When I was in my 20s, I loved the expansive, the excessive, and the Grand Gesture like this televised wedding proposal.
Now that I’m older, Grand Gestures that once seemed romantic embarrass me. Unfortunately, the world around me stayed the same, and then some. We live in a time of excessive oversharing. Of the public consumption of everything. Call it the Culture of Me. Things that I think would have more meaning it kept personal and private are now writ large. And when people go public, they go big.
Sylvia Day’s Bared to You is a book for our times. It’s Writ Large. It’s also a Book That Won’t Let Go. I read awhile ago and am still working it out in my mind. I can barely wait for the upcoming release of its sequel, Reflected in You, but I’m not quite sure why.
Bared to You is intensely erotic and very dark. Both lead characters suffered big time sexual abuse, leaving shame in its wake, and a lack of emotional maturity. They’re both from the vaunted 1%. Gideon Cross’s business empire is expansive. Just the Manhattan real estate portion of it includes skyscrapers, nightclubs, and high-end apartment buildings. Eva Tramell, just beginning her career in advertising, comes from a wealthy background, and yet she lives with her bisexual bestie in a huge apartment. In her jewelry collection are two-inch diamond hoops and a diamond ankle bracelet. Her stepfather sends cars for her with drivers who double as bodyguards.
You get the idea. Everything is Larger Than Life, because of the overwhelming wealth and the structure of the D/s novel. But also, the fall-back for immature people—think back to your own adolescence—is anger-filled and dramatic.
The book begins as many a D/s erotic romance does, with the introduction of the overwhelmingly male, incredibly rich, and dominant hero to the less powerful and often unknowingly sexually submissive heroine.
Men like Gideon are blunt, manipulative, and keen on keeping the heroine off-balance, which occurs often enough with Eva, both emotionally and physically. When they first meet, Gideon helps her off her ass; she’d fallen while trying to help a woman whose purse had emptied onto the floor of her new office building, which he owns.
Then, at their first business meeting—which was arranged by Gideon to include her (something the reader guesses)—she stops short when the elevator door opens on his penthouse floor and he stands before her. Her boss is behind her, and as she stops, he moves forward, propelling her, once again, literally off balance, and directly into Gideon’s broad chest.
Later he arranges the elevator ride down so that he’s alone with her...
Cross said nothing until the car was on its way down; then he pushed the call button again and asked, “Are you sleeping with anyone?”
The question was asked so casually it took a second to process what he’d said. I inhaled sharply.
“Why is that any business of yours?”
He looked at me and I saw what I’d seen the first time we’d met—tremendous power and steely control. Both of which had me taking an involuntary step back. Again. At least I didn’t fall this time; I was making progress.
“Because I want to fuck you, Eva. I need to know what’s standing in my way, if anything.”
The sudden ache between my thighs had me reaching for the wall to maintain my balance. He reached out to steady me, but I held him at bay with an uplifted hand. “Maybe I’m just not interested, Mr. Cross.”
A ghost of a smile touched his lips and made him impossibly more handsome. Dear God…
The ding that signaled the approaching elevator made me jump, I was strung so tight. I’d never been so aroused.
Though Gideon doesn’t officially come out to Eva as a Dominant and declare her a submissive until the book’s final fifth, the beginning reads like the typical D/s romance...the first electric encounter, his Dominance and her arousal-drenched panties.
So far, so good. Heroines in D/s romances often have abusive histories. Over the course of the story the hero helps her find her place in the world. Oh, he may have his own baggage, but he’s [mostly] learned to accept himself. Not so here. Both have dreadful abuse in their pasts, and it’s Gideon who is less far along in his recovery.
As for Eva, in some ways she lives like a bird in a gilded cage. Her mother harbors such guilt about her former stepson raping her daughter for four years (really, wouldn’t one have been enough?) that she implants a GPS device in her daughter’s phone so that she can track Eva’s movements to assure her safety like she was a 16-year-old who just got her driver’s license.
The negotiations between Gideon and Eva regarding whatever sort of relationship they are to have continues. His Statement of Intent to Fuck is followed by her When Hell Freezes Over response. A clinch, an interruption, and the setting of their next negotiation occurs. Later, a phone call with a threat of a spanking, which Eva finds oddly titillating. And then, when she’s out clubbing—turns out he owns the venue—he intimidates any competition. After taking a drink, Gideon turns to Eva...
