swept up.
Theo and his… henchman sweep up the concussed prostitute and toss her into the car. Rather than questioning why the rich man is kidnapping a prostitute, Izzy asserts that the girl needs to go to a hospital – presumably for a brain scan, for that concussion which is another continually mentioned fact. Theo refuses to take the woman to hospital, instead saying he will take her home – which he calls ‘the Playground’, another thing that raises a lot of questions but which Izzy doesn’t seem to notice – and that, if Izzy wants her to have medical attention, she’ll have to come too. Unless he has some kind of CAT Scanner in his dining room I don’t know what he expects her to do, but he gets quite insistent.
Showing the first bit of rational thinking so far, Izzy is like “Maybe I shouldn’t get into a car with the large, strange man.” Theo’s response? He offers her a gun as insurance against him. Which. The book is set in London. It’s not really an insurance policy when the odds of Izzy knowing how to use it are slim to none. What’s she going to do, hit him with it? And as he is so large, she’ll at best be able to bop him on the nipple, which isn’t going to slow him down much.
Izzy gives him the gun back, makes some kind of… weird sassy quip about already having one? And then clambers into the car with him anyway.
What I have left out through all of this is Izzy continually thinking “This man is dangerous, but I feel safe with him!” whilst she ogles him, and making occasional clunking allusions to a previous abusive relationship.
That’s right kids, it’s another BDSM erotic romance where at least one partner is emotionally damaged from an abusive relationship, because GOD FORBID emotionally healthy people like being tied up and spanked a bit.
Meanwhile this poor prostitute is unconscious in the car next to them.
Anyway they go to his house, where there’s a butler and a woman whose sole job seems to be to stand around with a drink on a tray ready for Theo, like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted but without the agency. The prostitute – Penny – has been taken in… a separate entrance I guess? There’s some more weird… not quite talking between Theo and Izzy and then Theo leads her to where Penny is being kept (even though… they could have all come in together? They were literally in the same car). Izzy gets so distracted watching Theo’s bum that she falls over, and he turns to catch her and falls over too? And they end up sprawled on the floor on the stairs on top of each other like they both have a bad inner ear infection and don’t know how to walk like normal people.
Izzy’s left with Penny, after Theo lurks and watches her for a bit because he likes watching her – no he actually says that. And Penny, whose concussion must be quite severe because she’s been basically unconscious since the start, wakes up enough to say her name, and that she wants to be taken to Theo’s, and Izzy’s like “Oh cool, okay, she’s fine” and just lets her go to sleep and wanders off.
Like the NHS website literally says “call an ambulance if they’ve been knocked out or if they have difficulty staying awake.” But Izzy, pro nurse, just wanders off like “she’s totally okay”. She doesn’t even tell anyone to go in and check on her regularly.
Then Izzy has another meeting with Theo, where he is all up in her business but they don’t… actually say anything? And she thinks “oh he’s dangerous, but I feel so safe! That’s bad” again and does a runner.
For any sane person that would be THE END, but no. Theo turns up at the end of her shift at work the next day, gets a boner carrying her out to the car to drive her home, but then kicks her out of the car saying “I’d try and kiss you and you wouldn’t be able to stop me, and not just because I’m bigger than you” (WTF), but then drives along really slowly behind her for the entire rest of the way home.
THEN he sends her a new phone because hers broke in the dodgy alleyway at the start, and he’s taken her number, and he sends her a bossy text saying that she has to go out for dinner with him. Like, literally, “you will be gracious and accept”. Um no, she will call the fucking police, good grief. I had money on him actually installing a “find my phone” app on there so he could trace her movements. So far I’m losing, but I don’t have the will to carry on reading and find out.
She turns down the date (“because he’s a bad man, but I feel safe with him, and that’s bad”), and he turns up at her house anyway, banging on the door for like half an hour before her roommate LETS HIM IN INSTEAD OF CALLING THE POLICE WTF and then he pins Izzy against the wall and kisses her, and… like I don’t even know what his point was because then he leaves? And I just don’t know.
The next day Izzy goes on holiday to Vegas, and THE FUCKER TURNS UP THERE. He calls her, notices a foreign dialling tone, then FLIPS THE FUCK OUT AND SHOWS UP THE NEXT DAY. AND he tells her to cover up because he thinks her swimsuit is too revealing. AND he threatens to just entirely wreck what, we have been told, is a once-in-a-lifetime, years-in-the-planning holiday for her and her friend if she refuses to have dinner with him.
