Back in Business. Ain’t it Grand?
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Hello Lady Smuters! I have returned and am again all up in your bidness.
Didja miss me?
Getting back into “real life” after a month’s recovery from surgery is…well, it’s weird, I won’t lie. Mostly because nothing’s changed and everything you’ve step (briefly) away from has pretty much carried on without you. No harm. No foul. After a lot of sleeping (and, let’s face it, a lot of reading and re-reading Kristen Ashley novels because my glom is strong and cannot, WILL NOT, be denied) life basically went, “oh, you’re back” and flowed on accordingly.
Sux when that happens, amirite?
One of the books I read either before or after (dem drugs, dey make da days blend) was Cara McKenna’s Crosstown Crush, which our own Madeline Iva touched on a bit last week in her post Bring Horns: Watching, Cuckolding, & Other Things Couples Do on Dirty Dates. Here at Lady Smut, we’re big fans of Cara McKenna–like, HUGE–which you can see in my review of her book Hard Time along with Liz Everly’s look at After Hours (another great), and Madam Iva’s interview with Ms. McKenna.
I won’t go over the plot of Crosstown Crush as Madam Iva has that well covered. (Yes, that’s a ploy to click on her link above. Go with it.) Outside of the author being pretty much an auto read, I picked up Crosstown Crush due of the advertised MFM threesome, which, believe it or not, is a hard trope to find (*rim shot*).
I choose my erotic romance reads carefully because not all kinks pleasure all readers and frankly, there’s a lot out there that doesn’t ring my reading happy place. That’s okay–to each their own and all that–but it means I read between the cover copy lines before hitting my (1-click) button.
So I went carefully in to Crosstown Crush, because I love Cara McKenna’s books…but I do not do cheaters. Cheating, to me, is the ultimate betrayal of intimacy with and respect for one’s partner. It’s an automatic DNF when a hero cheats (within the relationship) and it’s one of the few real-life scenarios I will not abide in my reading choices. (The exception is historical romance due to the prevalent trope of the heroes being more sexually experienced than the [usually virginal] heroines and often having a mistress up until they’ve realized their love for the heroine.) Several excellent writers have made a number of successful novels wherein the hero (or, though more rarely, the heroine) cheats, that carefully explore the parameters of relationships and the concept of forgiveness as the characters work to move cautiously forward into a new place together. Or so I’ve been told. I haven’t read them myself because, no. No cheating. Full stop. Hard line.
The consensual cuckolding in Crosstown Crush begins as mere role-play between Mike and Samira. They both get off on it and McKenna takes some pains to illustrate how this works for them both. Without question, they are deeply in love with one another and Samira has no problem giving Mike the kink he needs to address his uber-alpha issues, whether it’s creating ever more lurid and elaborate scenarios of her fictional dates or being the one to suggest the “let’s bring this cuckold thing into real life” option in the first place, an elevation of his kink Mike desires but was not going to ask of his wife.
“The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick, the married man.’”
(Much Ado About Nothing, I.i.215–219)
Here’s the thing–the cuckolding deal is not for me. This seems obvious given my hard line on cheating, but it’s not really that which makes me uncomfortable about this book. It’s the humiliation. I don’t find it sexy or titillating for one partner to humiliate the other, regardless of the consensual aspect. And that’s what cranks Mike’s pump–he needs to be humiliated by another man “claiming” his woman and then “reclaim” her at the end of the scenario in order to assert his manhood. Now again, McKenna takes pains to detail how Mike and Samira both enjoy their roles in this kink and how Samira, in particular, willingly plays her role out of love and desire. But there’s so much explanation–first to the reader and then to Bern–that it begins to feel less informative and more like justification.
Bern enjoys being watched, a somewhat more common kink, and after meeting Samira and a lot of careful communication, he becomes the horns of the cuckold. Not for nothing, but I much prefer Bern to Mike. He’s hot, charming, affable, self-aware, a phenomenal lover, and terribly sexy. His first “date” with Samira is nearly perfect and made me wonder why she wouldn’t just keep on keeping on with Bern. Samira and Bern have great chemistry, in person and in bed, and it’s not a surprise that their physical intimacy within the bounds of the agreed upon scenarios deepens their emotional intimacy. They like each other on top of being attracted to each other and Samira is upfront about that with Mike (it helps to be sexually attracted to the man who’s going to play in your kink with you and your husband. I guess.)
While the sex is outstanding for everyone, the emotional conflicts build as intimacy between Samira and Bern grows. Samira has more involvement with him than Mike as her and Bern’s emails are the communication chain by which their engagements are arranged, which serves to preserve the parameters of Mike’s kink, keeping Bern an approved near stranger who Mike’s allowing to have sex with his wife. Samira and Bern are left alone together to set up the cuckold scenes in which Mike “discovers” them at which point Samira and Bern proceed to make him watch as they play on through and verbally humiliate Mike. Once Bern finishes and leaves, Mike almost violently “reclaims” Samira. But soon Samira and Bern are filming their assignations for Mike when he travels for business. Alone, their intimacy begins to break past the agreed upon kink play and become something very real.
It’s here that Samira finally claims her own. Up till now she’s been engaging and enjoying Mike’s kink–seeing to his needs out of her deep love for him and happily getting her own back in the process. In excess. But as her relationship with Bern grows beyond the boundaries of Mike’s kink, she realizes her own “kink”–her ability to love two men very differently at the same time. Her love for her husband is unchanged; it’s even become stronger by their open discussion of trust as they’ve invited Bern into their bed. Now she knows any forward movement of her relationship with Mike will need to address the desires she’s discovered thanks to their/her relationship with Bern. In the skilled hands of Cara McKenna’s emotional writing of vulnerable characters, Crosstown Crush goes beyond the humiliation of Mike’s kink and into an exploration of the many wrinkles and layers of love and trust and need, which exist in every relationship, regardless of kink.
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