“Not bad,” he murmured. “Tell me if we made it right.”
He kissed me. He moved in fast, but I saw it coming and didn’t turn away. His mouth was cold and flavored with alcohol-laced cranberry. Delicious. All the chaotic emotion and energy that had been writhing around inside me abruptly became too much to contain. I shoved a hand in his glorious hair and clenched it tight, holding him still as I sucked on his tongue. His groan was the most erotic sound I’d ever heard, making the flesh between my legs tighten viciously.
“I need to be inside you, Eva,” he whispered roughly. “I’m aching for you.”
And then Eva makes the mistake of thinking.
My gaze fell to my drink on the table, my thoughts swirling around in my head, a clusterfuck of impressions and recollections and confusion. “How did you know?”
“Know what?” he asked.
“What I like to drink? What Cary’s name is?”
“You visited another of my clubs earlier. Your credit card popped and your drinks were recorded. And Cary Taylor is listed on the rental agreement for your apartment.”
The room spun. No way…My cell phone. My credit card. My fucking apartment. I couldn’t breathe. Between my mother and Gideon, I felt claustrophobic.
And how does he know about her apartment’s rental agreement? Well of course...he owns her building.
When Gideon was five, his father committed suicide to avoid prison after being exposed for running a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. He suffered some sort of horrific sexual abuse that is always often alluded to...but never really explained. He turns from playful and intimate to cold and distant on the turn of a dime and makes edicts without offering explanations. Though he’s entirely clued in to her sexuality, he’s often clueless about her other feelings.
What makes Dominants in romance so enticing is that they are masters of psychology who rarely lose control. The mind games they play, designed for maximum pleasure, are never-ending. But Gideon’s attempts at manipulating Eva don’t work very often because she won’t be played like a game.
Here’s an example. After succumbing to mutual lust in an expensive hotel room, Gideon showers. Eva discovers a full closet of clothes and a dresser drawer with unopened sex toys. She realizes their spontaneous lovemaking was anything but. He doesn’t bother to take the women he fucks home. Instead, he takes them to this hotel room.
Eva won’t be put in a box marked Sexual Plaything, and runs off, wearing only his shirt. It’s an explosive moment. It doesn’t take Gideon long to realize he fucked up, big time. He traces her to a nearby trattoria. She cries, he apologizes, he takes her to his apartment, where he’s brought no other lover, and then, like all regular couples after a fight, they eat Ossetra (only one of the most expensive caviars in the world, you know).
Part of the book’s explosiveness comes from jealousy, on both sides.
“Eva. Stop right there.”
I flipped him the bird over my shoulder and raced up the short steps into Bryant Park.
Gideon caught me by the waist.
“Don’t run,” he hissed in my ear.
“You’re acting like a nut job.”
“Maybe because you drive me fucking crazy.” His arms tightened into steel bands. “You’re mine. Tell me Cary knows that.”
“Right. Like Magdalene knows you’re mine.” I wished he had something near my mouth that I could bite. “You’re causing a scene.”
“We could’ve done this in my office, if you weren’t so damned stubborn.”
“I had plans, asshat. And you’re fucking them up for me.” My voice broke, tears welling as I felt the number of eyes on us. I was going to get fired for being an embarrassing spectacle. “You’re fucking up everything.”
Gideon instantly released me, turning me to face him. His grip on my shoulders ensured I still couldn’t get away.
“Christ.” He crushed me against him, his lips in my hair. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry.”
I beat my fist against his chest, which was as effectual as hitting a rock wall. “What’s wrong with you? You can go out with a catty bitch who calls me a whore and thinks she’s going to marry you, but I can’t have lunch with a dear friend who’s been pulling for you from the beginning?”
There’s also Eva’s instinct to cut and run or jump to conclusions rather than confronting Gideon head-on, in the moment. On the other hand, she wants them both to strive for emotional health. That push and pull heightens the drama because he remains emotionally stunted. Not that she’s a grown-up, but she functions better in the real world. Still, she spends a lot of time running out of buildings or down the street, and he physically manhandles her in return.
If you’ve ever participated in someone’s treatment for drug abuse, you learn that their emotional maturity stopped at the age of dependence. That’s how it seems with Gideon and whatever sexual hell he endured growing up. He can’t let go of the shame, and his refusal to talk about it with Eve doesn’t fly. So off she runs, again.
