Dear Ms. Darby:
Reading Entry Level Mistress was like going out on a date with a fun guy, the sort you start thinking, “Hmmm… He seems pretty cool. I think I’d like to see him again.” And then, blam, over dessert, he says, “Let me pay for dinner. I wanna get lucky.”
I would have walked out on said date. I did, though utterly annoyed, finish Entry Level Mistress. I then had to wait a week or two to calm down before writing this review.
Let me explain why.
Entry Level Mistress is a self-pubbed work. It tells the familiar tale of gorgeous 21-year-old Emily Anderson and 31-year-old billionaire alpha male Daniel Hartman. Emily and Daniel have a long history together although, when the book begins, they haven’t seen each other in over a decade. Emily blames Daniel for sending her father to jail and Daniel blames Emily’s father for ruining his parents’ marriage. Now, Emily is newly graduated from college and set on revenge. She gets herself hired at mega-corporation Hartman Enterprises and plots Daniel’s–he’s the CEO–downfall.
Emily’s worked there for less than a week when Daniel sees her. She’s not sure he remembers her, but whether he does or not, he makes a play for her immediately.
I pushed my rolling chair back from the desk and stood, carefully not looking in his general direction. But I felt when his attention was on me again, or maybe that was my imagination. I crossed the few yards to the kitchen, wondered if not looking was too obvious, and spared a glance to my left. His hand was resting on the metal rim of another cubicle and his head was tilted down, but his gaze met mine.
Shock flooded my body. I struggled for control, forcing myself to play it cool. Then as if he were just another hot guy at art school or the barista at the local coffee house, I slanted him a smile and looked away, quickly hiding from the intense awareness. Three steps. Kitchen. Deep, deep sigh. What the hell was I doing? I pulled a paper cup out from the cupboard and started to fill it with water.
The light in the room dimmed infinitesimally. His polished black shoes were in my line of sight, as were the perfect hems of his tailored trousers. He was clearly a man who cared about his clothing.
“Emily Anderson, right?”
So he knew my name. Despite the relative ubiquity of Anderson as a last name, surely then, he knew that I was the daughter of his father’s old partner.
I straightened. Turned. Sent him that slanted smile. Up close he was nearly devastating. But he wasn’t smiling back. Maybe that intense expression meant something other than the desire I had read. Maybe I only knew how to read college boys, not mega-wealthy businessmen.
“That’s right,” I said lightly. Took a sip of water while watching him. “Newest employee at Hartmann Enterprises … Mr. Hartmann.”
His lips quirked. I almost held my breath, expecting that brief movement to stretch into his patented smirk, the one that had stared out at me from GQ. For goodness’ sake, he was a celebrity, or at least dated celebrities. And I was talking to him.
“Well, newest employee. I’m on my way out to lunch. Join me.”
And it’s lunch, then dinner, then charged sexual banter, and then, after the second date in which his chauffeur picks her up in a Bentley and delivers her to Daniel’s Charles Street brownstone, it’s blow-your-mind sex. After many earthshaking orgasms, Emily refuses to spend the night because she has to be at work, for Daniel, in the morning.
She does indeed head into work and before lunch, Daniel’s texted her to meet him on the 30th floor where he takes her up against the wall. After that knock-your-socks-off interchange, Emily asks him what their deal is going to be.
“Is this going to be a habit?” I asked.
He kissed an inch further up my bare thigh. Was he buying time? Trying to formulate just the right response? I had questions I wanted to ask him. Bold, honest questions that would cut to the quick of our past and our present. But I held my tongue, terrified at the idea. What if he said something that made it impossible for me to stay?
“Yes,” he said softly, his lips moving against my skin.
He stood and leaned closer, slowly stroking my neck. I leaned into his hand.
“And if I text you? Will you come running?”
Again, he hesitated, studying my face, running a thumb along the line of my jaw. What did he see in my expression? His was like a mask.
“I doubt it,” he said finally.
“And?” I prodded.
“You’re coming home with me tonight.”
My stomach clenched at his tone, tight with desire. Yes, I wanted that, but could I continue to let him have his way so easily? Get away with his arrogant admissions? I lifted my chin, raised an eyebrow.
“So this, it’s going to happen your way, everything? You text. I run. You pick me up, drop me off … ”
“I like the way that sounds,” he agreed, a small smirk on his lips, as if he knew there was no way in hell I or any other woman would go for that.
Emily becomes Daniel’s mistress/girlfriend/hookup. She keeps her job, but everyone she works with knows she screwing the boss. This book would have been a disaster for me if Emily cared about her job but she doesn’t.
