Can you believe I’ve found a character-driven Romantica? Slave of Desire by Delilah Devlin is a merry galactic romp with too much sex, but I admit I didn’t notice its flaws while reading because I was spellbound by the leads’ unfaltering spirits and their stormy relationship.
After some suffocating years of detention on a prison ship, escaped convict Calandra Jones is determined to leave her old life behind and start anew. While searching for transportation in a tavern on the planet Arturia, she is abducted by Drago Chavez, an opportunistic trader, who intends to sell her off to the highest bidder. Disgusted by his greed and yet attracted to his charisma and strength, Calandra uses every trick in her female arsenal to change his mind.
Drago Chavez is a trader of goods just getting by, and Calandra is too good an opportunity to pass up. Her exquisite beauty will be his ticket into a more profitable market; if he can sell her at the planet’s most exclusive auction, his business will finally take off. Having sampled the goods first-hand, he knows her uninhibited sensuality and sexual experience will cast a spell over even the most finicky. And no matter Calandra’s protestations about freedom, every woman on Arturia would give anything to end up in a rich man’s harem, living a luxurious and pampered life. So, Drago cynically rationalizes, he’s actually doing her (and himself) a favor.
Both Calandra and Drago are strong, courageous, and flawed characters who know themselves well and learn of their own weaknesses and strengths the hard way. From the start, there are undercurrents of emotion between Drago and Calandra, a power struggle to gain the upper hand. Physical attraction and uninhibited, earthy sex gradually strengthen their bond.
Calandra had been convicted for an act of carelessness with tragic consequences, but no penance could have been harder, no condemnation tougher than her own. Life hasn’t been easy for her since, but she doesn’t allow it to steamroll her either. I loved that she never gives up, but makes the best of what life deals her. Drago is her adversary, but she quickly appreciates his intelligence and survival skills, which, in her eyes, far outweigh his apparent moral shortcomings. A mate like him wouldn’t need her for his survival, nor would his safety be at stake should she bungle up again.
Drago walks a fine line between being a repugnant trader of women and fighting his growing feelings. Because of a devastating disillusionment in his past, Drago has an iron will to make it in his new life, and Calandra is just a means to an end. But he comes to see beyond her external beauty and sex goddess skills. He is very aware of what she is up to – trying to turn the tables by making him her sex slave. Nevertheless he is helpless against her allure, for he knows that Calandra truly enjoys being with him.
The second part of the book has Drago and Calandra spending some time apart and so isn’t as mesmerizing, though it does offer some funny scenes. Also sort of comical are Drago and Calandra’s overactive libidos. They are constantly at it, needing no warm-up, and wanton, permanently willing Calandra would score high in any male fantasy! It is perhaps unfortunate that I was more amused by the sex galore than aroused, especially as this is Romantica, however, I didn’t mind too much. I was too busy savoring Drago and Calandra’s characters and their emotional relationship – which, after all, are the most important ingredients in any romance.
Days after finishing this book, Calandra and Drago still linger vividly in my mind. I find them so memorable because they are painfully honest and imperfect characters. They come together under the most unfavorable of circumstances and see the worst of each other. However, they also share a profound understanding and appreciation of each other when they finally fall in love. Now that’s romantic.