One Cut Deeper by Joely Sue Burkhart

One Cut DeeperWhy I read it:  I received a review copy via the publisher.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Her needs are dark. His are dangerous.

Charlie MacNiall has been bringing his beautiful king shepherd to the vet clinic where Ranay Killian works for the better part of a year. She doesn’t realize he’s been slowly wooing her. She certainly has no idea that he picked her deliberately—that she is to become his. A broken heart and a desperate desire to be dominated make her the perfect victim.

His perfect victim.

Charlie fixes Ranay, testing her emotional limits while pushing her sexual boundaries past anything she’d imagined possible. Pain is their shared pleasure…until Charlie disappears and Ranay is all but destroyed.

The FBI says the man she loves is a serial killer. Ranay can’t deny there’s a darkness in Charlie, a monstrous hunger that drives him to the brink. She even believes he could kill. But Charlie’s hunger is what bonds them—it’s the foundation of their love. Would he actually kill her?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I’m hoping that by the time I get to the end of the review I will know what grade to assign the book. I admit I’m at a bit of a loss.  On the one hand, the story was engaging and compelling. It was easy to read in the sense that it seemed like no time at all had passed when I realised I’d read 150 pages and I needed to go to bed.   On the other hand, it was pretty far outside my comfort zone and in that respect, it was not at all easy to read.

The romance develops quickly. I’m not sure it exactly qualifies as “insta-love” because Charlie and Ranay have been acquainted for about a year. He brings his beautiful king shepherd dog, Sheba, into the vet clinic where Ranay works as a receptionist, every four weeks for grooming and nail clipping. Charlie regularly boards Sheba there too, as he often travels for his work.

Ranay knew the instant he first came into the clinic that Charlie was a Dominant.  I don’t usually hold with the idea that a Dom or sub can be ID’d on sight  by someone with a special BDSM superpower but it actually made sense in the construct of the book. Ranay (and by the way, the way she spells her name annoys me unfeasibly – my mind tripped over it every single time) is a very susceptible kind of submissive.  She wants to submit to someone fully and completely and she’s inclined to do it fast and indelibly.  She is still recovering from her last relationship. When it broke down, she had basically lost herself.

She is drawn to Charlie but also scared of what he might see if he looks into her eyes. However, she puts a lot of store in what an owner’s relationship with his or her dog says about them. Sheba is perfectly well behaved and very loved.  It is clear that Charlie spends time with her and has trained her well.  He expects and receives obedience from Sheba but their affection is clear.  This gives Ranay some confidence that he might be the man she needs, the man she has been searching for her whole life.

When Charlie asks her to dogsit Sheba overnight on Christmas Eve Eve, their relationship goes on hyperdrive. Things progress astoundingly quickly from that point.

Ranay is presented as extremely vulnerable at the start of the book.  She is stronger by the end, but some of her characterisation felt a little discordant to me – sometimes she looked stronger than she was supposed to be.  As I am a vanilla girl who is vanilla, this may well be me misunderstanding “the lifestyle”. As an example, she was desperate to please Charlie and wanted to do everything and anything to please him.  He had to force her to have a limit.  She had never come up against a hard limit of her own before. She thought she didn’t have any.  But while this is happening, she is also wondering how bratty she can be.  So, that confused me a little.

Ranay is not just submissive. She’s also a masochist. She loves pain (in a consensual sexual context).  She hasn’t been able to find the Dom who will give her all the pain she craves.  Charlie might just be her perfect match because he’s a sadist.  He likes blood.

This is where things got a bit squicky for me.  While I was in no doubt that Ranay was enjoying what was happening to her and that her scenes with Charlie were enthusiastically consensual, I did not consent to the blood play. I could tell Ranay liked it when Charlie bit her and drew blood.  Me?  Not so much.

I was a little uncertain about their super quick slide into a scene with only a brief discussion about limits and safewords.  And, the way safewords were used in this story was different to how I’ve read it in others.  Mostly, I’ve seen a safeword bringing the end to a scene.  But here, it was more used to bring an end to a certain kind of play and mark the beginning of something else.  I was vaguely uncertain about this.  (Again: Vanilla Girl here.) I was also uncertain about the lack of health consciousness both main characters displayed when it came to blood play. Charlie wore a condom but neither apparently thought anything about exchanging blood? (and no, this is not a PNR book and they are not vampires with super-human health).

Charlie may well be perfect for Ranay but he is not a “good guy” in the accepted sense of the word.  This story has something of a Dexter vibe to it.  I do not like Dexter and don’t really see the attraction so the fact that I read this book so fast (over 2 evenings) and actually finished it should say something.

What else? I think I’d have been more comfortable with the ending if the narrative had taken place over a longer period of time. As it was, Ranay had to change her life in its entirety after being with Charlie for less than a month.  In fact, it may well have been less than a fortnight.  It was a VERY SHORT TIME.  Given how very vulnerable Ranay was at the start of the book, it made me fear for her. It was made explicit that she could easily lose herself.

There were things which didn’t make sense to me  at the start and through the middle of the book. Mostly the plot came together in a cohesive way as the story was revealed but there were a few small niggles where I couldn’t quite fit things into the narrative as I understood it.  For example, how did the villain know to attempt to break in to Charlie’s house?  Why did he choose to go after Ranay then, instead of any any other time beforehand?  There were a couple of others.  They were small things however.

It’s a very busy book. The action and tension are high. Not only is Ranay embarking on a very edgy relationship with Charlie, there’s a serial killer on the loose.  It’s all very dark and moody but very compelling.

The story was well written – not a lot of flowery prose, simple sentence structures which suited the narrative and enhanced the driving intensity of the book. I’d certainly read more from this author because the writing and voice impressed me.

Well, I’m at the end of the review and I still don’t know what I think. Did I like it? Sometimes. Did it entertain me? Absolutely. Do I feel uncomfortable with that? A little.

It would be unfair of me to say I’d have liked it better without the blood and if Charlie better fitted into the “good guy” mould (unfair, but true). Because that would have been a completely different book.  This is a dark romance and there are no sparkly rainbows here.  There is blood and sacrifice and risk and danger.  The story carried me along almost on a tide of its own. Some of the places it took me weren’t places I expected to visit or places I felt comfortable.  But it was certainly a wild ride.

Let’s call it a B shall we?  Mostly what I’ve done here is throw a dart at random. The book is certainly better than a C.  It’s objectively (to my criteria) not an A.  It’s a discomfited B. Make of that what you will.

Grade: B



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