Disclosure: I’m friendly with the author on Twitter. We talk often. I know she’s a super cool person who won’t get bent out of shape if I don’t like a book she writes and I feel comfortable that I can say what I think without it being awkward. So I’m reviewing this one. As always, readers get to decide if my opinion is helpful to them.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Everyone is virgin at something
This is the story of a man who’s never done it, and a woman with the experience to teach him how.
Reid McGrath is drunk and intends to stay that way. It’s what a man does when the world he built gets ripped out from under him. He’s staked a claim on the back booth at Lucky’s where he can fixate on a dancer who makes him wish things were different.
Zarley Halveston dances under shimmering lights in a barely there costume, but it’s not the gold medal life she trained for. She expected to stand on an Olympic podium, instead she glitters under disco lights, gyrating on a chrome pole. Zarley can’t see the brooding man in the back booth, but she knows he’s there. He’s toxic, but it’s not her job to care, until the night he collapses at her feet and she has to choose to step over him or help him up.
Reid thought he’d hit bottom when he was fired as CEO of his own company, but knowing he’d needed the kindness of a stranger, and realizing she was the dancer he’d lusted after was a new low.
Question: What do a fallen golden girl and a sacked tech tycoon have in common except humiliation and failure?
Answer: The reawakening of a champion competitor and the sexual education of a frustrated geek.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Reid McGrath is the weird loner guy who starts a multi-million dollar tech company but manages to have almost no people skills. (I’ve met people like him – except with less money.) He’s been so focused on his company and coming up with brilliant apps and other software, he didn’t really have time for women (that’s his excuse anyway). But his woeful people skills collided with his company’s “No Asshole” rule and he was fired. From his own company. Oh the humiliation. The rage!
Reid has been drowning his sorrows every night at Lucky’s a not-quite-strip club which is as down on its luck as he is. There, he watches Lux (aka Zarley) dance every night, defying gravity on her spinning chrome pole. He’s attracted to her but also mesmerised by her skills and athleticism. He thinks she’s got it together and he’s envious. Turns out, she’s fighting her way out of failure as well.
Reid doesn’t interact with the staff at Lucky’s. He just drinks and watches and leaves a generous tip from the back booth. Reid, as Reid does, puts both feet in his mouth when he sees Zarley dealing (very efficiently I might add) with a drunk loser, who thinks pole dancer means something else, as she’s leaving Lucky’s one night. Even so, when, shortly after, Zarley finds Reid slumped and ill outside the club, she cannot leave him there. The food at Lucky’s can kill you and Reid has a bad case of food poisoning.
Something about Zarley’s kindness breaks through Reid’s isolation and he determines to thank her properly. He’s not thinking of any kind of relationship. He feels she is way above his touch. But persistence and earnestness pay off for him, big time.
Zarley was an Olympic medal hopeful when an accidental pregnancy at age 18 cut her out of the team and left her with not much. Her family and her hometown are still disappointed with her. She’s still disappointed with her. After a period of feeling sorry for herself and having easy sex for cheap highs, she buckled down and got herself sorted out. She’s still a work in progress but she’s in college studying for her business degree. Dancing at Lucky’s pays her bills and, in a few years, will pay off her student loans. Lucky’s allows her to use her gymnastic skills in some way, to get enjoyment from her body and show off a little. It’s a club where there’s no sex, even though the clientele can’t be said (for the most part) to attend for the displays of stunning artistry. It’s sex work but it’s not lap dances and Zarley can live with that.
Reid and Zarley and some of her co-workers at Lucky’s have a really interesting conversation about exotic dancing vs stripping vs lap dances etc. I appreciated Reid’s honesty and his refreshing lack of judgement about it even though I’m not sure the girls did entirely.
Reid is tall, broad and handsome – he’s a geek who works out (I haven’t met many of them but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, right?) and Zarley is attracted. Maybe he’ll be good for a fling. When Reid confesses his alarming (to him) lack of experience, he becomes even more catnippish to Zarley.
Reid knows his stuff when it comes to computers and software but freely acknowledges he has little expertise in the sex department. He is a willing and dedicated pupil.
She engineered their first orgasms; he gave her the second, asking and receiving instructions on how to use his tongue, what to do with his fingers, intent on topping the class and ruining the teacher.
Zarley is smitten
“That’s some kind of advanced ninja sex. Couldn’t you ease me into this?”
and Reid catapults into desperate love.
She filled him up with longing and with fear. Now he knew she existed, he didn’t want to be without her and he had nothing she needed because the only win she valued was one she designed and achieved for herself.
