Dear Ms. Ashley:
I was on Twitter a few days ago, and author Carly Phillips mentioned Knight by Kristen Ashley as being “50 Shades-ish”. While 50 Shades did not work for me, I adored Bared to You by Sylvia Day, and I’m a sucker for a serious alpha-hole, so I decided to buy the book.
Anya Gage is a twenty-seven year old woman working multiple jobs while studying at beauty school. One day, she’ll open the best spa in Denver, but for now, she’s got very little to her name. One of Anya’s closest friends, Sandrine, is in the market for a rich man, which explains how Anya got to a party at Nick Sebring’s house. Nick is an ass. He’s arrogant, untrustworthy and a sleazeball. The party is full of drunks and people who are high as kites. Anya’s had enough and goes to find Sandrine, who is in a clinch with Nick out on the deck. When Anya informs Sandrine it’s time to go home, Sandrine breaks the cardinal rule, and sends Anya home alone (but not before Nick can proposition her for a three-way). Anya goes to find her coat and get her cell phone so she can call a cab and bumps into a big man, who is clearly furious about the party being held in what must be his home, as well as Anya stepping into his room to improve her out of date phone’s cell reception. The man is Knight, and he takes one look at Anya and announces he’ll be driving her home. Anya protests, but loses the argument. Knight only gets more upset when he sees the state of the apartment building Anya lives in. He chastises Anya for taking risks with her safety, and after checking her apartment to be sure no one was in it, leaves.
The next day, Anya comes home to find various repairs being made to her apartment building, and even more disconcerting, a package for her containing a very expensive new cell phone and a message from Knight, “Anya, no woman should be without a functioning cell.” Anya is thrilled and freaked out at the same time. She knows that Knight is a no nonsense kind of guy, and she’s extremely wary of getting involved with him. She promptly sends back the phone with a “thanks, but no thanks” message. Knight shows up the next night, and forces the phone on Anya. She finally capitulates and wonders why Knight is so insistent about taking care of a woman who is a total stranger to him.
A few nights later, she ends up at Slade, the hottest club in Denver. She’s informed by her friend, Vivica, that Knight owns the club. To Anya’s dismay, Nick Sebring is there. He’s furious with Sandrine, who has been texting and calling him incessantly since they hooked up. He puts hands on her, and Anya intervenes. Nick agrees to let Sandrine go, but Anya has to have a drink with him. Anya agrees in order to diffuse the situation, but she’s terrified. Nick got very scary in the moments where he was accosting Sandrine. Just as Anya orders her water, trying to decide how best to get through the drink with Nick, Nick is grabbed by bouncers and escorted from the club. Knight, who Anya now knows is Nick’s brother, swoops in a pulls her away.
“What…the fuck…is the matter with you?” he asked slowly, his voice still vibrating, the fury still radiating and I blinked.
I didn’t do anything.
And I thought he should know that and not mistake it.
So I yelled it, leaning towards him and everything.
“I didn’t do anything!”
He came at me fast. I retreated, not as fast. I hit something, went into a freefall and my bottom landed sideways in a chair, back to a cushioned armrest, legs over the other one. Knight leaned over me, one hand on the top back of the chair, one hand in the seat beside me, face an inch from mine.
God, God, God, he was scaring the hell out of me.
Why was he angry? At me!
“You put on that dress, didn’t you?” he whispered and it was sinister.
“What?” I whispered back.
“You…do not…leave your house…dressed like that…without being on the arm of a man like me,” he ground out on a terrifying staccato with scary pauses.
“A man like you?” I whispered.
“A man who’d shoot another man in the face if he even looked at you. Yeah, Anya, a man…like…me.” [Kindle location 1332 – 1346]
It is then that Anya begins to understand the controlling nature of Knight. He is a big, burly, strong man, and one who is clearly dominant about every aspect of his life. She really wants no part of a man who scares her the way he does. And yet, she capitulates when he asks her lunch. When she gets to lunch, he lays it out pretty clearly for her. He’s really interested in her, and he expresses it by a combination of intimidation and sweetness that woos her, against her better judgment, into staying.
Being with Knight is not for the fainthearted and he lays out his preferences in precise terms:
“Okay, Anya babe, before I take you home to my bed, it’s important you get me,“ he said quietly.
I stared at him and when he didn’t go on, I nodded.
“I think you get from the times you’ve been with me that I like control,” he went on.
Well I got that all right.
I nodded again.
“Right.” His arms gave me a squeeze then one hand slid lightly up my arm causing goose bumps the entire way until it went over my shoulder and finally stopped at my neck where he curled his fingers around. Then he dipped his face close to mine. “What you need to get is I…like…control. In all things.”
“Okay.” I whispered.
“So, I tell my woman not to drink, she doesn’t drink. I tell her not to dance, she doesn’t dance. I do these for my own reasons and you comply. You don’t, you answer to me. You put one of my boys out, you again answer to me. And, baby, you don’t want to answer to me.”
