by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Several years ago, I read Alisha Rai’s first novel, Glutton for Pleasure, which was, I believe, my first menage erotic romance. It is a sexy, sweet morsel featuring a delightfully plump chef heroine named Devi with a lovely theme of learning to appreciate her own value sexually and claim some agency within her overwhelming family as she falls in love with two men.
It’s long-awaited sequel, Serving Pleasure, is in a whole ‘nother weight class.
First, a blurb:
Rana Malik is over being her family’s resident black sheep. She’s on a mission: ditch the casual hook-ups, revamp her bad-girl image, and fall in love with a proper Mr. Right even her conservative mama can’t find fault with. Not on the menu? The beautiful, brooding Mr. Right Now who lives next door, and all the ways he whets her appetite.
Artist Micah Hale had it all—women, success, friends and family—until his world changed in a single act of senseless violence. Now struggling to conceal his scars and get his life and career back on track, he knows he has nothing to offer a woman except his body. He’s not looking for love… but he can’t control his craving for the sexy bombshell voyeur he’s caught looking at him.
Their attraction boils over and their defenses are stripped off along with their clothes. They promise they’ll walk away if it gets too hot. But it’s hard to the right thing…when being wrong feels so good.
When Rana saw her youngest sister, Devi, find love and happiness with her pair of lovers, she decided to put aside her black sheep status and become New Rana by reining in her wild impulsive nature and actively searching for her own Mister Right. She’s been no-sex for a year while using a dating site to go on sensible dates with “appropriate” men (scenes enlivened by the knowledge that Ms. Rai herself signed up and dated off of a match-making site as research for this story.) That’s until Rana starts to spy on her new neighbor, brooding artist Micah Hale, while he paints with furious abandon, then destroys the unsatisfying canvas with an Exacto knife, and finally decides to relieve his frustration with some hawt, if ultimately unsatisfying, self-love.
Now *that’s*a meet cute.
Ex-pat Brit, Micah, is nursing his own wounds from a brutal attack two years ago that nearly killed him. Overall, he feels less. Less of a man. Less of an artist. Often, less than a man. Once a first-class player, now he can barely stand the socialization required for his first U.S. showing. He notices Rana’s late-night peeping right away and has a visceral response to her that is stronger than anything he’s felt since his attack. She also ignites his creativity and leaves him itching to paint. He deliberately puts on a show for her and later, when he catches her stalking him, taunts her into having an affair, no strings attached, with a shared agreement not to fall in love with each other.
Oh and he gets to paint her. Naked.
This was all his fault. All of it. Rana might have pined over him a bit, but she’d been moving on. The memories of their night together would have faded eventually. Then this beautiful asshole had come waltzing back into her life, offering her the sweetest of things, the things she craved. Lust. Excitement. Desire. Attention. She could have them. Extend their affair. Get everything she needed from him. Because, God, she needed. And then she would walk away. There was no other choice.
Rana’s trying to bridle her passions and be more worthy of a love for which she doesn’t entirely believe herself to be worthy, especially given some of the questionable things she’s done in her past. She also struggles to feel valued by her sisters as a professional equal as they expand their shared business. She tired of being valued only for her good looks, using them and her considerable charm to wait tables and manage staff while Devi spins genius cuisine in the kitchen and middle sister Leena bends her sharp mind to their restaurant’s financial needs. But Rana can’t get her sisters to see past their established molds. And though she’s secure in her sexuality, for years she’s taken verbal abuse and constant shaming from her mother that has torn away at her self-worth.
Micah changes all that.
Confidence made her shoulders straighten. Prettiness might be all she had going for her, but Micah didn’t make her feel pretty . He made her feel like a goddess. Like he was starving in a desert and she was the only thing that could save him.
Following his attack, Micah is practically a recluse. Everything about him is different; even the way he paints and the pictures he creates are something new and not, to his mind, better. Rana is the first risk he’s taken, the first woman he’s itched to paint, the first woman to drive him rabid with desire. After two years of celibacy, his physical need is fierce and exciting because his emotional need is wildly out-of-control and deeply unfulfilled until he meets Rana.
His fingers curled against the glass. He wanted to march over to her home right now and kidnap her, bring her back to his lair. Not so he could torture both of them for a couple of hours while he sketched her, but so he could get right to what he needed from her. It wasn’t sex, though he worshiped her for giving it to him. He wanted to hold her close while the afternoon sun rolled over their bodies. He wanted to nuzzle his face against her neck in the hope he might actually sleep a whole night through. When they climaxed, it was the only time in recent memory he could remember feeling at peace.
Alisha Rai writes some of the best diverse, feminist, erotic romance out there today, a fact also on display in her novel A Gentleman in the Street. Her heroines ooze agency and revel in their sexuality; her heroes are complex and often surprisingly against stereotype. Her books are gutsy and original with sizzling, emotion-filled sex that will leave you buzzing for days.
With every stroke that conjures Rana and Micah’s depths and their significant emotional stakes, Ms. Rai brings these fully-fleshed, complicated people to life through words that are polished and witty, engrossing and poignant. At times funny with a touch of screwball comedy, Serving Pleasure explores the themes of family expectations and failures and the struggle of trauma recovery with grace and care through pages of sensual pleasure threaded with tender scenes of self discovery and forgiveness.
Be sure to come back next Monday when we’ll chat with Alisha Rai about Serving Pleasure, writing purpose-filled sex, and the enticement of a man’s well-sculpted forearms.
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