Reid has loads of money, and, while he’s “between projects” he has a lot of time. But Zarley won’t be bought and doesn’t require from him his mad tech skills or his money. Their relationship is not without it’s dramas (understatement). Reid is terrible with people. Zarley clues him in.
She nodded. “You’re not completely useless at people stuff.”
For Zarley he was trying. For Zarley he wanted to be better at it in a way that professionally he’d never understood the need. At work people should be tough, it wasn’t personal, it was business, it was serious. When he’d criticized or been demanding, it was about the job. When he lost his temper or was unaccommodating it was about performance. But people brought their feelings to work and feelings got in the way of doing good work, but not in his bed.
In his bed, feelings were the job and he was sorely under-skilled.
She pulled on his earlobe. “I’ve had worse.”
“I want to learn how to be better at knowing what to say, how to say it. Not intimidating people.” He put his lips to her forehead. “I don’t intimidate you. Why?”
“There are no wimps in the gym. Wimps get hurt, they don’t win. I trained to be a winner. No, you don’t intimidate me. And I won’t stand for any crap.”
She’s not the first to make the attempt, but Reid has greater motivation than ever before and, perhaps, his experience of being booted out of Plus has softened him up enough that he’s finally getting it.
“You do it to me, Reid. All of you, smart and stupid, brave and alone. You get to me. Your body, the way you think. You’re arrogant, opinionated, stubborn and persistent, and I like all of those things on you. And that I get to have you first.” She wound her arms around his neck. “You have no idea how much I like that. How much I like you don’t make me feel ashamed.”
He fixed on her eyes. “Ashamed of what?”
I *love* that he asked that question. Because her sexual history and her profession doesn’t even blip his radar as a reason for shame.
Zarley, for her part, admires Reid’s tenacity and dedication. He’s very much an emotional open book for her and she’s never in doubt as to what he’s feeling or thinking. Reid has no filters – professionally this has caused him a lot of angst but, on balance, with Zarley, it’s a plus.
It wasn’t just the sex. He was like double-sided tape. Smart but naive, funny and moody, awesome and fearsome, solitary and reaching out, and it didn’t matter which side she turned the tape, she was stuck on him.
Reid has to win the girl, win back his company and win back his friends. Along the way, he wounds all three by thinking he knows best, by being clumsy and clueless.
Zarley has to work out what she wants to do once college is finished and decide where Reid fits into the picture. As Reid’s star begins to once again ascend, Zarley finds all her safety nets gone. I *think* Zarley’s conflict near the end was about being swallowed up by Reid’s larger-than-life-ness. He only has two speeds – off and full-on. He’s a powerhouse and a force of personality. Zarley is a little lost and perhaps frightened that she will lose her self-reliance and what makes her proud of herself and somehow become less-than by being around him. I say “think” because it wasn’t entirely clear to me. I’m not good at subtle and I know I don’t always get the subtext. The writing is heavy on metaphor and, in the very end, I found it a little confusing. Because I thought it was being set up as a conflict about Reid not having sufficient time for Zarley but it wasn’t that and somewhere between the set up and the end I got just a little lost. That may very well be just me. It also may be that it was after 11.30pm and I was really tired but I wanted to finish the book. (#ReaderProblems)
What else? For the most part, I liked the dynamic between Reid and Zarley. I thought his dickishness in Paris was unexpected in a bad way but the kinky side he and Zarley explore in that city was unexpected in a good way so I guess it balanced out.
I liked that both Reid and Zarley had good friends and relied on them. Part of Reid’s arc was that he had to obtain the forgiveness of his friends because they are beyond done with his bullshit but he does learn enough to make it worth their while.
For all of Reid’s cluelessness about people, he does say some of the most romantic things. When it comes to Zarley he is all in and she is his priority. He has no issue in being seen as subservient to her in any way, even though their relationship is not a D/s one. He just wants her to be happy and fulfilled and he’s willing to put himself second to do it. There’s something very attractive about that, especially when combined with his otherwise forceful personality. Reid is no wimp. For all that Zarley is the gymnast, Reid bows to her with strength and grace.
My highlight function got a workout as I was reading, there were so many things which struck me or made me laugh or made me “awwww” and I think that says something. While the ending lacked a little clarity for me, Offensive Behavior was a great read and there have to be extra bonus points for the wonderful dearth of slut-shaming.
“We’re having a thing and it’s bigger than this weekend. That’s what I heard,” he said. “Now take me to bed and let’s do the one where we break something.”