Leyla Karimi can’t help herself. If her smoking-hot neighbor’s going to walk around in his underwear with no blinds in the windows while she’s sitting on her back patio one night after work, well, she’s just going to go ahead and watch. Nevermind that Dr. Mason Barrett is four years her junior and her younger brother’s best friend. She’s just going to look with her eyes, not with her hands. No harm, no foul, right?
Only problem is that Dr. Hottie’s noticed his audience, and he’s not about to forget anytime soon. He’d believed his crush on his buddy’s sister wasn’t reciprocal and that she saw him as a little brother. Now that he’s seen her watching him with hungry eyes, everything’s changed. And he’s about to make his move.
First things first, I guess. I’m friendly with this author on Twitter and she gave me a copy of this book and a couple others. I started following her after reading a few of her books and liking her voice and the way she writes multicultural romance. Rai writes stories with characters from many different backgrounds without making a plot point out of it. They are what they are, and that’s that. In a genre where characters from marginalized populations are often used as teachable moments, I find this sort of multiculturalism refreshing.
So anyways, the book. Veiled Desire is an erotic novella packing equal amounts of heat and romance. It’s a friends-to-lovers story, so the conflict is of the “is this worth the threat of losing this friendship” and “her brother is totally gonna freak out” variety. It’s not a terribly stiff conflict, but it’s just right for the story length. They acknowledge their mutual desire, they act on it, they discover sexual compatibility, and then they ride off to the promise of the condomless sex of HEA. It’s really all I could ask of an erotic novella.
I really enjoyed the way Rai handled Leyla’s sexuality. Due to some mixture of growing up in an Iranian family and being busy with work and family responsibilities as an adult, she’s a 31 year old woman who’s had only one sexual partner. Despite this inexperience, she has full control of her sexuality. She masturbates, owns vibrators and knows what she likes. While out to dinner with Mason she whispers into his ear, “I want to do that to you. When we’re done here, I just want to get you alone and watch you come for me.” Leyla is a grown-up woman with a grown-up’s understanding of her sexuality. Mason may be more experienced, but they hook up as equals. It was satisfying to read an erotic romance where a heroine’s inexperience isn’t fetishized.
Unfortunately, some of the sex was a no for me. I found their first hookup kind of too much, too fast and there’s some food sex involving chocolate cheesecake and a nipple. But one scene in particular kind of bothered me. In it, Mason has penetrated Leyla without a condom. When she objects, saying she’s not on the pill, visions of babies dance in his head and this happens:
Hell, no wonder the human race procreated like crazy. It took a strong man to deny this biological urge. “I won’t come inside of you.” Even as he said it, he recognized the ridiculousness of the words.
Her laugh was half amused, half regretful. “Dr. Barrett, you know better.”
He did know better, but he just did not fucking care. That was the problem. For a solid twenty seconds, he didn’t say anything, didn’t move, couldn’t move. The walls of her pussy rippled around him where he was buried so still inside of her. He swore he could feel every tissue, every inch of her. He released her hips and clenched his teeth. “Climb off. I can’t do it.”
She seemed as reluctant as he was to separate their bodies, but he guessed she was just stronger than he was, because she dismounted and knelt on the bed next to him.
I couldn’t read this without thinking of The Myth of the Boner Werewolf. It may be a genre staple as shorthand for father material or as proof of how powerful his attraction to the heroine is, but it renders the hero into a sort of unthinking animal I can’t get down with.
Final Assessment: Anyone looking for a good, quick erotic romance with a solid emotional connection should not be disappointed. You just might need to suspend your belief in spots. B-