I vow. I crave. I give in.
I used to be a nice, normal girl. I had dreams. Good, happy dreams of a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a fairytale love that lasts forever. Nobody ever warned me that sometimes, the prince dies three weeks before the wedding.
Like any addict, I swear this time is the last….
Now, I go through my days, a shadow of my former self. I pretend I’m okay, and the people in my life pretend to believe me. But, sometimes, when I can no longer stand the craving, I roam an underground sex club looking for my next hit. It’s dirty and wrong, but I can’t stop, and my only line of defense between them and me, is the rules I’ve designed to keep me safe. The men always abide by my rules. Until I meet him.
And, like any addict, I’m wrong.
I don’t question the instincts that tell me to run. One look at him, standing there, power radiating off him in waves, tells me all I need to know. He will make me crave those happy dreams I’ve left behind. And that is not an option.
Layla Hunter wants desperately to be like other girls. She wants to be happy and beautiful with a career and family that sustain her. Layla wants to be like other girls but that opportunity was crushed the night she and her fiancé were attacked in a dark alley. Layla survived but her fiancé didn’t and for eighteen long months she has been trying to cope with a loss so big it has nearly consumed her. To make matters far, far worse, Layla has a dark secret, a craving that can only be fulfilled in what she considers to be a most depraved way. For eighteen months, Layla has gone through a vicious cycle of denying her craving to the point of pain and then allowing a far different kind of pain to be dealt out by a nameless stranger. When she succumbs to her craving, Layla is left the most temporary feeling of satisfaction that is quickly replaced by feelings of guilt, betrayal and, revulsion. Layla’s craving, like her grief is consuming her.
The night Layla meets Michael Banks, she knows instantly he is going to change her in the most profound way. Layla’s body betrays her on every level when Michael is near and though her mind screams for her to run far, far away her body and heart are singing a very different song. Michael’s pull is magnetic and no matter how hard Layla thinks she wants to stay away, her heart and body tell her he can be her salvation, he can be the thing that helps out of the darkness and back into the land of the living. Michael Banks can give Layla the pain she craves and needs to be whole and fulfilled once again.
From the moment he sees Layla, Michael knows she is broken and just a step away from being completely ruined. Michael is not a glutton for punishment by any means but he loves a challenge and after watching Layla for six months, he knows instinctually what she needs and he is just the man to give it to her. Layla’s wants, needs and desires are written all over her and if Michael can build trust and slowly chip away at her defenses, they may each find exactly what they have been searching for. Michael is an absolutely dominant man but his dominance is tempered with patience, kindness and, caring. Though it initially seems he is playing with Layla, what Michael is really doing is giving her the opportunity to trust herself again and know she can make decisions for herself. Michael is also establishing a very real D/s relationship with a woman he can’t seem to resist.
To say Layla and Michael’s relationship is fraught with emotional turbulence doesn’t do the word turbulence justice. Layla is literally a half step away from being completely ruined and with just one misstep, Michael can destroy her. Layla is as frightened by Michael’s presence in her life as she is excited. With each interaction, Michael awakens something in Layla she thought was buried with her fiancé. Make no mistake, this relationship isn’t just emotional but also deliciously physical. One of Michael’s true gifts is his ability to read people and Layla’s body is constantly talking to him. While she often tries to tell Michael to leave her alone her body screams at him to come back, to touch her, to hurt in the most erotic and welcome ways. Michael pushes though absolutely never forces Layla and he ultimately helps to her to see how strong she really is.
The Bottom Line: Crave was a one sitting, cover-to-cover read for me and I think I may have experienced every dip, dive and roll over Layla’s emotions went through right along with her. Though Layla is easy to root for, her story is hard to read. She sees herself as broken and depraved and utterly alone since her fiancé died. For 18 months she has punished herself emotionally and allowed others to punish her physically as a means of coping with her grief and sexual needs. Michael understands her in a way not even her fiancé did and with that understanding comes a fresh sense of guilt and betrayal. Layla fights her feelings for Michael, her desire for him until she finally realizes how tired she is from constantly fighting. To accept Michael and all he has to offer her doesn’t mean she has to forget about her fiancé. In fact, Michael constantly encourages Layla to open up to him, talk to him and, trust that he won’t ever try and take her fiancé’s place. Michael’s patience is as strong as his dominant side and each is equally sexy. He is somewhat overt in his displays of dominance while in public and that just makes some of the naughty bits all the hotter. While I certainly can’t pretend to understand the why of what it is that Layla needs to be sexually satisfied, I can tell you that these elements are dealt with head on and respectfully in this read. Overall, I was able to connect with both characters (in very different ways!), I found the plot to be justifiably permeated with tension and sexual desire and, I found the resolution to be most satisfying. Though this read certainly isn’t for everyone, for those who like this genre, it is a well-written work that takes the read on an emotional roller coaster ride with just enough kink to keep everything interesting.