This is a difficult book for me to review because I adored Ashley's first book Love Script and have looked forward to reading more from her. Although I did not in any way want a carbon copy of Love Script, I did want a book that left me with the same happy and content feeling that I had at the end of that book. That is definitely not what I experienced at the end of Beyond the Velvet Rope. I am honestly having a hard time sorting how I feel about this book. While well written, there were moments where I wanted the story to just move on. By the end of the story, I wasn't even sure that I wanted Thandie and Elliot to end up with a happily ever after and I am not sure that is what happened either. At least, it isn't a traditional happily every after.
Thandie goes from being a secure and self confident business woman to someone ensnared by the sexual manipulations and mind games played by Elliot. Thandie tries to keep things professional and not become emotionally invested in Elliot, but his mystery and magnetism, despite his obvious lack of respect for women in general, seem to draw Thandie in despite her best efforts to keep a professional distance.
Elliot was a fairly unlikable male lead for me. He was unapologetic in his determination to quickly cross boundaries with Thandie. His simple reasoning behind his actions is that he wanted her and he knew that he could have her no matter the cost to her professionally or emotionally. I don't have a problem with an unattached single man being a lothario; however Elliot is not a good-natured playboy who simply enjoys women. Elliot is aggressively cold and thinking that the women he uses know the score does not excuse the way he summarily dismisses the idea of common decorum. For Elliot to pursue Thandie the way he did, even when explained at the end of the book, didn't make it alright with me. I'm sure that there are many men who behave the way that Elliot does in this book, but that isn't what I personally want in my romances.
Now, for the unusual sexual situations in this book. I am sure that many will find the situations that I did not like to their tastes, but there were scenes that I found disrespectful to Thandie as a woman. Elliot forces his sexual attentions on Thandie in situations that sometimes felt bizarre and inappropriate. Elliot's selfishness went beyond the role of "alpha" male and possessive to just being a jerk to put it mildly. Elliot definitely wanted to "mark" Thandie as his although he offered her nothing but a sexual relationship in return. Nic and Laney from Love Script make a brief appearance and it was so disturbing for me that I seriously thought about putting this book down and abandoning the story even though at that point I was about 80% done with the book. I just couldn't believe what I was reading. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, in Love Script that would have prepared me for their characters behaving in the way that they did. I'm still traumatized from that scene. All I could think while reading it was "no,no, no,no-please no". But sadly, yes the story went there and for no good reason. Gratuitous out of character sex scenes never add anything to my enjoyment of a book and that is exactly what this disturbing encounter was. The scene came out of nowhere, added no value to the story and only served to upset me and taint my memory of a couple that I enjoyed in a previous book.
All in all, I got the impression that the relationship between Thandie and Elliot is decidedly one sided. Thandie is required to make many more concessions than Elliot. Although she initially balks, she ultimately can't seem to resist him. Yes, relationships and love requires compromises, sacrifices, and accommodations where often women do more of this than men, but Thandie shoulders the lion's share of these burdens.
This is book 1 in the Club Babylon series and it is clear who the next couple will be. I am very interested in reading the next couple's story for they are both interesting characters and I hope that the fireworks will explode between these two strong willed people. I just hope that the need to push the envelope sexually won't be as strong in their book as it seemed to have been in this one.
**I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**
Welcome to Club Babylon: where the A-list VIPs come to play
Scoring a gig at Miami's Club Babylon is a fantasy come true for New York promoter Thandie Shaw. The hottest club on the strip is a magnet for major South Beach movers and shakers. And Thandie's about to meet the biggest player of them all.
Babylon owner Elliot Richards is macho, arrogant, sexist—everything Thandie doesn't want in a boss or lover. Elliot is also the most erotic man who's ever wanted to take her to bed. But Thandie's no fool. Even as he tries to seduce her into a world of intense and shocking passion, she knows it's too good to last…especially after she uncovers Elliot's explosive secrets.
Thandie's going down a dangerous road, and she's risking a lot more than her career. Torn between doubt and desire, will she have to pay the ultimate price?
Darkly sensual and deeply moving, Beyond the Velvet Rope takes you into a world of uncontrollable desire and unexpected consequences.