I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance/erotica simply because the escape into another time and place is as important as my enjoyment of the connection between people. However, when I saw that Charmaine Pauls’ The Loan Shark Duet took place in Johannesburg, South Africa my interest piqued. A dark story set in a uncommon locale definitely sounded like something I needed to try.
Valentina will do anything to protect her brother, Charlie, after the car accident that left him with brain damage. She just never thought she’d have to bind herself to Johannesburg’s most notorious gangster, Gabriel Louw, to pay off Charlie’s gambling debt. For nine years Valentina belongs to Gabriel to be used however he sees fit; she just never anticipated how gentle, caring, and respectful her master could be when taking what he wants…or how he makes her want to be more than just his possession.
Dubious should not have worked for me at all. The basic premise denies Valentina the ability to consent to anything Gabriel does to her, which is something I prize highly in anything focusing on sexual relationships. Frankly the idea of the heroine belonging to the hero repulsed me on a purely intellectual level, but Charmaine Pauls’ writing and careful scenario hooked me emotionally. The deciding factor was how Gabriel proceeded with his seduction of Valentina. Given their agreement he could have forced her and called it fair; of course Valentina has no right to deny Gabriel’s desires, but he lets her set the pace. Rather than setting taking her virginity as a goal, he moves slowly to make his playtoy want his touch and crave sex (okay, Gabriel’s reasons are pretty nefarious, but I still appreciated his focus on Valentina’s pleasure), and penis in vagina sex doesn’t occur until Valentina asks/begs for it. It’s definitely not an example of How Relationships Should Be Done TM, but it transformed a dub con scenario into something palatable.
Gabriel’s kind treatment of Valentina can’t change the fact that he’s in the business of doing unethical things, and his mother and ex-wife exemplify how women generally survive in his world. Valentina is strong, but she lacks the ruthless edge necessary to play the games in mafia society, so just being in the Louw household makes her an easy target. She manages to get Gabriel’s employees on her side (some of the cast seem to magically be drawn to her), but Magda Louw, her owner’s mother, just wants an excuse to make the young woman disappear…permanently.
Magda’s desire to dispose of Valentina sets up the one point in the plot that I found nearly unforgivable. It is so pivotal to the cliffhanger and book two, Consent, that I have to vague book it, but suffice it to say that Gabriel makes a choice that enfuriates me.
At the end of the day I wanted to know if Valentina and Gabriel could make it beyond hot sex and bad decisions to form a real relationship. Despite everything I was rooting for those crazy kids and wanted some type of HEA, not just steamy erotica.
4 Snobby Teenage Daughters out of 5