January is often a time for feeling cold and depressed - Christmas is over, the house is looking bare now that the decorations are down, you're trying to ignore the call of the last of the Christmas chocolates and convince yourself that you love salad and there's an icy wind freezing your face off every time you set foot outside. Well, here's something to put a smile back on your face, make you feel deliciously naughty without devouring a single calorie and turn up the temperature on your internal thermostat - Sierra Cartwright's latest sizzling novel, erotic romance Brand !
You may remember that last year, I reviewed Bind, the first novel in the Donovan Dynasty series. (Click through to read my review.) It introduced us to Connor Donovan, head of a thriving business empire, who gets a slightly indecent proposal from ambitious and desperate businesswoman Lara Bertrand - she wants a marriage of convenience to help her ailing family business. Connor agrees, on the condition that it is a real marriage ... and reveals that that requires her to be his Sub in a BDSM lifestyle. Lara is desperate (and curious) enough to take him up on his offer and discovers that not only does she actually like living with a Dom, she is also falling in love with him. Bad news as he'd said right from the start that real emotion was off the cards as far as he was concerned.
In this second novel, Brand, the story starts at the wedding reception of Lara and Connor - the chemistry is still there and it was nice to catch up with the happy couple before the focus moved to the next Donovan sibling, Cade. The very first line of the novel sets the tone : "He's a f***ing badass. A hot f***ing badass. But still, a f***ing badass" ! (In the book, it's the uncensored version - if you're already offended, move along, this won't be your cup of tea.)
Whereas Connor worked the power suits and sharp business acumen, Cade is far more rugged and down-to-earth, permanently dressed in jeans, denim shirts and a cowboy hat, with a very hands-on role as manager of the ranch he lives on, part of the Donovan empire that he inherited. He is a step-brother to the rest of the clan and has a huge chip on his shoulder about being unworthy, particularly as - it is later revealed - he feels responsible for the death of their father, which led to him inheriting the ranch.
Enter Sofia McBride, Lara's friend and events organiser, who is the wedding planner for her friend's big day. Another big day is on the way - a centennial celebration of the ranch - and Sofia would be perfect for the job. Cade is also thinking that she would be perfect tied up in his BDSM playroom, but will he get his (wicked) way ? He's a Donovan - of course he will !
I actually really liked the character of Sofia. She has a very sassy streak - in fact, she is frequently pushing her luck with Cade, enjoying the thrill of being repeatedly warned that she'll be punished for "bratting", despite having no idea of what that actually means ! Cade may be the Dom in the relationship but he certainly has his hands full with Sofia, especially as he knows she has absolutely no experience of BDSM and he wants to initiate her into his lifestyle gently.
It's actualy very interesting watching the powerplay between the two characters. It would be easy to think that the Dom has all of the power but, as he explains, it is actually the Sub who has total control, as she has the safewords that can stop things in an instant or slow them down as required. He also explains the responsibility of staying in control and devoting himself to keeping his Sub safe and totally fulfilled, both sexually and emotionally. The tenderness of the scenes of aftercare (physical contact and talking things through after BDSM scening) and seeing Cade closely monitoring Sofia's reactions so that he never pushes her too far show a different side to this kind of relationship that you wouldn't imagine at first sight.
Just like his big brother, Cade has serious commitment issues and a lot of emotional baggage that sends Sofia running when she knows she's getting in too emotionally deep. There is the same will-they-won't-they tension going on through the whole novel and the ending is very similar to the first book - the Dom has to go cap in hand to his Sub and give them exactly what they want - which, again, throws up the question of who actually has the most power in the relationship.
It's a book that is, surprisingly, as sweet as it is scorching. I would assume that many readers have absolutely no experience of what a BDSM lifestyle entails, so learning along with Sofia makes it all less daunting. There are sex scenes, and lots of them, but I didn't find them excruciatingly graphic - a lot of it is left to the imagination rather than described in great detail and, as Cade tells Sophia when he blindfolds her for the first time, what goes on inside your imagination is far more powerful than what you can see with your own eyes !
You need to be broad-minded and will want to hide it from your mum, but if you like raunchy fiction with a romantic edge, it will tick all the right boxes. As each book follows a different member of the family, it doesn't matter at all whether or not you have read the first book in the series. The next book, Boss, will be released in May and is already available for pre-order.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £7.99
Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.