A common enemy. A secret untold. One dark and handsome man determined to despise. One inexperienced, innocent, shy woman swept into a life she cannot control. Both pawns in a torturous game that will bind them together or tear them apart . . . forever.
When Ashton is left orphaned after her parents are murdered, her life becomes a hell she could never have imagined. Left to fend for herself, and responsible for a debt she doesn’t owe, she is swept into a life as a gentleman’s escort at a private men’s gaming hall. Her new manager makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t appreciate her inexperience, innocence, and shyness. On the contrary, he despises everything about her.
Derek can be “difficult,” she’s been told. And however dark and handsome he may be, he terrifies her in a way that chills her to the bone, but leaves her begging to understand him. As they are pulled along together, more secrets and threats than either one could ever conceive are revealed, and a common enemy emerges. This enemy will stop at nothing to bring Derek to his knees while using Ashton as the greatest pawn in his torturous game.
Will Derek be able to let down his shield of cold, harsh emotion before it’s too late? Will he be able to sacrifice himself to save Ashton, or will they both be destroyed by the secrets of their pasts?
This is the second book I've read of Elizabeth Finn's and I again feel like I've been put through the emotional wringer. There's a whole lot of darkness in this book, both physical and mental, and it's only those moments where the h/h are together that there's any bit of light. This is a world full of flawed characters put into difficult positions which results in unending feelings of hopelessness which makes the happy ending even happier. Both the reader and characters worked hard to get to the satisfying conclusion under the deeply intense writing of Ms. Finn's.
Ashton has been left with an insurmountable debt that has left her on the run from those physically harming her to get paid. Out of desperation she goes to work as an upscale prostitute where she meets an unforgettable man who's just as much a pawn of others as she is. Their combined pain brings them together in a series of scorching encounters that unexpectedly leads to love. I felt great sadness for Ashton but there were times I found her off-putting. She blames Derek, the man who trains her and ultimately falls in love with her, for the position she's in and wants him to hurt just like her. She knows it's wrong to feel that way but can't help it. She's deeply depressed and I always felt she was on the edge of committing suicide. With very little support and a bleak future ahead, this isn't surprising, so the fact that she never took that final step left me admiring her a bit. She's accepted her situation and is doing the best she can to survive which is another admirable quality considering the constant state of uncertainty she lives with.
Derek is just as damaged as Ashton but keeps it hidden better. He's always set himself apart from the others until the day she shows up and immediately has to harden his heart further, since his first instinct is to try to save her. He can't even save himself though at first. After a promising career he gives up to save his sister he's now a pimp whose soul is slowly dying. His outward emotions and actions towards her constantly change and make the reader dislike him at times, but I never doubted his love for her. She represents innocence, purity, and light...regardless of what she's had to become. Derek's not a man of many words. We know very little about him until virtually the end. His actions speak for him and it's obvious the lengths he goes to to keep Ashton as safe as he can throughout her time at the brothel given his own precarious position.
The insta-love between these two crackles with sexual tension and is reflected in many, many, many sexual encounters between them that are scorching. At times I felt that there were almost too many of these scenes, but as Derek is more of an action man when expressing his emotions, I felt that the frequency was justified. Along with these exhaustingly hot sexual interludes comes two memorable secondary characters whose story I would love to be told. Liz is the hooker with a heart of gold and the only true friend Ashton has had in a long time. She's bubbly and does her job well, hiding flashes of sadness behind a smile. She has an unspoken connection with Frederick, another of the brothel's pimps, with an intriguing just hinted at background of his own. Together, this mysterious couple had me clamoring to know more about them and their quiet yet obvious devotion was an interesting juxtaposition to the unrelenting melodrama of Derek and Ashton.
This book is not always easy to read, but it's definitely one I recommend. With it's unique setting, intensely emotional storyline, and complicated characters this is a story not soon forgotten. Once again Ms. Finn has left me speechless and greatly anticipating what emotional journey she'll send us on next.
My rating for this is an A.
*I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.