When she subsequently accepts his brother’s invitation to a party at the family estate, Gideon’s inability to properly Use His Words cuts deep. It’s an emotional scene, but It’s All So Exhausting!
“You shouldn’t be here.”
He grabbed me by the elbow and started hauling me toward the house. “I don’t want you here.”
If he’d spit in my face, it couldn’t have devastated me more.
“Eva, wait.” My shoulders hunched at the sound of Gideon’s voice and I refused to look at him.
“Get lost. I can show myself out.”
“I’m not done—”
“I am!” I pivoted to face him. “You don’t get to talk to me that way. Who do you think you are? You think I came here for you? That I was hoping I’d see you and you’d throw me a goddamn scrap or bone…some pathetic acknowledgment of my existence? Maybe I’d be able to harass you into a quick, dirty fuck in a corner somewhere in a pitiful effort to win you back?”
“Shut up, Eva.” His gaze was scorching hot, his jaw tight and hard.
“Listen to me—”
“I’m only here because I was told you wouldn’t be. So you can go back to the party and forget about me all over again. I assure you, when I walk out the door, I’ll be doing the same to you.”
“Shut your damned mouth.” He caught me by the elbows and shook me so hard my teeth snapped together. “Just shut up and let me talk.”
I slapped him hard enough to turn his head. “Don’t touch me.”
With a growl, Gideon hauled me into him and kissed me hard, bruising my lips. His hand was in my hair, fisting it roughly, holding me in place so I couldn’t turn away. I bit the tongue he thrust aggressively into my mouth, then his lower lip, tasting blood, but he didn’t stop. I shoved at his shoulders with everything I had, but I couldn’t budge him.
Gideon kissed me as if he was starved for the taste of me and my resistance began to melt. He smelled so good, so familiar. His body felt so perfectly right against mine. My nipples betrayed me, hardening into tight points, and a slow, hot trickle of arousal gathered in my core. My heart thundered in my chest. God, I wanted him. The craving hadn’t gone away, not even for a minute.
After some tremendous make-up sex, and apologies all around, Gideon repeats: “I don’t want you here.” And, finally, he reveals a tiny morsel of his backstory.
“I don’t want you here.” He suddenly seemed distant, his tone far too controlled.
“Do you know how badly it hurts me when you say that?” I cried softly, my chest tight with the pain of it. “What’s wrong with me that you don’t want me around your family?”
“Angel, no.” He hugged me, his hands roaming my back in soothing caresses. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s this place. I don’t—I can’t be here. You want to know what’s in my dreams? It’s this house.”
Gideon suffers a virulent night terror later in the story that endangers Eva. It feeds both of their shame-filled narratives, but this time it’s Gideon who wants to run.
“If you leave, we lose and our pasts win.” I saw my words hit him like a blow. Every light in my room was on, as if electricity alone could banish all the shadows on our souls. “If you give up now, I’m afraid it’ll be easier for you to stay away and for me to let you. We’ll be over, Gideon.”
“How can I stay? Why would you want me to?” Turning around, he looked at me with such longing it brought fresh tears to my eyes. “I’d kill myself before I hurt you.”
Which was one of my fears. I had a difficult time picturing the Gideon I knew—the dominant, willful force of nature—taking his own life, but the Gideon standing before me was an entirely different person. And he was the child of a suicidal parent. My fingers plucked at the hem of my T-shirt. “You’d never hurt me.”
“You’re afraid of me,” he said hoarsely. “I can see it on your face. I’m afraid of me. Afraid of sleeping with you and doing something that will destroy us both.”
He was right. I was afraid. Dread chilled my stomach.
It was the nature of our relationship to be lusty and emotional, earthy and raw. The trust that held us together also opened us up to each other in ways that made us both vulnerable and dangerous. And it would get worse before it got better.
By writing this, I think I’ve figured out why I can’t let go of Bared to You. Yes, it features the sort of heightened reality I thought I’d outgrown. The money’s ridiculous, the behavior often childish, and the emotions are Always at a fever pitch. Eva and Gideon’s ALL CAPs, ellipsis-filled lives fit the times. And yet, Day’s insights into her “fucked-up and broken” characters appeals to me.
The book ends tentatively, but I’ll be back for more with Reflected in You even though an HEA seems far away, at best.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on tumblr and goodreads, where she spends much of her time of late, follow her on Google+, Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.