****4.5 ‘Bravery Born In Lust’ STARS****

We all have coping mechanisms.  Coffee, alcohol, drugs, lies, avoidance, denial, day dreams, fantasy.  I’ll be the first to say I can’t function without coffee every single day.  And when I don’t want to discuss my social life with my mother – you got it – Avoidance 101.  But what if you felt like you weren’t good enough to live your life let alone on your terms?  That you needed to lie to everyone you meet, create elaborate stories to convince strangers that you have a normal everyday-dysfunctional happy life?  What if you were your very own plagiarist in the book called ‘your life’?

                “I wasn’t strong…I made progress because I fed them the lies they wanted to hear and recited the necessary stories obediently.”

There are a lot of books out there today that deal with ‘broken’ characters, and while Lust certainly has two very broken characters between its pages, I was impressed that we weren’t served the same typical abusive relationship and/or rape story line that tends to oversaturate the romance market recently.  Instead what we get in Lust is an original take on a damaged victim, Ivy (h), who is so mentally shut down she prefers to live her life out of books – literally.  And while Cade (H) is a professional therapist and sex surrogate to Ivy, his life and baggage aren’t any easier – or healthier– for him.  He certainly does not have his $h!t together and prefers to ignore his own scarred past.  They’re both trying everything they can to outrun the emotion and triggers that overshadow their lives.

“Or we would merely drown in each other’s darkness until it shrouded us and left us for dead.”

Fear.  Fantasy.  Forgiveness.  Ivy Jaymes is broken shell living the husk of what could be considered a life.  No relationships.  No friends.   Her life is empty.  We’re introduced to Ivy at a turning point in her life.  She’s made a decision to consult a sex surrogate to help her deal with the issues preventing her from getting her dream – her happily ever after.  If she’s ever going to be able to move forward, those three F’s are going to have to be dealt with.  Her fear is overwhelming her to the point she’s conceded defeat before she even fought the battle, that fantasy – that’s not real – she’s going to have to realize it’s an empty promise, and forgiveness – especially introspectively of ourselves – is one of the hardest battles we humans fight internally and that’s no different for her.  I appreciated Ivy’s bravery in confronting her demons on her own.  No one told or counseled her to get help from a sex surrogate.  She faced the reality of her life if she didn’t change and took the best steps forward she knew how.  It’s interesting to see a character that is both weak and brave portrayed at the same time.  Make no mistake, although Ivy makes that brave first step she has many, many moments of self-doubt and tries to give up all too quickly.  But that’s the thing here – she’s a victim not yet a survivor – and that rings very true with her actions.  She doesn’t know how to stay in the fight yet…and she’s not even sure she’s worth it.

“There would never be a time where I wasn’t haunted by my past.”

I’m not one for couples with abusive or traumatic histories to expect that they can ‘fix’ each other.  I’m in that camp of ‘you need to heal yourself before you get into a relationship’.  It does work here though.  However, I believe it’s only because Cade is a licensed therapist and is equipped to handle the issues that come from a romantic relationship with two mentally scarred individuals.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t f*@ck up, he does, but he’s much faster at analyzing and correcting, not to mention empathetic, patient and understanding.  It’s Cade’s unwavering patience that undoes me.  This man .  He’s so confused by Ivy and the feeling’s she stirs but he never gives up.  He pushes and pushes always for her benefit.  He knows he’s starting to care for her, and has an ethical freak out, but still can’t abandon her.  Once he starts to realize the depth of his feelings and the impact she has on this life his outlook starts to evolve.  This is another area I appreciated…the steady character growth.  Because of his own horrific childhood, Cade has very set ideas on relationships, love and marriage and those wouldn’t change overnight because he realizes he may be in deeper than he thought with Ivy.  It gave him a layer of authenticity that you need to invest in his character.

“No one has ever heard me the way you do.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Lust.  Leddy Harper is a new to me author and I didn’t know anything about her writing style.  I went in blind other than reading the back cover blurb.  I was concerned and not thrilled that Cade was a sex surrogate, it’s a device I was afraid would be used as a means to write copious sex page after page.  While it was a coping mechanism for Cade, and I wasn’t a fan of reading explicit sexual scenes of him with another woman, it wasn’t ever a scape goat for gratuitous sex.  Quite the opposite, even while I hated that he used women and sex outside of his practice to numb his pain, I got it.  I understood the destructive behavior and why he was doing it.  Combined with his internal reflections, it also effectively illustrated the differences between his behaviors with his F-Buddy and Ivy.  It was a smart and effective plotting tool.

“Normal people don’t understand f*@cked up.”

My love of Lust was its overall authenticity.  Between the sensual slow dance of Cade doing everything he can to waken Ivy’s passions and the raw broken pieces they both healed in each other, I was immersed in their journey.  The sex was plentiful but appropriate for the subject matter, the character development was spot on and I enjoyed the different type of plot and story line between two broken victims who triumph into survivors.  I certainly won’t hesitate to pick up the next book by Ms. Harper.

“It’s your book, Ivy.”

K’s Category: 1st date, first novel read by author to date.

Trigger Warning: Mental recall of physical and mental child abuse.

Characters: M/F

OM/OW: Yes – H, explicit sexual content.  Although this happens before the H/h engage in a relationship.

Sex: Yes, descriptive

HEA: Yes

Standalone: Yes.