It’s not a secret that your work can be hit or miss for me – the previous book, Bad Influence, which I reviewed here was a little disappointing. But when your books work for me they really work. I admit I’ve had a soft spot for David “Beach” Beauchamp ever since Bad Attitude (another book which didn’t work so well for me.) Beach and Gavin Montgomery (from Bad Attitude) are best friends. Beach is always getting into trouble and Gavin is always bailing him out of it. At the very beginning of the Gavin’s book, *spoiler alert*, Beach takes a header off a bridge and ends up in a coma in hospital and at the end, he draws Gavin into another scrape and ends up with a broken leg and a criminal trespass charge hanging over his head.
Beach is wealthy and he behaves like nothing touches him. He’s Mr. Teflon. His mother lives in Europe somewhere and has no contact with him, his father escaped to live in exile in Venezuela (rather than face criminal charges for sex offenses) when David was a teen and he was subsequently raised by a brutal sneering uncle. David is a fuck up and that’s all he will ever be. When David mouthed off, his uncle would have him cut a switch from a peach tree and beat him with it to “teach him a lesson”. After Gavin and Beach met at boarding school, and Gavin witnessed this treatment on a home visit, Beach stayed with Gavin and his family for the holidays. Gavin and Beach fooled around a bit at school but for 20 years they have been best friends only. So in many ways Beach has been an outsider all his life, someone who is “not good enough” and that type of character strikes a chord in me. He does silly things to get attention but ultimately, his goal is acceptance and love. The reason he dived off the bridge, the reason he trespassed on private property, was to find an object he believed would exonerate his father. His father would then be a) able to come home and b) realise that Beach was worthy after all. Of course it’s not that simple and what Beach has been told about his father’s alleged offenses is a much sanitised version.
At the start of Bad Influence, David is some weeks away from his hearing on the criminal trespass charges and is facing jail time. This terrifies him. Because of his history of substance and alcohol abuse, the judge who granted him bail, ordered that Beach wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts and which also has an ethanol detector. He is to remain drug and alcohol free while on pre-trial probation, he cannot leave the county and he must abide by a strict curfew. He is subject to random drug and alcohol tests. He is not long out of hospital. The break to his leg was serious – he broke his shin bone and then got a bone infection and now has a plate holding his leg together. He walks with a cane and is in a fair amount of pain. In many ways, the events of Bad Influence began a change in David and by the start of his own book, he is at a turning point.
David is at a bar where he is deliberately not drinking. He really is terrified of jail and has been sober for weeks. The only buzz open to him is the one he gets from sex and picking up a guy in a bar is less work than picking up a girl. He sees a built dark haired man with a goatee, with brown skin and tattoos and feels a zing of attraction in his spine (and elsewhere) but the guy doesn’t respond to Beach’s world famous come on smile. Beach is about to leave in self-disgust and dismay but takes a trip to the men’s room first. His mystery man comes in and makes it clear that he calls the shots – Beach doesn’t set the time, the place or the rules. David is captivated and turned on beyond belief. After that experience he wants it again and again.
He is very surprised when the next day he attends his regular meeting with a new probation officer (the old one is up on charges relating to teenage girls and alcohol) to find that the hot guy from the bar that rocked his world is his new PO, Tai Fonoti. Tai, is of course, horrified. Tai takes immediate steps to switch David to another PO but I think this could well be a stumbling block for some readers. Tai acknowledges that as an officer of the court he ought not be in a relationship with David but after a while and because reasons, he goes ahead anyway. There don’t appear to be any real consequences to this decision. I was able to overlook it because Tai changed David to another PO quick smart and because I wanted David to be happy. If readers don’t find David as charming and brokenly vulnerable as I did, those may not be sufficient reasons to give it a pass.
Tai is in some ways a mirror of Beach. He too is lonely and craves a sense of belonging. He is not rich and he was raised by a loving mother. (His Samoan father died when he was a baby.) Tai has a daughter, Sammie, who, it turned out, was not biologically his and so even though he is still included in Sammie’s life and gets to see her regularly, she is not “his” in quite the same way. (Sammie was conceived when he and his friend Gina had a drunken hookup after her boyfriend left her – Sammie turned out to be Josh’s baby. It was Tai in the delivery room when Sammie was born and who raised her (with Gina as co-parents not in a relationship) for the first three years of her life.) Tai doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends and this was something which bothered me a little in the story. The other important female in Tai’s life is Jezebel, a rottweiler whom he rescued from doggie death row after a dog fighting ring was broken up. He patiently spent weeks and months retraining Jezebel to be safe around his daughter. David draws explicit parallels between himself and Jez – in the way they both respond to him and bloom under his loving attention and discipline – but David is never treated like a child or a dog by Tai.