That’s not even mentioning her best-friend-slash-roommate (whose entire character is, ‘works as a midwife so is obsessed with cocks because she sees vaginas all day’ and I just can’t you guys) who, despite being a witness to ALL of this behaviour, and occasionally calling out the slightly (hah!) stalkery tone to it all, is still like “No you should absolutely go for it Izzy, he’s hot and clearly likes you, I can see no downsides to you fucking him sideways.” (She feels SAFE with him you guys, but that’s DANGEROUS)
Anyway then she has dinner with him, in his private suite at the Bellagio, but neither of them eat anything, and then he has this whole spiel about how he needs controlled environments and that he always gets what he wants and he wants Izzy, and that he’s going to treat her like a queen and fuck her like a whore and I just. That’s exactly what he says. Also, ta-daaa, he has issues too, he doesn’t like to be touched! So that’s a two-for-one on people in this relationship who have psychological problems, because you can’t spell BDSM without PTSD.
I WILL say that as soon as the sexy bits start, Theo stops being so stalkers and asks her permission and checks her consent. He doesn’t go all Tarzan and Jane and fling her onto the bed, he checks she’s happy with it, and gets her to give permission (which she does, because he makes her feel so SAFE even though he is DANGEROUS). And when he ties her to the bed, he uses silk not the ridiculous hardware store bullshit from Fifty Shades. So. Some points I guess?
I’m not even a third of the way through the book at this point. I wanted to read the first sexy scene at least since it’s an erotic novel so I wanted to give it a fair chance in its wheelhouse. But. But.
He ties her up and teases her a lot, then he fucks off and leaves her tied to the bed for, and I quote, “an hour, maybe two.” Given as he is a psychopathic near-enough stranger, honestly at this stage, in this situation (providing I had lost my senses enough to GET into this situation) I would be legit pissing myself that he was going to get the tools to steal my kidneys, OR bring some buddies in to fuck my shit up.
He doesn’t, but honestly.
Instead, Izzy actually dozes off and has a nice little nap, all trussed up like some kind of sex piñata. When Theo deigns to come back, after proving his extremely petty point that he didn’t like it when she ignored him (Red flag number seventy million), she is perfectly ready to just pick up and carry on with the sexy time. After a two hour break plus nap? No dice, he should have to start all over again.
Mostly at this stage I am skim-reading, just looking to see if Malpas falls into the trap of using the words “moist” and “slick”, which drove me mad in Daughter of Light and Shadows. It’s all going well, there’s one “wetness” which I can handle, but nothing else.
He grinds deep into my womb.
That sort of thing requires fucking major surgery, I call Not Sexy. If his penis is in her uterus she would be suffering from extremely severe internal injuries there is nothing fucking sexy about that. That teeny tiny little sentence just makes my entire lower body clench up so hard I’m curled up in a ball. This will haunt me the way that episode of Call the Midwife with the prolapse haunts me, like just slamming to the front of my brain to re-traumatise me every few months when I am just living my life free from THAT.
But she doesn’t use the word “moist”, I guess.
Look, I like romance. My three favourite books (Pride and Prejudice, These Old Shades and Ella Enchanted, if you’re keeping track) are all romances. Hell, look at my fanfic browsing history (hahahaha no, don’t do that) – it’s all romances. I don’t know why I can’t click with a lot of the romances written more recently. But there was no doubt from the start that this one wasn’t going to be for me. It’s definitely aimed at the crowd who like dumb, sexy nonsense they don’t want to think about, but I just can’t switch that part of my brain off that much.
Malpas has a track record of bestsellers in erotic fiction, and she didn’t hit a lot of the things I usually have issues with (moist, consent issues for the actual sex, the practical side of the bondage), but instead she hit totally different bits that just didn’t sit well with me. I’m too pragmatic and practical, which doesn’t entirely mesh with the “swept off your feet” romance style. (THAT SAID, the sequel to These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, satirises this sort of romance delightfully – and is another cracking romance novel that I love)
By the end of that sex scene I was only just over a quarter of the way through. I couldn’t take any more. I’m sorry guys – you’ll have to work out if it’s for you on your own.
- The main character has no common sense, the love interest is a possessive and controlling stalker.
- Look. I have a lot of Concerns.
- Another entry in the genre of “only broken people can be into kinky shit.”
- GRINDS INTO MY WOMB.
Rating: 0/5 – if I couldn’t even finish it, if I couldn’t even get halfway, it doesn’t even deserve a single point.