Designs of Desire
Focus is so crucial in fiction that reading a book without it can be a disorienting experience. Often authors who write from the seat of their pants with no preplanning and don’t go back to fill in the gaps produce unfocused stories that seem to jump from one important point to another, never quite melding them into a coherent whole. O’Riley made me dizzy trying to figure out what to focus on.
For two years fine artist and designer 28-year-old James Bryant has been free of an abusive relationship with a guy he met in college. Now living in a sprawling four-bedroom cottage, James has pulled himself together fairly well with the help of his best friend Chase.
When the CEO of Carrington Enterprises, Seth Burns, walks into Milwaukee’s Skye Designs, James is assigned to be the designer for Seth’s project of GBLT-friendly resort hotels because James is the only openly gay designer at the firm. Seth and James immediately spark, leading a reader to think this might be a somewhat routine gay romance. But from what malady does James suffer that requires him to use forearm crutches, I wondered?
Seth doesn’t inquire. Neither man thinks that maybe their sexual exploits might be unethical nor does James balk at the way Seth seems to run rough-shod over him, ordering for him on their first date and calling him “pet” in what comes off as a non-romantic way. I feared I was being led back into James becoming an abuse victim since so many signs pointed that way.
Then in chapter 6, I learned that James has a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, something that Seth in his hurry to have sex with James has failed to ask. Now I’m really starting to question Seth as a loving, caring potentially long-term partner if he didn’t even think to ask James a little about why he uses the crutches and if heavy-duty sex will set him back in any way.
But I resolved to go with the flow even though as I read I found out James is a natural submissive and Seth is very much a dominator. Now James began calling Seth “sir” even though neither of them has discussed safe words or limits or anything bordering on a lifestyle that might damage James even more than his former boyfriend’s beatings. No matter what Seth did for James now, I was not getting the warm fuzzies for the CEO.
The story flows somewhat haphazardly until boom, in the middle of the book, I found out that Seth has a 6-year-old daughter, something he didn’t feel he needed to share even though he and James have now become boyfriends. Suddenly, the story shifts from their growing romance or maybe from James finally being able to put his abusive former boyfriend in jail after another unprovoked beating to finding a home for the daughter whose mother has just died.
Who steps up to the plate? CEO or artist? Yup, that’s right. The artist with his four-bedroom house, not the CEO with his palatial apartment. At that point, I was wondering what I was reading and had to go back to reassure myself that it was still the book I started.
I could have easily taken all the twists and turns if they’d been forecast just a little. But each time something totally unexpected turned up, I got the feeling that the author was about to wrap up her story except she knew it was too short and felt obligated to write more. I wanted O’Riley to include not only the snippets of forecasting but also reassurance that Seth was as into the relationship as James was and had no ulterior motives in hooking up with the likeable James. To the very end of the book, I was leery about Seth’s commitment and dedication.
This is the first of a series of books O’Riley has planned and is in the process of writing. For me, however, it is probably the last of the series I’ll read until I’m assured she has her focus firmly in place.