Exposed to You
The first chapter of Exposed to You is so wildly erotic and intriguing I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to see how great erotica is written. The rest of the book, however, does not live up to the promise of the first twenty-one pages.
The book opens with Joy Hightower, a rather private young woman who teaches art to gifted high school students, walking on to the movie set of an upcoming blockbuster fantasy film, Maritime. She’s come at the call of her uncle Seth who heads the makeup department. He’s understaffed and needs Joy, a talented makeup artist in her own right, to finish a tattoo for him. Joy listens to his request in a bit of a daze. She’s just come from a doctor’s appointment where she’s been told she has metastatic B-cell lymphoma. Joy agrees to help out and finds herself painting on the torso of a gorgeous creature – the top half of his face is completely covered by a mask and more makeup. The man’s body is stunning, and as Joy begins to paint his abdomen, she becomes aroused. He, only wearing very minimal stretchy briefs, does too. The atmosphere between the two of them becomes saturated with desire and by the time she finishes the tattoo, Joy longs to touch him intimately. She does – with his permission; she doesn’t know his name – and the two share the most erotic experience of their lives. They agree to meet at the end of the shoot but the man – the reader knows he is Everett Hughes, the star of the film – doesn’t show and Joy walks off the set and into “the reality of a harsh world.”
Fourteen months later, Joy has left LA, moved to Chicago, gotten over her cancer, and is teaching at a new school. One day, she’s having coffee with two of her colleagues, Max and Sarah, when Sarah gasps. The world’s most famous movie star – Everett Hughes – has just walked into the cafe. He’s in town for the Chicago screening of Maritime. It’s not until he walks straight up to Joy, calling her name, and reminding her that they’ve met before – “You gave me the starburst tattoo.” – that Joy realizes she’d gone down on Everett Hughes. (“I thought he was an extra,” she tells her friends as he stares at her.) Everett asks Joy if he can speak with her alone and asks her why she never met him. The two realize they both waited for hours at different places on the set. Everett asks her to be his date at the Chicago premiere of his movie – it’s the number one film in the country – and Joy, despite thinking he is literally out of her world, agrees.
The two begin sexual relationship almost immediately, one in which Everett calls the shots. Joy keeps her cancer diagnosis a secret from Everett – she’s told almost no one about her past illness – a choice that allows her to keep a part of herself separate from the tsunami of desire and need that Everett overwhelms her with. Everett is obsessed with Joy; she brings something to his world that his fame, looks, money, and talent do not. He’s not even sure what that is, he just knows he wants Joy more than he’s ever wanted anything. I found his focus on her somewhat unbelievable and at times, a little creepy. He knows Joy has put up barriers against him, and for most of the book, he uses his sexual power, talent, and dominance to break down her defenses. This trade-off could have been interesting – Joy has the power in the emotional part of their relationship while Everett has the power in bed – but it didn’t quite work for me. Joy’s power comes from a stubborn refusal to let anyone get close to her because she rationalizes, if her cancer comes back and she dies, it would be too painful for those who care for her. This frustrated me because it is clear her distance is just as painful for those around her – her Uncle, her friends, and Everett. She’s not strong as much as she is fortified by fear.
I also found Everett hard to connect to. He’s the world’s biggest star, handsome beyond belief, a perfect brother, Tantrically fantastic in bed, lovely to all – I just didn’t buy him as remotely real. He is the stuff of fantasies and seemed out of place in this love story which is grounded in Joy’s every day life. He and Joy, well, that relationship would only ever exist in fiction.
As I think back on reading Exposed to You, what I recall the most is being impatient. There’s lots of sex, but with the exception of the fabulous blowjob, the sex scenes seem slow and almost too clinically described. Outside of the sex, not much happens. Joy pulls away, Everett uses sex to pull her close, the reader keeps wondering when on earth she’s going to tell this man she’ll let do anything to her that, hey, she’s a recent cancer survivor and still a little freaked out from the whole “I realized I could die” experience. I appreciated her fear, but couldn’t become invested in her happiness or future with Everett.
I have enjoyed Ms. Kerry’s other works – Sweet Restraint is one of my favorite erotic novels. Exposed to You didn’t engage me or arouse me in the way that other Kerry works have. Except for that first chapter. That is worth reading.