She went from homelessness at 18 to living in her nicely renovated apartment
She has no problems being a loner and not being neighborly to her apartment neighbors. So, seeing her new next-door neighbor for the first time and having him make direct eye contact & talking to her was a shock.
Late-20s Hero thought he had her pegged from the constant dirty talk and sex noises he's hearing from her apartment
But seeing evidence of her vulnerability
and uncharacteristic kindness from the skull cactus she brought him as both an apology and “thank you” is drawing him more to her.
Her sexual reticence doesn't make sense though, considering her line of work.
Except for the skull cactus she gave him. Where did he go? Why hasn't he contacted her?
I was in the mood for something new & different. So, I picked up this Gadziala book with a phone-sex operator heroine who seemed to have an unlikely background. I usually don't like tough-as-nails & ultra-independent heroines but there was something in the blurb and the Goodreads reviews that clued me in that there was more to heroine than her tough exterior. And she did. Heroine was hiding her softer, more vulnerable side to survive being homeless, alone, and culturally-shocked in the big city she ran away to (not named but sounds a lot like New York City or Philadelphia or Boston) at age 18. What's more I liked her.
Gadziala wrote heroine in a way that made me understand why she behaved the way she did now (i.e, unfriendly & blunt, her choice of work & clothing, her super-clean & white posh apartment, her self-cutting, her going out every night). I liked that heroine was a survivor and turned her life around in 4-5 short years, which seemed fictional but not wholly impossible. It was tragic though how much hold her father & her past still had on her. To not be able to stand being alone in her apartment at night, no matter how light and clean she made her apartment to look. The temptation to harm herself by cutting slits on her thighs & sometimes her arms with a blade was intense. She knew herself enough to avoid temptation, even though it would still follow her at whatever bar or club she'd go to. Thus, her tendency to drink copious amounts of alcohol but only enough numb & not get too drunk. She had so much she needed to escape from:
--------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------
NOTE: no rape or sexual molestation involved.
Heroine grew up in a shack inside the large estate of her wealthy grandmother. Her crazy dad built the shack himself and bought himself a meek wife, who bore him 2 kids he didn't want schooled by anyone except himself. Her father had strange religious ideologies who used to control his family. His main message was that heroine, her mother, and the rest of womankind were inferior & wicked. When she was age 10, her father took her out in the snow & carved her chest and the word “WICKED” above her pubic area with a knife for causing her 12-year-old brother to masturbate. All heroine was doing was changing from her sack clothing to her nightgown in the little area she & her older brother shared as a bedroom, with a slight curtain in between their beds. Her mother stopped worse from happening by starting a fire inside their shack & yelling “fire” to circumvent her father's attentions from hurting heroine (and her brother too but heroine didn't know until towards the end of the book that their father also carved a cross on his palms as punishment for masturbating).
Heroine ran away when she was 18, when the attentions of her grandmother and father were diverted. She only had a little money with her but she left for the city that her father deemed as the most wicked city, knowing he would never think of looking for her there. She found out her mother committed suicide in the woods a day or so after she left. Heroine knew in her heart that her mother did it to escape her miserable life with her father, only doing so when heroine had escaped herself. Finding her mother's hidden letters to heroine at the end of the book confirmed what her heart told her.
She may have rebelled and ran away but she didn't indulge in carnalities as much as what many would expect. She only had sex twice before Hero with guys who told her (after the deed was done) that her scars were disgusting. Her carnal indulging was pretty much limited to her nightly alcohol binge-ing & drunk dancing as well as spending her money on clothes & her apartment. Although she'd escaped her father & negative upbringing, she wasn't completely free. She was being blackmailed by her guilt-tripping grandmother to call her weekly or else she would give her father and brother her home address. These phone calls would send her to a tailspin of wanting to self-harm.
Heroine was very experienced in her self-harming tendencies and fortunately knew her limits. She'd give in enough to cutting herself or binge-ing on alcohol at bars to feel some relief or escape. But not too much to be out of control. She also knew to not drink alcohol at home, knowing the trouble it can bring. She was a tough cookie and did her best to contain her misery.
Hero seemed to understand heroine. He had his own secrets and they were alike in that. They were both became hardened from their upbringing & were running away from it. He also had his self-control issues, when it came to rage and violence. But he wasn't as tortured as heroine. I think he'd been around enough tortured and damaged people in his life to be able to read heroine more easily than most. He was patient & determined and took a direct approach when the time was right. He was the perfect match for heroine. And his phone dirty-talk floored her, causing Ms. Phone-Sex Operator to behave uncharacteristically hot and bothered. She's usually untouched on the inside, no matter how dirty and loud she gets with her phone-sex clients. With Hero, she's befuddled & aroused. Culminating in a really hot simultaneous self-pleasuring scene with an apartment wall dividing them. That was his idea of going slow with her. <whew>
My reason for not giving this a 5-star is how Hero left without contacting heroine for 3 months! She asked him about it and gave a lame response, which showed that his reason for completely ignoring her for 3 months was to protect himself and letting her out to dry. Especially since he left her when she went to confront her father and brother and knowing her tendency to self-harm. It showed his need to mature some more. It also showed that, once again, heroine showed her incredible strength of spirit. She didn't let it(him) beat her down, although she got depressed & cried & threw the skull pot of the cactus. But she gradually began moving on with her life, with support of new friends. And got a new pot for the cactus. Hero did eventually come back and sincerely apologized. She let him have it but she was mature enough to see his sincerity and love for her and gave him another chance. Nice epilogue about their happy life 3 years later.
Emotionally gripping. Good sexual chemistry. Explicit sex scenes with romantic elements. Likely HEA(happy ever after).
I recommend this book.