Tai came across as someone who was desperately lonely and so was David. Tai quickly recognises in David’s desperately people-pleasing nature and in the way that David responds to him sexually, that David is a submissive. This is something which blows David’s mind because he knows nothing about BDSM and has never previously been interested in exploring it. He is, in fact, only interested in exploring it if Tai comes with the package. Tai is a Dom. It’s not just his preference in getting off, it’s who he is. That’s how David sees him.
This book is full of the kinky sex and domestic discipline. The sex is plentiful and plenty hot. Much of the story of their relationship is played out in their scenes. While there is a lot of sex, it is not there merely for titillation. As erotic romance does, it uses sex to tell the story. It is not an add on which could be skimmed over as unnecessary. The D/s relationship also provides a mechanism for both to talk honestly to one another and David finds himself having deep conversations and learning about himself in new ways. I very much feel that it was a combination of the right time and the right guy. If Tai had come into the picture even six months earlier, I don’t think David would have been ready for him. And for that reason, I was able to buy into the HEA. David made changes independently of Tai and also because of Tai. He did it clearly and openly and not without some pain. Both Tai and David had a need to belong to someone and they found that in the other. That, again, is something which resonates with me powerfully and I’m just a sucker for that kind of “you and me against the world” thing. They also get along well as friends and, as much as their story was often told through sex, that’s not their only connection.
I liked that Tai’s Samoan/African American heritage was part of the story without being all “look at me being all multicultural!” – Tai’s heritage played a part in the story and was necessary to the book without being fetishized. (I acknowledge however I am far from expert on this.) I liked that David was genuinely bisexual. He referred to his sexuality as being “a la carte” – he liked variety and he would choose from whatever “menu” was available. As a rich, charming and good looking man, he had a lot to choose from. Until he meets Tai, David’s sex life has been very superficial and about chasing pleasure to tamp down fear, anger or hurt – or just to get a buzz. My sense was that David was perhaps a four on the Kinsey Scale but once Tai and David are in a relationship, David’s attraction is all for Tai. When Tai is venting to a friend later in the book, I liked the way the narrative took a not-so-subtle dig at stereotypes without becoming didactic or preachy.
Tai stood and walked to the pool again. “I’m not the one with commitment issues. He can’t even commit to a gender to fuck.”
“That’s grim. I thought Samoans were the happy people of Polynesia.”
“What the fuck—” Tai bit off the rant as he caught on to Nic’s point. “So it’s a generalization. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“Or that it is. Has he been pining for feminine company?”
“Not that he’s mentioned.” Tai played back their breakfast outing. David’s eyes hadn’t strayed much from Tai’s face.
“Then it appears the only thing standing in your way is you. Stop thinking about what could go wrong and enjoy what’s going right.”
The book isn’t perfect. I questioned the fact that, apart from Nic, Tai didn’t appear to have any friends and there was the “don’t fuck a probie” thing as well. Also, while the BDSM stuff was generally very well discussed and done in a very safe sane and consensual way, I would have liked just one more conversation between David and Tai about a 24/7 domestic discipline relationship, which is what they appeared to be heading to if they weren’t doing it already. They never discussed their significant financial disparity. Also, it was very fast. (When, later in the book there’s a reference to it only being “three and a half weeks” since they’d met I was, frankly, shocked. It felt much longer than that.) I loved it anyway.
I learned to trust Tai’s control and patience not only from being in his head but from watching him take care of David and respond immediately and appropriately when David safeworded out of a Scene. The dynamic between the two men was lovely to me. The give and take and mutuality of their relationship was very clear. Even though David wanted Tai to discipline him and take charge, David actually became a more responsible person as a result of it. Not because David lacked agency in any way – rather because in “belonging” to Tai he found a stability and a sense of… foundation from which he could act. Tai treated him like an adult and in some ways, this is a first for David and he is inspired to be more. Tai’s own vulnerability and dependence on David is not discounted either. Even though Tai was the Dom, the relationship seemed strangely equal to me because of the constant feedback loop they were in – each depending on and giving to and taking from the other in the best of ways.
I know the book hit a few of my personal hot buttons in terms of tropes and personalities that I fall for every time. I know the book isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, I bought into it hook, line and sinker and I was convinced by the HEA. I was thinking of giving it a B+ but I’ve talked myself into an A- in writing this review. It’s right up there with my favourites of your books and I know it will be a definite re-read. Bad Behavior is an example of why you are an auto-buy for me and why, even though not all of your books are successful for me, I don’t think I will ever quit reading your work.