Desert Isle Keeper
The first novel in Ainslie Paton’s Sidelined series, Offensive Behavior, generated a lot of positive reviews and attention last year. Though I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, when I heard that the second book, Damaged Goods (also a standalone) would be released soon, I took a look at the synopsis. I was immediately intrigued by this statement: This is the story of a man who can’t get it up and a woman who’s never gotten it on. It definitely succeeds in catching one’s attention– the thought of a man with some kind of erectile dysfunction taking on a virgin heroine is not a trope that I’ve seen before. I’m happy to report that the story succeeds in bringing to life a romance between two people who’ve experienced a very unique set of circumstances that make them a well suited match. (Plus it’s super sexy too!).
Owen Lange, CEO of a successful tech company suffered a horrendous back injury that left him in hospital for three months and addicted to painkillers. Though he’s returned to work, his partners are concerned about him; on the surface he says he’s doing okay but he’s lost weight, is unsteady on his feet, and they suspect that he’s hiding his dependence on pills. When they ask one of their help desk employees Cara Douglas to discuss his injury with him, it’s with good reason. She is a former Olympic gymnast whose career ended with a back injury at fifteen, so knows all about chronic pain. Cara forces Owen to acknowledge some painful truths and several weeks later he’s back at work and ready to make amends for his not so pleasant behavior while under the influence. It’s pretty obvious that they are attracted to each other and Cara thinks this might finally be her chance to lose her virginity, having never had a normal relationship after her injury. While Owen is ready to acknowledge that he feels something for Cara, he has a problem. One of the lingering effects of Owen’s injury is erectile dysfunction, a rather emasculating and frustrating side effect that shows no sign of abating. Slowly romancing Cara might work for a while, but at some point he’s going to have to tell her the truth about his physical limitations. Is there a way for them to find some kind of common ground that will be equally satisfying and give them the happy ending they deserve?
This story tackles a few serious topics while still maintaining a relatively light feel with lots of amusing moments. Owen is by far the more conflicted character. Prior to his accident, he already had close experience of addiction having seen it in family members, and had taken great pains to avoid situations that might lead to addictions of his own.
But the accident changes everything. Drugged up in the hospital (for good reason), his wealth and quick access to prescription medication made it just too easy to anticipate and try to avoid the chronic pain. But as with all painkillers, the more they are used, the more you need, and Owen finds himself balancing on a knife’s edge to get through each day. When the truth hists him (courtesy of Cara), he knew he needed help and voluntarily entered a drug rehabilitation program, with positive results. But the erectile dysfunction is another problem altogether. For a previously virile man who enjoyed a healthy sex life, the physical impairment to his nerves means that he can feel arousal in his brain, but nothing happens ‘down there’. And that is a very challenging and disheartening realization. On top of those issues, he is also dealing with anxiety from being in two very serious car accidents. The first took the life of his girlfriend a few years earlier while the second resulted in his back injury. In both instances he was the passenger in the vehicle and while he is okay when he is driving, being a passenger again, especially when someone he cares about is driving, induces panic attacks. The previously self-confident man is gone, replaced by one who struggles daily to cope with his new reality. Cara soon becomes the bright spot in his life and he’s willing to do almost anything to keep her there.
Cara overcame her injury without an addiction to drugs – but only because she couldn’t afford them. Though she feels some jealousy that Owen doesn’t have to deal with the pain the way she did, the truth is that she knows she was better off in the long run to have to find non-medicinal ways to cope with chronic pain. She still has good days and bad days, and that’s just the way it will always be. While she enjoys her job, she spends much of her free time designing lingerie and showgirl costumes and hopes to some day turn that into a full time career. Though she and Owen don’t start off on the best of terms when she calls him out over his possible addiction, when they meet again he is grateful and appreciative of her efforts. And, now that she’s got a man in her sights who treats her with respect and as an equal (even though he’s technically her overall boss as CEO of the company), she figures she might find a way to get rid of her pesky virginity problem. Cara comes across as a friendly, grounded person who, with a little encouragement, can make her dreams a reality.
The two of them together make quite the pair. When Owen wants to spend time with her without aiming right for the bedroom, Cara believes he’s just not interested in her ‘that way’. But eventually he opens up to her about the reality of his problem and while he can satisfy her sexually in other ways, the truth is that they will never be able to make love like a normal couple. The result is some steamy scenes that go in different directions than your typical romance as they cope with what Owen can and can’t do. And it definitely doesn’t stop them from getting involved emotionally. As Cara falls for Owen, she researches his problem and finds ways to help him reach some sexual satisfaction that he never thought would be possible. The exploration of the brain as the architect behind sexual desire is key to Owen and Cara having a mutually satisfying relationship. However Owen still worries about whether he can really be the man for Cara if he can’t get it up in the bedroom. Owen’s lack of self-assurance, his family issues and Cara’s desire for independence (even knowing Owen’s wealth could smooth the way for her) result in some drama and extra bumps in the road for this couple as they navigate their way to a happy ending.
This story takes advantage of modern technology with lots of amusing texting scenes between Owen and Cara as their relationship deepens. The friendship between Owen and his business partners show how much they care about him while adding quite a lot of humour to the story. Cara’s best friend Zarley, an exotic dancer (and heroine of the previous book), is a prominent secondary character and their strong friendship also adds balance to the romance. At heart, this is a story of being broken but picking up the pieces and moving forward one day at a time, with the added bonus of finding that person who will walk with you on your journey.
Damaged Goods breaks the stereotype of a typical contemporary romance with a refreshing and unique story.