REVIEW: Her Claim by Rebecca Grace Allen
Dear Rebecca Grace Allen,
I read and liked His Contract a couple years ago so when you reached out to me and offered a review copy of Her Claim, the second book in the Legally Bound series, I was happy to accept. Overall, Her Claim was more successful for me than the earlier book, even though there were a couple of things which I was unsure about.
Your author note at the beginning gives a content warning: there’s consensual non-consent (aka rape fantasy), some breath play (don’t try this at home) and other scenes of violence which may be triggering or troubling to some readers. So the story will not be for everyone.
Patrick Dunham is Jack Archer’s best friend (he’s the hero from His Contract). Patrick first met Cassie Allbright after Jack and Lilly started hooking up and the sparks flew from the beginning. At first, both just thought they hated one another. But it was obvious that there was more to it than that. Patrick is wealthy, seemingly uncaring about much in life except his pleasures. He hooks up with women all the time, but only for one night. Cassie despises that about him. For his part, Patrick thinks Cassie is stuck up and uptight. She’s ballsy and tough and he has a constant urge to get a rise out of her. They’ve been dancing around their unspoken attraction for about nine months by the time the story begins.
I admit I had a little discomfort with Patrick initially thinking to himself that Cassie was a “bitch”. I don’t mind the hero using the word in consensual sex play (which does later occur) but at the time it felt not at all playful, even though it was an internal thought rather than something he actually said out loud. I decided to reserve judgement to see where his journey would take him – it was very early in the book after all. Even though I didn’t like that he ever though that way about Cassie, he switches his mindset quite quickly thereafter so I moved past it.
The dissatisfaction ate at him, like an itch he couldn’t scratch. It shouldn’t have mattered—he didn’t get involved, and certainly shouldn’t with her. A one-night stand with Cassie would’ve made the dynamics in their group incredibly awkward, so he’d settled for despising her instead.
There is, of course, more to Patrick than being a wealthy white guy with too much time on his hands. He is trapped in a job he dislikes because of family obligations. The scenario is perhaps a little far-fetched but no further than many in romance so I gave it a pass. It’s clear that he uses sex as an escape from a life he despises. Mostly his focus is on providing whatever fantasy sex the woman he’s with wants at the time. He’s not himself; he’s someone else and this suits him. Until the itch to scratch Cassie becomes so powerful other women hold no attraction for him.
Cassie and Patrick eventually hook up for one night which is just not enough for either of them. For the first time in a long time, Patrick is present during the encounter, not so much planning it out in his head and he loves Cassie’s feistiness and the way it is expressed when they’re intimate. They agree to continue hooking up to explore Cassie’s fantasies (they are legion) for as long as there are fantasies to explore, with the bailout clause that if either of them catches feelings, it’s over. (Heh. Like that’s ever going to work. This is a romance novel after all.)
Cassie, for her part, finds that Patrick is not afraid of her demanding nature. He doesn’t consider her “high maintenance” or “hard work”. She can be herself with him sexually and start to explore some of the things she has barely acknowledged to herself that she wants. Other men she’s been with have told her she’s too much; if they knew some of the things she wanted she’s convinced they’d have run away even faster.
Cassie wants to fight. She likes to fight. Her instinct is to be pugnacious in almost any circumstance. It makes her a great lawyer but has got her into trouble in relationships. Cassie also wants a man to fight back. She wants to be overpowered and have an edge of fear come into play. She also wants to explore a version of breath play which does not involve active choking so much as the threat of it but for it to work for her, she has to feel that the man she’s with has the power and ability to carry through – that’s where the edginess of it comes in. Patrick is sexually adventurous, experienced and not easily phased. He’s delighted by Cassie’s passion and desires. He is cautious about the breath play and also about the rape fantasy Cassie also asks for. He’s careful and they build up to it, establishing a safeword and a high level of trust between them.
You were generally careful about your descriptions of Cassie’s desires. So it was with some shock I came across this description.
Her other fantasy had a name she hadn’t expected. It was apparently called consensual non-consent—a mutual agreement to act as if permission had been waived.
It had been a relief to know this was actually a thing, and it didn’t mean she wanted to be raped. That, she would never allow. But she’d never understood her desire for a taste of reckless thrills, so she’d shut them down, avoiding them in self-loathing and shame.
Because of course, women don’t “allow” rape. That’s not a thing. To be honest, I believe you didn’t intend to suggest anything victim-blaming. I think what you were going for was “That, she didn’t want.” Still, it was jarring. I had an arc so maybe the line was changed before publication but I can only review what I read and I felt something needed to be said, regardless of the fact that I don’t believe there was any ill intent. Sometimes, intent is irrelevant and something is problematic anyway.
The rest of the discussion about the kinks both Cassie and Patrick explore is sensitive and well-done however.
