Jolene Whitman has never left her hometown, hasn’t been on a date in six years, and when her best friend asks her to move to Boston with her, she jumps at the chance to leave her country mouse roots behind.
Starting over in a new city with one friend, no job, and her bank account bleeding out is enough to send Jolene’s anxiety through the roof. Add in a hot post-doc with a dominant streak and it could be a recipe for a panic attack big enough to send her home with her tail between her legs. But submitting to Matthew Ward shuts up the running monologue in her head like nothing ever has before.
Each night they spend together, exploring the limits of their trust, Jolene falls a little harder for the man responsible for her sexual awakening. Under Matthew’s care and control, she finds a place where she understands exactly who and what she’s supposed to be.
She knows it’s too good to last, that a man like Matthew will never stay with a woman like her. But if the cost of finding herself is a broken heart, she’s all in.
The blurb is accurate, as far as those kinds of things go, but there were certain instances in the book that caused me to enjoy this book less. Jo is jobless and scared when she first meets Matt, and when she goes out with him, she’s at a boring contract job and worried about what she’ll do for work once her contract is up. Matt is doing his post-doctoral work studying brain chemistry at the cellular level. It has something to do with how anxiety disorders have an effect, but we really don’t get into details. I liked how Jo and Matt eventually were honest with each other about what they wanted—namely, a relationship—and that Jo figured out that she needed a support network and that that was okay; I didn’t like how long that took to happen or that Jo engaged in some not so safe behaviors. I also would have appreciated some more time spent with Matt that wasn’t sexytimes.
Jo quits her job—she’s in her late 20s—and moves in with her friend who is completing her graduate degree in Boston. Jo has no job in Boston when she gets there, though. So she’s stressed about not having a job, on top of waiting to meet her friend for drinks in an unfamiliar bar when she first meets Matt—and meets is not quite what happens. She encounters him. There is insta-lust, some intense staring, but not much else. And then it turns out that Matt is the older brother of a friend of Jo’s roommate. Which actually is believable—the world is small, and it can be easy to overlook people in your acquaintance circle, especially if they’re older/younger than your core group of friends. Jo’s roommate gives Matt Jo’s cell phone number and Matt invites/orders Jo out to dinner.
There were no question marks, no I-hope-you’re-actually-interested-in-me preliminary remarks, just an order/invitation. Jo finds this sexy; I find it somewhat presumptuous. It’s supposed to communicate that Matt is a dom/top, but I think there are better ways of communicating that without breaking out the orders so early on in the book/relationship. A lot of the book is Jo feeling anxious about what she’s about to do—be that go out to dinner with Matt at his place after only one or two public dates, or have a strictly sexual and BDSM relationship with Matt—and then doing it anyway. Once she does a scene or two with Matt, she realizes that these kinds of encounters calm her anxiety. Which makes sense; you put yourself in a situation where you don’t have to choose what will happen, but you can still slow things down or call a halt if things get to be too much for you. That’s not how regular existing works. So Jo gets caught up in all of these happy, relaxed feelings and stops paying much attention to the world outside of herself and Matt, except to reassure her roommate that nothing non-consenting is going on. She ignores how she still needs a more permanent job if she intends on staying in Boston, how her feelings for Matt have left the pants-feelings arena and have moved to the gooey-feelings arena, and that she’s not interacting much with anyone outside of her roommate (when they’re in the apartment at the same time and/or make arrangements to hang out) and Matt (on a frequent basis). Jo’s roommate calls her “Mouse,” as a nickname, which comes up a couple of times later on in the book.
Matt is harder to describe as a character. Like I said, he’s a dom/top, and a scientist who seems to really love what he’s researching. He’s careful with Jo when they play together and gets wrapped up in her just as much as she does in him. Originally, Matt set a schedule for when he and Jo would get together, but after a weekend together, that schedule gets thrown out the window. We really only know about Matt’s feelings by how they affect his appearance. When he’s pining for Jo after they break up, he looks the opposite of put together and worse than disheveled. But then there were the invitations/orders and how he didn’t put Jo in touch with anyone else in the scene that could have answered any of Jo’s questions until several months into their arrangement, which seems like a not so good thing to me.
All that being said, after the giant, epically bad breakup, and Jo’s epiphany about needing people, we do get to see her put herself back together. She reaches out for help getting a job and asks for recommendations for a therapist and psychiatrist. While the latter two aren’t solutions for everyone, they are a good place to at least start trying to figure out what’s making you tick. And slowly, Jo builds her network of friends out, so that she has more than just her roommate. She learns how not to be a mouse. She and Matt talk to each other and explain why they broke up—in a way that clarifies that yes, they want a relationship and not just a casual arrangement.
While I’m all for sexytimes, the book felt a little off-balance. We spend chapters and chapters in the sexytimes bubble; a couple in the pre-breakup, breakup, post-breakup phase; a few in the putting-Jo-back-together phase; and only one with Jo and Matt as a much better couple. I would have liked seeing Jo and Matt as a much better couple for longer than a chapter. The ending felt believable but too quick and tidy in comparison to the rest of the book. Aside from the orders/invitations, Matt was a good example of a good top/dom, which can be hard to find in BDSM romances, and the overall book was enjoyable.
You can buy a copy here.