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The Girlfriend

The Girlfriend - Abigail Barnette This review will contain some spoilers and features my comments on both books in this series as it seems I am having difficulties to separate them when they are so intricately entwined.

There are many things I really loved in The Boss, first and foremost Neil Elwood who is easily one of the best doms and heroes I have come upon in a long time. Neil is a gentleman to the core and he is allowed to have flaws and to be human, to be unsure and normal while still exuding a very powerful, strong and dominating vibe. I have been reading romances so long that I am really tired of those clich├ęd doms who see a woman, know she's submissive, know her every move and thought, can read her mind, never overstep boundaries and are picture perfect no matter what life throws upon them.

In the story Neil meets Sophie six years ago when she's but a girl of eighteen, unsure of how her life is supposed to continue and ready to experiment with a man who is 24 years her senior. They spend one night together and accidentally meet again six years later in a work related surrouding. Neil has ever since that first night been in love with Sophie and is very honest about his emotions, but reluctant to reveal them to her for fear she might run away as she only consents to a no-strings sexual fling. The way Neil shows his love to Sophie and lives it is splendidly done, all the more so as we don't get any insight to his mind because the story is exclusively told by Sophy as the I-narrator.
Neil is disgustingly rich, doesn't flaunt his money but also isn't ashamed of it. I can't count the number of books I have read where the hero is somewhat (or more) damanged by former lovers because they only wanted his money. Not so in this case because, THANK YOU Abigail Barnette, Neil is intelligent enough to know and feel whether a woman has the hots for his money or him.

Neil needs a great heroine and equal counterpart and finds her in Sophy who is a sexual adventurous and free spirited fashion journalist. I am always a little afraid of super cute and over the top quirky narrating when reading a story told from the first point of view by the heroine. And while the narrating has a subtle, sometimes ironic dialogue it is subliminal and polished and very captivating and easily to get into. Sophy is a strong heroine but not perfect. She does make mistakes and has faults, but her heart is in the right place and she's a truly good, honest and warm person. She falls in love with Neil during the first book and doesn't realise so until reality crashes down on her, making her realise that she has fooled herself by trying to keep sex and her heart separated from each other.

A few days ago I bemoaned the fact that I can't find any good BDSM romances out there featuring a m/f pairing, as the heroine tends to make me tear my hair out. After reading both parts of this series I can honestly say that this dry spell has ended. Neil and Sophie start out their relationship in a vanilla setting and only when Sophy shows interest in the lifestyle Neil slowly begins to introduce various gadgets and D/s scenes into their sex life. Sophy shows true character strength when it comes to domination and submission. Unlike as in so many other books, she is not ashamed of her feelings OR her body, she is a sexually healthy creature who enjoys sex and doesn't feel slutty because of doing so. The first book is very tame where BDSM elements are concerned, but oh so hot and well done, as, and I know I am repeating mysself here, Neil is a gentleman with a very very lovely chocolaty layering. And for me it was this indisputable love Neil feels for Sophy that made the darker elements of BDSM from the second book so special. I wouldn't recommend this mini series to a reader who is new to BDSM as the second book, The Girlfriend, introduces some stronger play and also features two menage scenes.

There are two topics in this book that are not really common elements in most romances, cancer and abortion. Personally, I would have preferred the book only dealt with Neal's cancer and not additionally with Sophy's abortion of their child. I am very glad to have never been in the situation where such a decision was necessary, but the whole scenario surrounding this topic was dealt with, for my taste, too easily. Sometimes the consequences of abortion can catch up with you years later, while the initial act is rather easily done. In this case, it felt to me as if Sophy and Neal have become victims of the plot, as there was probably no way to deal satisfyingly with the situation. Usually, I don't read books where cancer is a huge topic in it. There's too much of that in my real life so I don't want to read about it in hot and steamy romance novels. However, the author did a very very good job of dealing with the subject and, in this case, I was very glad I could push myself to read outside my comfort zone. I have little knowledge of leukemia, but the medical procedures and dealing with the chemotherapy appeared very realistic to me. And as a reader I really got to see another kind of love between Sophy and Neal which has nothing to do with sex and everything with a deep emotional connection that goes soul deep. It's during Neal's illness that I got to really see Sophy's strength and her true love for Neal and how those two are simply meant to be together.

Neal and Sophy's relationship, however, has a deep focus on sex and this is the reason why they introduce a third player into their play while Neal is too ill to satisfy Sophy. I didn't mind the sharing part, for that I've definitely read too many erotic romance novels, but I would have wished for an outsider who was closer to them and not a total albeit very sexy and hot stranger. I can imagine that this part probably rubbed some readers the wrong way, and while I could have wished for the author to have dealt with the situation differently, it didn't deter me from enjoying the story.

There are two more elements in the series I would like to mention. Firstly, I have a weak spot for May December romances and I was very pleased that Abigail Barnette didn't turn the age difference into a hot topic until the end. Yes, there are 24 years separating Neal and Sophy, but the love they feel for each other is more important and true and they are intelligent enough to not talk the age difference to death. Secondly, Neal's daughter Emma is the same age as Sophy, and again kudos to the author, there was no sugar coating or downright hate dominating the interaction between them. They are neither portrayed as overly good nor bad but shown as characters who dealt with the situation in a mature but flawed way as such a set up tends to provoke hurt feelings and touchy situations.

I go with a strong B+ for the books, mainly because of the abortion issue and the ending felt a bit too abrupt for me. I seriously hope there will be a third part to Sophy and Neal's story, they have truly earned a satisfying happy ending which is longer than an epilogue!