I also appreciated that you included a scene where, entirely without any bad faith on either of their parts, things go a little too far. (This is well before the rape fantasy is played out.) It provided an opportunity for me to understand where Patrick was at with what they were doing – the why of his enjoyment and also showed some aftercare, each to the other.
For all that he enjoyed taunting her, that was only with the knowledge that she liked it too. He hated knowing he’d actually hurt her.
Cassie has no active experience in BDSM and Patrick only has a passing knowledge. He’s done some bondage – from both sides – but what Cassie asks from him is much more and for both of them, they’re somewhat feeling their way. Indeed, the experience where things go a bit wrong (not horribly awfully unforgivably wrong, just a bit too far) shows Cassie and Patrick that they can trust each other and talk through issues. It led to a greater confidence in the them and in me that they could manage something as extreme as rape fantasy and some breath play without damage.
Cassie is 39 and Patrick is 46 and I enjoyed the dynamic of more mature characters. Cassie’s family are always going on at her about when she will get married and have babies and her biological clock is ticking. Cassie is however, at best, ambivalent about children and Patrick never thought kids were in his future. At the same time, Cassie needs to decide whether she really wants children because she’s not getting any younger. If she does want babies, then she’ll have to actively take steps and this will likely mean Patrick and her will part ways.
Both Patrick and Cassie are at something of a crossroads in their careers, Cassie more obviously. She’s working hard to make partner and trying to reconcile this with her goal to “change the world” something her beloved grandfather told her she would do when she was a child.
A big part of the story is about Cassie’s heritage. Cassie is biracial. Her mother is from Cuba and her father is American. She has a complicated relationship with her ethnicity, which is worked out over the course of the book. While I have some experience being in situations where I feel I don’t quite belong but I’m not sure if that’s at all the same kind of thing Cassie experiences. I’m not biracial so I can’t speak to the authenticity of the representation here. I know from you (I asked) that your own best friend since you were a little girl is from Spain and you both grew up around many of her Cuban-American cousins. You also mentioned that you are Jewish and some of the conflict Cassie feels is based on your own experience.
“They call being Cuban-American ‘life on the hyphen’ because you’re not one or the other. I’m not Cuban or Anglo. I’m a hybrid—a Cubanglo. I have two cultures, but I don’t belong wholly to either one.”
Cassie is fair-skinned and has blue eyes and her surname is Anglo so she is often mistaken for being Caucasian. It’s something she has allowed and sometimes even encouraged but she feels guilty about it.
When I’m Anglo, I’m respected. When I’m brown, I’m ignored. I love a lot about my heritage, but no matter how far we’ve come in America there’s still an undercurrent of racism, and as much as I hate to admit it, my eye and skin color have given me opportunities others don’t have, especially at work. I don’t look Cuban, and that’s made life…” she shrugged, “…easier.”
Easier to be one than stuck in the middle. Easier to keep silent and hide under a cloak of Caucasian features. It was a horrible thing to say. A horrible thing to feel. A horrible way to honor her grandfather’s sacrifice. How could she long for her heritage and reject it at the same time?
I don’t feel qualified to comment on the representation because it’s outside my area of experience. I’ve included the above to help readers to make their own decision.
There was something, from Patrick, which felt a little reductive and too much like stereotyping but, I really don’t know if I’m being over-sensitive here.
She took control, tongue sweeping into his mouth, and as she got more demanding, suddenly it all made sense—her feisty temperament and zero tolerance for bullshit. How she radiated femininity and sex appeal, even when she was being impossible. Her ability to chew someone up and spit them out while still being seductive, provocative and fiercely loyal to her friends.
Cassie was Latina. Maybe only half, but still.
I did love that Patrick adored Cassie’s personality.
“I think Cassie’s drive and determination is the sexiest thing about her.”
It’s clear he adores her body as well, including her curvy hips and “thick thighs” but his first attraction is to her fierce determination, her loyalty and her fighting spirit. Even when it pisses him off. They spark off one another but their relationship isn’t all bickering and fighting. Despite their promise not to catch feelings, of course, they both do and it shows clearly to the reader as they begin to spend time together, as their physical relationship grows and the trust between them builds.
The conflict at the end felt a little sudden and I thought Cassie over-reacted a bit but it did fit both of their characters and I like how it was all wrapped up. Perhaps I had a little question about where Patrick ended up career-wise but that’s probably me wanting the whole Cinderella deal. Certainly both of them were extremely satisfied and happy by the end of the book and I absolutely believed their HEA.
I’m also looking forward to the next book in the series which I think will feature Jack’s younger brother, Brady, and Brady’s wife, Sam. It promises to be either femdom or menage and either way I am here for it.
Her Claim is a sexy erotic romance with quite a bit of depth to it. I enjoyed the book very much. Cassie’s uncertainty that she was “too much” for any man resonated with me in particular and the connection between the main characters was extremely well delivered. I hovered between a B and a B+ for the grade – I guess that makes it a high B?