The conclusion to L. Marie Adeline’s S.E.C.R.E.T. erotic romance trilogy, about a private women’s group that facilitates women’s sexual fantasies, is just as sexy and dramatic as the two previous installments.
One of the key cornerstones of the series is emphasized even more strongly: that women should select and be active participants in the creation and fulfillment of their sexual fantasies. Yes, the private group S.E.C.R.E.T. often concocts the specifics of the fantasies, trains men to fulfill them and oversees the specifics, but nothing ever happens unless the woman officially “accepts the Step,” meaning says an active, vocal yes to what’s about to happen. She may not know exactly what that is, but she’s always given the opportunity to get clarification, buy time or say no, and I believe the series is all the stronger for the times when the latter happens, as it does in S.E.C.R.E.T. Revealed, the third and final book.
This one finds New Orleans anchorwoman and single mom Solange Faraday as the group’s latest recruit. Solange has let sex take a backseat to her career and parenting. The switch to living out some very risqué scenarios, such as wearing a trench coat, hat, black stiletto boots, garters, stockings and nothing else before an evening on the town, is one she’s both wary of and more than ready for. In this case, she’s nervous about getting caught, but Adeline makes it clear that the nervousness is part of the hotness.
Faraway footsteps! I let out a gasp, and my man reached up and covered my mouth with his hand. The footsteps drew closer and closer, until the intruder came to rest directly under our elevator cage. My stranger released his hand and, oh god, went back to licking me, with even greater urgency! Quiet. We have to be quiet!
The air in my lungs thickened. Shit, shit. I froze, my hand on his head. I stared down in horror, but he seemed calm, focused, his mouth continuing its delicious task, his licks becoming more insistent. Soon they were joined by his fingers thrusting into me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to still his beautiful mouth on me, to stop him—momentarily—until the intruder left. But we were the intruders! And the risk of getting caught seemed only to inflame him more. He continued teasing me, his cheeks hollow, two fingers insistent, hungry, driving into me. He was enjoying my silent agony, and at one point took his finger from my dripping wetness and placed it against his shiny leaps.
This is not the case later in the book, when some of her potential steps becomes ones she realizes aren’t for her. I won’t share which ones, but it makes it clear that S.E.C.R.E.T. isn’t trying to impose its will on the women it selects; it wants to better their lives, but only if they play an active role. Surprise is an element in when and how the fantasies happen, but choice and agency are at the core, and you don’t need a specific reason to say no. The yeses wind up being all the hotter not in spite of the refusals, but because of them, and in turn show that the men who get what S.E.C.R.E.T. is truly about also aren’t just about getting their rocks off; they want the women they’re intimate with to come to them fully empowered, ready to be equal and active players, not simply women waiting to get fucked.
While we don’t hear as much from the men as the women in the story, we can easily tell from their actions who the good guys and who the bad guys are, based on how they treat their partners. It would be easy to mistake the recruits of S.E.C.R.E.T. as mindless male studs being “used” for their cocks (and other body parts), but getting a glimpse into why they want to be part of it is both sexy and adds another layer to theme of female empowerment. In other words, these women aren’t just turning around and trying to “act like men” by using the recruits and kicking them out the door; they are making casual sex a mutually beneficial, hot pleasure that can take place outside the realms of one’s normal workday life.
Meanwhile, Cassie Robichaud, the star of the first S.E.C.R.E.T. book, is still pining for Will, her ex-boyfriend and boss, as the two work on the opening of the restaurant he’s named for her, Cassie’s, while rekindling her casual relationship with Jesse, a very hot guy she met on one of her adventures. Yet both of them are still involved with S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie now helping facilitate trainings and Jesse getting intimate with other women.
Cassie too has to work through some uncomfortable feelings about just what it means to be part of the group. Though they’re supposed to have a no strings attached relationship, they can’t keep their emotions totally out of the picture. This isn’t the first time her heart has gotten her in trouble, but it’s very interesting to see her grapple with these feelings that seem to sneak up on her. She thinks she should be somehow smarter or above jealousy, and the fact that she’s not immune to emotion, nor are the other women of S.E.C.R.E.T., makes Adeline’s work all the more realistic and vivid. Of course, drama and tension are inherent to any romance, but the fact that Cassie can admit to being jealous, both of her casual hookup and of the man she loves, adds credence to the core theme of the books, that Solange’s realizations about love and lust lead her to some unexpected places, certainly ones that came as a surprise to me as a reader, and it’s to the women in S.E.C.R.E.T.’s credit that they never try to push their agenda on her. They may have ideas or opinions about what she’d like, but they aren’t trying to live vicariously through her. Adeline has written that she didn’t necessarily set out to create feminist erotica, but all the women, the major players as well as the lesser characters, are strong and self-aware. They won’t let men use them or shame them about their sexual desires, and the moment a man tries to, he’s quickly disabused of the notion that sexual desire can be held over a woman as a weapon.
But this is also very much an erotic romance, albeit one where love comes to the women not despite sowing their wild oats, but because of it. Solange, even more than in the first two books, crafts her own path toward sexual fulfillment, never for one second letting someone else tell her what she needs or wants. She’s willing to take suggestions, but her independence is what ultimately brings her to the right decision. In fact, Solange even receives one of her charms, the rewards for going through with each step, ahead of time, because there are areas of her life she doesn’t need to work on—it’s her heart that she needs to learn to upon up and rely upon, rather than her head. Readers get the best of both worlds—incredibly hot sex scenes, and the kind of happily ever after that’s hard won and all the richer for the fact that the heroines had to fight for it.
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.