This I did not like.
“Knight – “
His hand at my neck clenched gently and his face dipped closer. “I won’t hurt you. I would never hurt you. Not the way you’re thinking. But I would make you pay and how you’d pay might involve pain.”
Oh my God.
“What?” I breathed.
“An example, you got this, you knew it before now, you told Kurt you were gonna dance anyway, right now you’d be over my knees a different way. Do you get me?”
Oh. My. God!
My body went still.
Knight pulled it closer. “The punishment will fit the crime, Anya. Not lasting, no marks and it won’t go on for hours. And after, always, I’ll take care of you. Tonight, you look good, that dress looks good on you and men’s eyes were on you. I didn’t like that. In your section, they can look, they can see, they cannot get close. On the dance floor, they see more, you movin’ the way you do when you dance, you give them more to see and they can get close. You’re mine. No one touches what’s mine, gets close to what’s mine, they don’t even think about it. You on that dance floor, I saw them watching you and I knew they were thinking about it. That bothered me. I stopped it. If you don’t get it now, you will that I won’t ask you to do something you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable. I’ll only ask you to do shit or not do shit that’s important to me. If I’m important to you, you’ll do it. And all this is the same when we’re in bed.”
[Kindle location 2923-2950]
As Anya and Knight embark on their relationship, we see him provide more and more for her. Knight is extremely wealthy, and he insists on providing things for Anya that are beyond her means. While she offers resistance occasionally, more often she takes the gifts. She becomes quite dependent on him, and does fall in love with him. But as Knight’s professional life intersects with Anya’s, will she be able to accept all that he is?
This book worked for me on one level, and failed for me on several others. The romance between Knight and Anya once it got going was, for the most part, relatively vanilla. He’s dominant, and their love scenes did occasionally have soft elements of BDSM in them, but the scenes were not the kind that exercised my comfort level. With one strong exception: Knight insists that she call him “Daddy” while they’re having sex. My supposition is that this is a way of exercising dominance over Anya, but for me, it rang of an inappropriate father/daughter thing, and was something that made me skim over some of the love scenes for that alone.
Knight does control most aspects of their relationship, providing a posh, lavish life for Anya, who had nothing, the phone, a Mercedes, more clothes than she knows what to do with – he provide it all. Sadly, there are no emails between the two of them a la Fifty Shade of Grey. I guess Daddy doesn’t email.
It’s a fantasy life for Anya, and one I enjoyed reading about, until we learn more about Knight’s profession. Slightly more than 80% through the book, Knight comes clean to Anya about his “other” profession. Knight is a pimp. He has fifty-seven women who work for him, and he took them from his “silent” partner when he first set up his club because they were being mistreated. Knight tells Anya:
“We clashed. I made moves. Got him out. Then rebuilt and grew his empire, such as it was. Girls that weren’t clean, I got them clean. Girls who didn’t wanna be in the life, I left them go. He had forty-two girls. I have more because they come to me. And they don’t got track marks or habits, I take them on. I take their backs. They take clients they wanna fuck, Rhashan and Kathleen make arrangements, they do what they want, only what they want and a man tried for more, we make certain he knows we’re not down with that and that message is delivered crystal clear. That’s our reputation, I made it that way so that shit does not happen and my girls go out safe.” [Kindle location 6211]
He also tells Anya that it’s just business, and he doesn’t mix his home life and his business life. And she accepts it.
And here is where I get off the train.
Up until this point, I’d thought that the romance was over the top, but a decently entertaining read. I thought Anya was a pushover, and that Knight offered her something that I would never be able to accept, but the story itself kept my interest, and I was rooting for the couple to make it. But I could not accept the hero’s profession. And I lost any slight respect I had for the heroine when she did. Because here’s the thing – she doesn’t kick up a fuss, she doesn’t get angry, and she doesn’t push back at him about the lack of morality it takes for one human to sell another, under any circumstance. Oh no, Anya tells him that she loves him and accepts him, and tra-la-la, we’re on to the happy ending.
Really? Really? How do you come back from that? How do you redeem a hero who is an actual purveyor of human flesh? Well, you don’t. Despite a very unicorns and rainbows epilogue from the author, any credibility the heroine had in my eyes was lost when she blithely accepted the hero’s profession and moved on with her life. I was outraged by it, and still am.
In the end, while many of the elements of the building love story worked for me, I was unable to get past what I found to be a fatal flaw in Knight. On some level, even through my incredulity over what I was reading, I still thought, “Wow, bold choice” about the author’s decision. In the end, the heroine’s complete lack of reaction to the hero’s profession, and the fact that nowhere after the revelation does it address whether Knight gave up the profession (why would he? The heroine clearly doesn’t care that her man is selling women) make Knight an unsuccessful romance for me.
Final grade: D-