Knowing all too well the damage online trolls can inflict, game designer Emily Bartwell takes privacy seriously. Living in solitude and working remotely under a male alias gives her a sense of security. The sexy writer renting the house next door ignites desires she’d forgotten she had, and when he invites her to play games of a very different sort, Em is ready and willing. Even if it means breaking all her own rules to abide by his.
Undercover tech reporter Fox Mullins is so close to the biggest scoop of his career: finding the elusive programmer Phoenix. An increasingly erotic adventure with his reserved but passionate new neighbor is the ideal way to heat up the chilly Pacific Northwest nights as he tracks the brilliant gamer.
At first Fox is happy to help Em explore her newly awakened kinky side, no holds barred, no strings attached. But as they push the limits of intimacy, both physical and emotional, Fox discovers he’s not the only one keeping secrets. And revealing hers may mean betraying the one woman who embodies everything he desires.
I am a long-time fan of Jeffe Kennedy’s Facets of Passion novella series and when I saw this full-length novel on Netgalley I knew I had to request this read. So glad I did as, once again Kennedy has knocked it out of the park to provide a well-written, erotic read that had been sucked in right from beginning.
There are people who take their privacy seriously and then, there is Emily Bartwell. After a particularly nasty and life-threatening experience, Emily packed her bags and left no trail behind her when she moved to a remote island. Lyra Island is inhabited year round by only a few and is the perfect place for a woman running scared to hide out. With her considerable fortune, Emily bought her home and has set herself up as a reclusive painter who is rarely seen mingling with the locals, never dates and, only ventures into town to pick up her mail and groceries. Though she is friendly with a few people, Emily has no real friends and is close to no one other than her dog and her cat. Not a soul on Lyra island suspects that the quiet and reclusive Emily Bartwell is actually the enormously popular game designer known only as Phoenix.
In the gaming world, Phoenix is a living legend and the fact that no one really knows who the designer is, makes the legend even more interesting. Of course, nearly everyone in the male-dominated world of online/role playing games is certain Phoenix is a man and “his” creation, Labyrinth seems to support that. Just as Emily intended. It’s much harder to track down and expose a person when you don’t even have their gender correct and that is one of the safety measures Emily put into place when she disappeared from the world and eventually launched her game. Even her employer has no idea who she is or where she is and that is how Emily intends to keep it.
Fox Mullins is the very definition of intrepid reporter. For two years he has worked relentlessly to uncover the identity of the elusive Phoenix. If Fox can identify the game designer then his career will be set, his fortune made and, his reputation firmly established. After hundreds of false leads and dead ends, Fox finally has a solid lead that has brought him to Lyra Island. If his instincts are correct, Phoenix lives on the island and with the right amount of research and patience, Fox will finally have his story. Though he has no intention of becoming friends with anyone on the island, Fox and his research are derailed when he meets Emily Bartwell. Emily is beautiful and strong and absolutely unattainable if what the locals say is true. Challenge accepted!
Emily and Fox have an immediate chemistry that is absolutely worth exploring from Fox’s perspective and terrifying from Emily’s. Maintaining her cover is critical and a relationship with Fox would be an invasion and distraction that Emily just can’t afford. Being exposed on any level is a horrifying thought for Emily but when Fox suggests they have a no-strings attached, purely physical relationship, she goes against her better judgment and dives right in. Fox is masterful in the bedroom (and the kitchen and the living room and the foyer . . . ) and Emily is more than willing to explore both his and her fantasies but, with each encounter Emily feels as if her façade is cracking even if just a bit. Fox is more than prepared for the physical aspects of his relationship with Emily but woefully unprepared for the emotional impact she has on him. When Fox begins to put all of the pieces together and discovers exactly who Phoenix is, he is torn apart by what he feels he has to do and what he wants to do. To destroy Emily and everything she has built also means destroying any hope of a real, emotions are all to involved relationship with the woman who may just be The One.
The Bottom Line: Jeffe Kennedy never disappoints me. Going Under read so well and so easily for me that I devoured it in a single sitting. I love that Kennedy doesn’t make me wait for the backstory. Almost immediately the reader is privy to the dirty details that led Emily to Lyra Island and a life of relative solitude. To understand her history makes understanding her present, her actions and, her reasons for shutting everyone out far more reasonable. Without the backstory so early on, Emily would have been nearly impossible to like and/or connect with. Though Fox is aggressive and persistent in his pursuit of Emily he is also a gentleman and respectful of Emily’s wishes, desires and, fears. Fox’s experience with the kinkier (though not overly, in case you are wondering) side of sex allows him to guide and teach Emily as she so desires. Their most intimate moments are steamy and naughty and frequent though they never overtake the story. As with all of Kennedy’s reads, the sex is an integral part of the story but not the whole story. In all, I remain a loyal Jeffe Kennedy fan and look forward to her next, hopefully full-length read.