This erotic novella has been sitting on my reader since the author gave it to me back in early August. This month’s TBR Challenge called for short reads, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to dust it off and give it a whirl. While I’m not a big fan of erotic romance as a rule, I really enjoyed this one, barring the enormous personal squick I’ll get to in a bit, and think this may be my favorite read from Rai so far.
Play With Me opens with jewelry designer Tatiana Belikov waiting nervously to see casino CEO Wyatt Caine in his office. They were each other’s first lovers before ending their seven-year relationship about a decade ago. Adoptee Tatiana got a surprise the year before when a half-brother she didn’t know she had got in touch with her. Her joy at finding her birth family is presently threatened, however, by her brother getting caught embezzling money at his job dealing cards for Wyatt’s casino. Determined to keep her brother out of prison, and maybe the tiniest bit curious about her ex, Tatiana has shown up unannounced to ask for a favor.
Since part of her sitting and waiting nervously involves re-reading racy letters Wyatt wrote her way back in the whens, you know the two had an explosive affair that dealt heavily in rough sex and power games. So when she goes to Mr. CEO Wyatt Caine to ask a favor, you know how this is gonna go.
He inched forward, farther into her space. “So what’s in the script, Tatiana? Aren’t you supposed to be begging prettily for your brother’s life?”
She eyed him, trying to draw the tattered remnants of her cool around her. “I came here because I thought you might be reasonable. All I want to do is work out some sort of payment plan. I have savings. I can loan that to Ron, and he can repay his debt. If, in return, you agree to not press criminal charges.”
“He stole from me. I can’t abide thieves. And fifty thousand dollars is hardly chump change.”
Oh. My. God. Neither Caitlin nor Ron had gone into the details, beyond saying thousands. Perhaps naively, Tatiana had assumed they had meant, at the most, ten thousand.
Tatiana, who used to love to pretend with Wyatt that he had all the control, now gets to see how she likes it when he holds all the cards in truth. Such a classic domination fantasy, and I’m kinda here for it.
Only, that’s not at all what happens. She huffs an annoyed breath and writes out a check for the full amount, then makes a mental note to transfer funds from her savings and tear her brother a new one. No big deal. Bravo, Alisha, you surprised me with that one, and I loved it.
So, this is a story about fantasies and rough sex, but it is not one that disempowers the heroine to make it happen. It’s about two grown-ups with full agency who can’t resist trying to see if the explosive chemistry they had as young lovers is still there now that they’re adults with more experience. So, with nothing at stake but their emotions, Wyatt suggests indulging their curiosity.
Her body trembled as her good common sense did battle with her bad erogenous zones. What he was proposing was mad.
And she liked it.
Oh, for crying out loud. Her impulsive nature revved the engine. Wheeeee. What was life, anyway, without a few mistakes?
She licked her lips, loving the way his eyes immediately jumped there and darkened. “I wouldn’t be averse to us pretending that you’re coercing me. A little.”
If he hadn’t been holding her, she wouldn’t have felt the shudder roll through him. That familiar sexual power rose inside her.
He smiled. It was the first real smile he’d given her, fond and amused. “You did have a thing about being handled rough.”
She lifted her shoulder in a delicate shrug. “My liking for it has grown over the years.” Some boyfriends had found it exciting, others abhorrent. She’d learned to judge who would respond to her tastes.
“What a coincidence. So has mine. Yes, then?”
Like I said, I’m not a particular fan of erotic romance. Most of what I’ve read is just your regular romance, but with more sex scenes and more four-letter words. To be honest, I skip a lot of sex writing for being boring descriptions of who did what and what went where. What Rai does differently that I like so much is make it less about what’s happening than what they’re feeling. The heat in the scenes doesn’t depend so much on which body parts are where than on how excited each of them get. How perfectly they seem to work together, each feeding the other’s fantasies.
There is, regrettably, a limit to my Your Kink Is Not My Kink, And That’s OK. For the most part, I can find all sorts of situations erotic despite my own lack of interest if the characters are into it and living their dreams out loud. But I just can’t abide food sex. Wyatt starts painting Tatiana’s body with chocolate cheesecake and it was like, well, not a cold shower, since that would be blessedly free of sticky food on skin, maybe a wave of spiders. I just can’t deal with food smeared on people. The inevitable licking it off stage that follows gives me the vapors. I’m cringing at the memory. *shudder*
But, that’s just my hangup, right? Besides that, this is a great erotic novella. Their past is revealed over the course of the book, standing in for courtship. Although they’re together at the end, it isn’t a neat and tidy HEA. It’s a “let’s get to know each other again and see where it leads” instead. I could’ve done without Wyatt being such a puppet master at the end, but what can you do.
Final Assessment: A strong erotic novella that works well as erotica or erotic romance, but steer clear if you dislike food used as body paint. B