L. Marie Adeline
Broadway / October 15, 2013 / $10.98 print, $7.99 digital
Still wounded from a recent heartbreak over her boss and lover, Will, Cassie Robichaud throws herself into service with S.E.C.R.E.T., the mysterious organization that changed her forever by bringing her deepest sexual fantasies to life, one step at a time. Now, it’s Cassie’s turn to guide the group’s newest candidate, Dauphine Mason, recruiting men to execute a new set of fantasies.
At thirty-one, Dauphine is the proprietor of a New Orleans vintage clothing store. She’s been harboring a crush on Mark Drury, a local rock star, but is too shy to put herself out there with him. She turns to S.E.C.R.E.T. to reignite her sexual flame and find the confidence to risk her heart again with another man.
As Cassie worries that the right time will never come for her and Will, she finds inspiration helping Dauphine in S.E.C.R.E.T. Both women navigate the rocky path between their hearts and their passions, hoping to discover what they truly want in life and in love.
L. Marie Adeline’s S.E.C.R.E.T. series is about a secret group that facilitates sexual fantasies for women who need a pick me up. The second book in the series, S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, jumps right in, with heroine Dauphine Mason, being the lucky recipient of life-changing sex with a stranger. Before we even know much about Dauphine, we know she’s in the water, laughing, and that this is utterly unfamiliar territory for her. “Accepting this compelling stranger’s invitation to join him in the rushing water meant inviting my life’s current to change directions.” And it’s on. Adeline weaves this very wet encounter with Dauphine’s lovelorn life story, before the alternating chapter viewpoints lead us back to Cassie Robichaud, heroine of S.E.C.R.E.T., who’s still getting over a broken heart after her boss and friend, Will, drops her for his pregnant girlfriend (and employee), Tracina.
Part of what spoke to me about S.E.C.R.E.T. was that while at its heart it was about erotic fantasies, with an undertone of romance, there was also a genuine theme of empowerment that extended beyond the bedroom (and everywhere else characters had sex). Sex is a vehicle—for pleasure, of course, but also for awakening, for rethinking everything these women have come to believe about their value, their femininity, their beauty and their desires. After all, S.E.C.R.E.T. stands for “Safe Erotic Compelling Romantic Ecstatic Transformative.” All of these elements come into play with even more power in this high-energy can’t-put-down novel.
In S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, Adeline further joins empowerment and eroticism, making an explicit connection between how finding sexual fulfillment spurs Dauphine to take risks she wouldn’t have otherwise taken. Cassie is now a Guide within S.E.C.R.E.T. who helps Dauphine overcome her fears and learn to indulge herself, and in the process, discovers more about her own desires. Like Cassie, Dauphine has a fraught relationship history; her last boyfriend not only left her after sleeping with her best friend, he wrote a thinly veiled novel about her that went on to become a major success, so much so that shoppers visited her vintage clothing store, Funky Monkey, asking if she was the novel’s inspiration. She knows that her life isn’t quite what it could be, but feels safe in her routines, and has no idea how to go about making changes—until the women of S.E.C.R.E.T. select her and ask her to join.
After getting over her shock at the “enthralling, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure” proposal, she agrees, and in turn shocks the women by making an unusual request. Rather than laying out her own meticulously designed fantasies, she offers them carte blanche to construct scenarios they think she will enjoy. Not only does this freedom offer the reader—and Dauphine—plenty of surprises, it represents an important risk for the otherwise tightly controlled Dauphine, who’s used to sex only with the lights off, sex that always makes her feel safe, but doesn’t always make her satisfied.
The subtext of the S.E.C.R.E.T. novels is the idea that in order to be truly happy, women must known and own their sexual desires. While the series is firmly rooted in fantasy, Adeline manages to anchor the books in real issues women face—infidelity, betrayal, slut shaming. Before she accepts her mission, Dauphine asks Cassie, “But why do you think experiencing wild sex fantasies will fix everything?” Cassie responds, in part, “It won’t fix everything. But it does the trick of fixing one thing, which creates a sort of cascade effect in your life.” For Dauphine, whose personal motto has been “If I can’t control it, I don’t trust it,” joining S.E.C.R.E.T. means taking a giant leap of faith, one whose effects reverberate far being her sexuality. Nowhere is this more evident than when Dauphine—who’s never flown on an airplane, too afraid after an uncle dies in a plane crash during her formative years—joins a sexy pilot in the cockpit on the way to Buenos Aires:
I stood over him, my legs trembling. He reached back to undo my pink satin bra, sliding it forward, dropping it. Standing there naked, for a second I forgot the plane was flying on its own! It was black through the window. I wasn’t sure if we were flying over mountains or water, but I closed my eyes. If I couldn’t see it, it didn’t matter. I placed my hands on the ceiling again, pressing my body forward into him. He was so at ease, so in command as he gently urged my legs farther apart, reaching up to pinch and circle my nipples, like I was an instrument panel he new exactly how to operate.
Adeline excels at writing highly charged sex scenes where the heat level never wavers. Each is as powerful, explosive and momentous as the one before, so much so that it’s hard to pick a favorite. This is especially remarkable given that, by the nature of S.E.C.R.E.T.’s way of operating, it’s clear that there will be multiple sexual encounters throughout the book. Adeline turns things up a notch with a powerful scene in which Cassie to watch a man being trained as a recruit; the dual action of his lesson and Cassie masturbating to it, is one of the best sex scenes here. When Angela trains sexy musician Mark Drury, she completely runs the show, dominating him not in the BDSM sense, but by utterly taking control, forcing him to rethink what it means to be a good lover:
She cupped his chin, but instead of kissing him, she let go and turned to make her way to an ornately carved writing desk. She opened a drawer and took out of it something that looked like a tangle of rope. The only way to describe how she moved was feline. She was a woman who loved being in her body and she was used to being watched. He couldn’t tear his eyes off her. Nor could I. She stood behind the desk now, watching as he ripped off his clothes, pants first.
“Mark, Mark, Mark. You’re stripping like a frat boy. Put your clothes back on and start again, honey.”
S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared offers a peek into the inner workings of S.E.C.R.E.T., from how they’re funded to how to how they operate. Discovering how the sophisticated women in charge select and teach recruits is a pleasure. Even more so is the fact that Dauphine’s journey isn’t simply about pursuing sexual pleasure at all costs. Whereas billionaires seem to be the heroes du jour, in the world of S.E.C.R.E.T., money doesn’t buy or guarantee sex, love or even attraction. Sex appeal is about who you are inside and out, and how you treat women in bed and out of it—and giving women the power, voice and pleasure of owning their sex lives, in every way. This is a sizzling hot read that made me want to turn back to page one and start all over—at least until the next book in the series comes out.
Learn more or order a copy of S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared by L. Marie Adeline, available October 15, 2013:
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories; Only You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.