Falling in Deeper
Nowadays, it feels as if half of the romances getting published are part of a series. While some authors do a fairly good job of making sure that their books can be enjoyed as standalones, some rely too heavily on characters and events from the previous books to drive the story forward. Falling in Deeper, the eleventh book in Shayla Black’s Wicked Lovers series, falls into the latter category. Readers interested in this series should not start here.
When Stone Sutter was in college, he and a couple of buddies executed an email and money laundering scam to pay off their student loans. For his part in the crime, Stone spent twenty-two months in prison until he was temporarily released at the request of Jack Cole, an ex-Special Forces soldier and the owner of a military consulting and personal security firm. Jack needed Stone’s talents as a hacker to solve a client’s cybersecurity problems. While working for Jack, Stone met Misty Smith aka Sweet Pea, a receptionist working in a BDSM nightclub owned by Jack’s friend Mitchell Thorpe.
But Misty is not who she says she is. Her real name is Lily Taylor. Seven years ago, she witnessed the rape and murder of her best friend Erin by local businessman and drug dealer Timothy Canton. When Lily agreed to testify against Canton, Canton had Lily’s mother and little brother brutally killed. Lily changed her name and fled to Dallas, where a chance meeting with Mitchell Thorpe landed her a job at his nightclub. Over the next several years, Mitchell Thorpe and Sean Mackenzie, with whom Mitchell shares wife Callie, became Lily’s staunchest protectors.
As Falling in Deeper opens, Stone Sutter is feeling pressured by FBI Special Agent Bob Bankhead. With Timothy Canton eyeing the governorship of California, the FBI is desperate to put him away. So Agent Bankhead offers Stone a deal. If Stone can get close to Lily and convince her to testify against Canton, the FBI will commute his prison sentence for good. In order to win the trust of Lily, who is a Submissive, Stone goes under the tutelage of Jack Cole and Logan Edgington, the brother-in-law of Jack’s business partner Deke, to become a Dominant.
If at this point you are wondering why I am rattling off a bunch of names, and what do these people all have to do with the story, then you have a pretty good idea of my experience with this book. Every character that appeared or will appear in the Wicked Lovers series is mentioned along with the names of their spouses and the nature of their relationship – same sex marriages, ménage à trois, etc. Important events such as how Lily and Stone first met and how Canton murdered Erin, on the other hand, are either not given or glossed over. Sifting through all the extraneous information to piece together Lily’s and Stone’s backstories was exhausting.
Once I finally settled into the story, I found myself constantly rolling my eyes at the various improbable scenarios. The FBI needs a witness to testify against a criminal? Get an ex-criminal to romance the witness, never mind if such testimony will stand up in court. The CEO of a personal security firm needs help solving a client’s cybersecurity problems? Get an ex-con released from prison and grant him access to servers housing the personal information of thousands of clients.
The characters here conveniently have ties to so many law enforcement agencies that they can pretty much do whatever the heck they want; such as hacking into people’s credit card accounts or obtaining information on on-going police investigations. In addition to Jack, Stone also has access to a sniper, a former MI5 agent, and an ex-FBI agent, all of whom are more than willing to help him violate all kinds of laws and get away with it.
To say that the central romance is underdeveloped is an understatement. We know that Stone thinks Lily is hot, with her tiny waist and pinup attire, and that Lily finds Stone’s tattoos and chiseled abs swoon-worthy. Beyond that, all we get is a couple of sex scenes and all of a sudden Lily and Stone are in love. To be fair, the sex scenes, taken individually, are quite well-written. But what I can’t get past is the recurring theme that Dominant/Submissive sex is the be-all-and-cure all. In order to get Lily to testify, Stone needs to build trust with Lily in a matter of days. His solution? Force Lily to confront her tragic past through Dominant/Submissive sex. I find this kind of manipulation disturbing, especially with Stone insisting that there’s nothing wrong with his methods because his attraction to Lily is real. Likewise, we find out that for the last couple of years, Lily has maintained a Dom/Sub relationship with a man named Axel. Because of Lily’s past, she naturally has some hang-ups about sex, so Mitchell and Sean assigned Axel to be Lily’s protector. From what I can gather, Axel’s responsibility is to make Lily feel good through sexual activities. Granted, I don’t know that much about Dominant/Submissive sex. But sex as replacement for professional therapy? And of course, once the right guy comes along, all of Lily’s hang-ups are miraculously resolved within days. Before Stone can get into Lily’s pants, though, he had to ask for Sean and Jack’s permission. Just how creepy is it to have a bunch of grown men controlling and knowing every intimate detail about your sex life?
When I first started this review, I wasn’t planning on assigning the book a letter grade. Not having read the previous books in the series, and not having had much experience with BDSM-themed books, I didn’t want to judge the novel too harshly. Having now finished it, however, I realize that no amount of experience with BDSM-themed books would have made me give it a passing grade. A manipulative hero, extremely implausible scenarios, and a tepid romance based on lies and deception all add up to a book that I cannot recommend. Unless you are already a fan of this series, you’d do well to skip this one.