REVIEW: By His Desire by Kate Grey
Dear Ms. Grey,
I don’t have a clue who you are. Your book By His Desire is currently the third best-selling erotica and the twenty-eighth best selling contemporary on Amazon’s eBook list; it appears to be the first book you’ve published. By His Desire, currently going for 99¢, is actually a novella, and is worth every penny. In fact, I’d say it’s a steal. It’s my favorite erotica I’ve read this year. Your book is a winning combination of sex, sweetness, and bite. By His Desire is a lovely, deceptively elegant book. So, whomever you are, well done. And, please, keep writing!
I loved the setup of this tale. Keith Logan has, his whole life, been good-looking, smart, and obscenely rich. He breezed through high school as the coolest, hottest guy in class. Every girl wanted to be his, every guy wanted to be him. The only person Keith couldn’t get was, of course, the only one he really wanted: Sarah Harper. She shied away from him every time he approached her. Ten years after graduation, he still can’t stop thinking about her, so when her portrait, painted by her famous artist dad, comes up to auction, Keith drops a million bucks, and goes every day to stare at it as it hangs in MOMA for one last month-long showing.
The portrait had been painted by her father, the famous artist, and he had captured his subject perfectly. Sarah had looked exactly like this in high school. Beautiful and intelligent, with a face like eager flame behind a veneer of shyness.
He’d never been able to break through that shyness. All his life, his money and good looks had been enough to charm everyone he’d ever met…except for Sarah. She was the only girl who’d ever haunted his dreams, and he’d never made a dent in her reserve. During the four years they’d gone to high school together he could hardly get her to talk to him, much less go out with him.
One night, as the museum is closing, Keith turns to leave and sees, standing in the middle of the gallery, the literal girl of his dreams. For her part, Sarah is completely freaked out to see Keith.
Sarah’s body flushed hot, as though she’d stepped under a heat lamp. Keith Logan was standing just a few yards away. She recognized him immediately, even though it had been ten years since she last saw him.
Her first instinct was to run and hide, as if she were a little girl instead of a grown woman. Her eyes actually went to the exits, as if she were planning her getaway.
Then she took a deep breath. What was she thinking? She needed to pull herself together and go say hello.
And she would. Any second now.
Move, feet. Move.
If she’d been prepared to see him, she would have taken the time to put on emotional layers of protection—enough to cultivate a polite, relaxed demeanor and a friendly smile. But as it was, she felt awkward and exposed, as if she were back in high school again with a secret crush on the most unattainable guy on the planet.
Her palms were actually sweating.
There’s just something about the hottest guy secretly jonesing for the shy nerdy girl that works for me every time. Keith, whose sassy assistant has just told him to for God’s sake do something that would actually make him happy, decides Sarah is going out to dinner with him come hell or high water. He hustles her out of MOMA before she can muster a good reason to say no, and finally finally gets the date with her he’s always wanted… which she seems ready to escape from as soon as she can. That shyness Keith thought was a choice of Sarah’s in high school is actually a serious social anxiety disorder and while she’s made great strides with the help of a good therapist over the past few years, she’s still acutely uneasy around most people. She’s especially unnerved by Keith whom she’s always longed for and whom she’s always believed thinks she’s a dolt.
Keith is determined to somehow connect to Sarah and so he asks her why she sold her portrait. Sarah, more animated than he’s ever seen her, tells him her father who had Alzheimer’s, left his entire estate to her step-mother. Sarah says she’d never have sold the piece, it means the world to her, but her stepmother apparently values cash over compassion. When Sarah tells him this, Keith gets an idea. Rather like the Grinch, he gets an awful idea.
She glanced up at him, admiring the way the candlelight drew out a gleam in his blue eyes. In this light they looked almost navy.
“What if I told you there was a way you could have that painting?”
For a moment she just stared at him. What could he possibly…
“If you’re thinking about giving it to me, just forget it. There’s no way, and I mean none, that I would let you do that. I didn’t tell you all that stuff about my family to make you feel sorry for me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
She sounded almost fierce when she made that little speech, and Keith raised his eyebrows.
“I wasn’t thinking that. And I’m not planning on giving you the portrait. Far from it.”
She frowned. “I can’t afford to pay you a million, and selling it to me for what I could afford—maybe ten thousand, if I’m lucky—would be the same as giving it to me for free. I’m not your charity case, Keith.”
He leaned forward across the table towards her. “The museum has the portrait for one more week. When the week is up, I’ll have the painting delivered to you. I’ll transfer ownership to you legally. It will be yours.”
“I told you, Keith, I—”
“Don’t you want to hear my price before you reject it?”
She sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “Fine.”
“In exchange, for one week, you’ll live with me in my house. During the day, you can do whatever you want. There’s a gym, an indoor pool, a library, a home theater. There’s a study where you can write, and I have a chef who’ll cook you anything you want to eat. But at night…” he paused for a moment. “At night, you have to do whatever I want.”
After a moment of utter shock, Sarah says yes and Keith, after a moment of utter shock, says he’ll send a car for her the next afternoon. If this were a story of a young woman being blackmailed into sex, I wouldn’t be hollering its praises. But it’s not. Sarah says yes because she’s always wanted Keith and been too terrified to ever even talk to him. For her, to be in his bed, where he’s in charge and she doesn’t have to do a thing, is the perfect way for her to finally be with the guy of her dreams. And while Keith may be—and boy does this work for Sarah—in charge at night, Sarah, freed by the wildness Keith unleashes in her in bed, realizes she can, during the day, push their relationship into something more than just super hot, slightly kinky sex.
If there’s a problem with By His Desire, it’s that it’s too damn brief. Keith and Sarah are interesting, complex characters and their affair enables both to shed the lonely limits they’ve lived within their whole lives. Their relationship needs more than 20,000 words to do it justice. I believed in their story, but I would have found it more compelling had I gotten more exposure to their inner lives. I read these lines, where Keith is musing about his favorite work of art, Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” and I just wanted more.
The painting had been done in 1942. It showed a diner late at night with three customers, a man sitting on his own and a couple sitting together. The guy behind the counter was talking to the couple.
Sarah had asked him why that painting was his favorite, and he’d hadn’t answered her.
He’d seen the painting for the first time when he was eleven or twelve, and even back then he’d identified with the man sitting on his own. He didn’t look unhappy or lonely, or anything like that. He looked cool and solitary and complete within himself.
He looked content.
Now his eyes moved to the couple. They looked relaxed and easy, like they’d been together a long time. Like they belonged together.
They looked happy.
For the first time, he wondered what it would be like to identify with the man in the couple instead of the man sitting alone.
This is an erotic novella and I can see readers–inundated with the tsunami of 50SoG–thinking this is a BDSM book. I don’t see it as such. It’s true when it comes to sex, Keith gives the commands. He likes velvet cuffs, silken blindfolds, and spanking Sarah into sexual bliss. But, even in their first week, Sarah asserts herself and there’s not a thing Keith does to her that doesn’t send her blasting off into her own pleasure planet. If this is BDSM, it’s the sweetest I’ve ever read. To me, the sex between Keith and Sarah seemed perfect for them and arousing to read. It’s fair to say I think it worked for all parties concerned.
So, Ms. Grey, nice novella. I hope to see more of your work. You’ve written a terrific first effort. I just wish it had been longer. I give it a B.