I’m not sure what to say or where to begin. I’ve wanted to read this book for the longest time and was so excited once I received the ARC. I like BDSM/erotica books and this was definitely a dark book but I was frustrated more often than not. I understood what I was getting into by requesting an ARC. It was going to be a dark, painful read that took me on a roller-coaster of emotions. That’s what I got! I was so angry and tearful at times, and then happy or turned on at other times.
Tess is an awesome, conflicted character. She knows what she wants but fears going after it. She matures a lot throughout the book. In the beginning, she has a bad relationship with her elderly, unloving parents and her sweet boyfriend, Brax, doesn’t understand her. She wants a light BDSM relationship with him and dreams of being a submissive but, for Brax, she tries to be ‘normal’ and be what he expects, but she’s very unhappy and is a scared, weak person—which I understand, given her rough childhood.
Once she’s kidnapped, she becomes stronger and is determined to survive. She appoints herself as protector of the other kidnapped women and remains strong even after she’s attacked and her wanna-be rapist breaks her rib.
And then here comes the sexiest man ever! Q thinks of himself as a monster and acts like one most of the time. He’s a gorgeous, rich, egotistical prick who needs to be knocked a few pegs (we later learn he has horribly screwed-up self-esteem issues). He’s a control freak but has trouble controlling himself and his dark desires when around Tess. He wants to hurt her because he knows she can handle it. He likewise wants to protect her from harm (outside of what he does to her) but he typically fails to protect her, which he hates himself for.
He is her master, she is the slave, and he treats her like dirt. Tess doesn’t want him to hurt her but accepts it because it makes him happy. She’s attracted to him and is sickened by her sexual, needy reaction to the pain he inflicts. Even though Q holds himself back from hurting her too much (aka - killing her), he plays mind games with her and purposely makes her doubt everything and everyone around her, and then he gets angry that she doesn’t trust or understand him. He holds back for reasons unknown to Tess and the reader (though the reader can assume why even though she’s too oblivious to read the signs).
I suppose my problem is that she can’t decide what she wants. She was beaten and terrified in Mexico by her kidnappers, and now she’s in France where another man is hitting her, threatening and scaring her, but all of a sudden, she likes it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. She’s confused, mentally and physically, and finds Q very appealing even though he’s holding her against her will and is abusing her (which she enjoys and hates). Also, she doesn’t tell anyone about her broken rib throughout the whole story. She easily dismisses the rib pain and concentrates on the pain Q caused instead.
The part that really upset me was when Q has a dinner party for his friends and puts Tess on display, strung up. He allows his friends to touch her, scare her and allows the Russian to rape her with a knife hilt. All he does in response is shoot the man in the leg and says to Tess, “I’ll protect you. I’ll make this right”. It’s not a good enough apology (he never says “I’m sorry”) and then he avoids her for the next few days, letting her deal with the pain and the blood between her legs on her own. He never explains why he held the party in the first place. (I assume he wanted to scare her into complete submission by threatening to give her to the other men.)
When Tess runs away a few days later, I finally start to respect her. Q has done nothing so far to prove he’s redeemable for the crap he’s put her through. I actually want her to escape and head home—end of book. But then she gets kidnapped all over again and is in a worse situation. Q rescues her, of course, but then he and everyone else in the household blames the kidnapped slave for running away and getting herself into trouble. No one has been honest with Tess. No one tells her anything. She’s kept in the dark, in fear, and is given cryptic messages about why she should trust Q. He’s done nothing earn her trust, so she shouldn’t trust him (but she’s still hot for him and wants him to beat her and have rough sex with her). What’s worse, Tess blames herself for seeking freedom. It wasn’t her fault for meeting up with Driver and Brute who kidnapped and raped her. It’s Q’s fault for not giving her a good reason to stay at the manor and away from the sick, cruel people who live in the nearby village.
After the police come and leave, Q finally opens up while drunk and gives Tess info he should’ve given to her weeks ago. The info is slurred and cryptic but she slowly starts to understand why he’s so cold and cruel. With the help of Suzette and Franco, two members of the staff that reside at Q’s manor, Tess realizes that he helps broken women deal with their trauma and move on with their lives. Even with one mystery solved, a new one runs through her mind. She doesn’t understand why he treats her so badly when he’s helped others who were in similar situations.
We eventually learn that Q never acts out his dark desires on the women he helps. Until Tess. He hurts her because she arrived at his house unbroken. Instead of treating her with kindness and sending her home, he subjugates her to cruelties because he believes she can handle the pain and that she secretly wants the pain. He thinks she’s just as wicked and sexually depraved as he—which she is—and he needs someone like her in his life to help balance him. He wants a hardcore, rough BDSM relationship with her. He forces her into it and she accepts it as a true submissive, but she is still scared of him and everything he represents.
Q couldn’t decide whether he was a good guy, bad guy or something in between. He struggles with the demon inside him. He doesn’t want to be like his brutal father but acts like him a lot when it comes to Tess. He treats her so badly because she’s the first woman he’s met who could grow stronger from the abuse, instead of breaking. He wants her to fight him. All of the other women he helped over the years would have crumbled.
Emotions were all over the place. Q played Tess like a yo-yo and she was so confused for most of the book—at least where Q was concerned. I liked the confusion at first. I then grew frustrated because I just felt so bad for Tess. I wanted her to be happy and Q wouldn’t allow it.
Tess thinks that she is a strong woman/partner in her relationship with Q but I disagree (until the ending). She wanted Q to whip her and take her body roughly but she also hated him and herself for it. She needs to make up her mind. Q didn’t trust her with any information about himself and she was never strong enough to ask or demand it. She never tried to understand why he was so sadistic and domineering. She let him walk all over her. Yes, I understand she’s a slave and has no choice in what he does to her, but she shouldn’t think of herself as being strong when she’s not acting strong. (My opinion here differs a lot from other reviewers for this book.)
I loved that the epilogue was in Q’s POV. It answered a lot of questions and redeemed Q in my eyes (but I had already forgiven him by that time anyway—except the dinner party scene). Unfortunately, the H/h never once say ‘I love you’. I understand why Q didn’t say it but I expected Tess to. They talked about love and he admitted that he may not be capable of it, but she never said it even though she clearly felt it.
The sex scenes are so hot! I love strong, alpha men who know their way around a woman’s body. He treats her rough but she loves it. She was consensual for most of it, reluctant on the rest even though she enjoyed it. He never raped her. He always stopped himself before crossing that line.
I liked that Tess befriended some members of the household. She needed friends and Suzette understood what she was going through because she lived through even worse. Suzette and Franco kept trying to get Tess to understand and accept Q for all his depravities and cruelness because they knew what he struggled with and they hoped that Tess was the one to save him. Unfortunately, they didn’t explain themselves well enough until it was too late.
On a side note, there are grammar, spelling, misplaced words and syntax issues. Since this copy is an ARC, mistakes are expected.
This book is a great read because both Tess and Q are flawed characters—no one is perfect. He needs to inflict pain; she needs the pain to feel alive. They both experience sexual pleasure from it. He needs her to accept the darkness in him; she needs him to treat her like an object so she feels claimed because she’s felt unwanted her whole life.
I loved and hated Q throughout most of the story (just as Tess did). By the end, I found a new book boyfriend.
All-in-all, I liked the book in the beginning, was frustrated in the middle, and I loved the book in the end, especially when the main characters finally talked to each other and admitted their feelings/wants/desires.
I’m giving this book a 3.5. It’s much better than a 3 but the dinner scene is stopping me from giving it a 4.
Thank you to the author, Pepper Winters, for this Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for an honest review.