Emily is a gifted sculptor who has already had two shows in galleries in Jamaica Plains. Come the fall, she’s headed to a prestigious fellowship at Barrows Farm artist’s colony. Her feeling is she does what she’s supposed to at work–earning that small paycheck fairly–so boning the boss isn’t unethical. As she and Daniel spend time together, in and out of bed, Emily (the novel’s narrator) muses on what sort of relationship they have and why. Is it for revenge? For the sex? Are they helping or hurting each other’s ability to move beyond the past?
I was entertained by the first 80% of this novel. When I saw the promo on the cover–A young artist. A ruthless billionaire. A passionate revenge.–I was sure I’d hate it and that it would be indistinctively dull. Instead, I liked it and it felt fairly fresh. Emily’s narration is smart, sassy, and plausibly filled with doubt about her choices. Daniel isn’t an alphahole; he too questions what he’s doing, whether he’s being fair to Emily, whether he’s behaving unforgivably to his other employees. They are a fun couple to read.
Ms. Darby does an excellent job of infusing her prose with palpable sexual tension. I like the way sex is described in this book: it’s hot, not crude, and offers just enough detail. Here, Emily and Daniel are in bed for the first time.
He wasn’t the first guy to go down on me. Despite what my eighth grade human development teacher warned our all-girls class about, boys these days know they need to at least make an attempt, even if most of those attempts are sloppy, aborted efforts. But this was way past try; this was a skilled manipulation of my body and I reveled in it. With each lick, each caress, he found the places that pleased me most and discovered the rhythm that turned pleasant into astonishing. I threw my head back on the bed and gave in to the rising tide, focused on that build, on the swirling colors of it, on—
I bucked against his mouth and hands uncontrollably, felt him move, hold onto my hips even as I shook and trembled. And then he was sliding over me, inside me, and I gasped at the sharp fullness of my highly sensitized body.
I was willing to accept the moral iffiness of their work/sex/power issues because both of them are clear about what they are doing, who has the power (mostly, but not all, Daniel), and how dangerous their relationship is to both of their well-beings. I was enjoying myself. And then, it happened.
(The rest of this review spells out the ending of the novel so I’ve hidden it.)
[spoiler]Emily and Daniel have, for the first time, unprotected sex after which Daniel for reasons that have nothing to do with the sex, breaks up with Emily. They part and then as Emily gets ready to go to her fellowship, she realizes she’s pregnant. This made me crazy. Why? Why throw in a baby plot here? The story didn’t need it and I disliked the way it took over the novel.
Weeks go by. Emily doesn’t tell Daniel. And she’s fairly sure she’s keeping the baby. She gives abortion a passing thought.
If anyone had asked me how I felt about terminating a pregnancy just a few months ago, when I was in college, I would have said it’s a viable option if the situation would ruin the mother’s life. Except, I’m the one who ruined everything. Not this … nascent life, which was causing small changes in my body that made denial, at least to myself, impossible anymore. I wasn’t a child and helpless. Yes, there would be sacrifices but …
Now, it’s not I think every woman who get pregnant in novels set in contemporary Massachusetts (a state with comparatively liberal abortion laws) should consider abortion. But there’s no way that Emily, as written by Ms. Darby, wouldn’t give it some serious thought. She’s 21, professionally successful, and–in what the reader sees of her–not religious. She’s comfortable with and very aware of her sexual self. She’s ruminated on the impact her relationship with Daniel might have on her career. I found her “I’m pregnant and that’s it” mentality almost impossible to square with the Emily in the rest of the novel.
Worse, when Emily is three months pregnant, Daniel finds out about the baby from her father and immediately comes to her side. He touches her stomach, tells her he loves her and wants to be there for her. After some unbelievable “No, I won’t be with you just for our baby” talk, Emily realizes Daniel is the life for her. Not just the man, the life.
This kiss, this love, was no game.
And I was twenty-one, pregnant with his child, just beginning to discover my own purpose in life.
“Make me the happiest man,” he murmured against my lips. He sounded happy, lighter, the way I felt inside….”
Later she says with awe in her voice, “Emily Hartman.” And the ending seems like that really is it for her. Here again, I don’t mind when a happy ending is marriage and babies. What I mind is when that ending feels wrong. I felt as if I’d been reading one novel and then, boom, there’s a baby and everything yields to its natal sway.
Maybe it’s because I have kids Emily’s age, maybe it’s because I, who am a wife and mother, think I’d be miserable if those two things were all that defined me. All I can tell you is I hated the ending of this book with a passion.[/spoiler]
I don’t know how to grade this book because it’s possible the loathing I have for this book’s resolution is my problem. I enjoyed the first 80%. I’m giving it a C because I’m sure had I had a different response to the ending, I’d have given it a B-.
Still somewhat irate,