Crosstown Crush by Cara McKenna

impressionistic picture of the face of a woman of colour (probably of Persian origin if the cover is true to the text)Why I read it:  I’d been meaning to buy this book for ages and finally took the plunge. Then, I actually read it (this is uncommon – I buy far more books that I will never read. It’s a thing that happens).

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  When he’s working, Mike Heyer is all business—every inch the alpha male, with the hard, capable body to back up his persona. But at home he can be a different man entirely, harboring appetites only his wife gets to glimpse…

When Samira first learned of her husband’s fantasies, she was reluctant, even alarmed. But after witnessing the way they set him on fire, she yielded, and happily indulged. As their games have intensified, so has the rush. And now so has the risk—they’re poised to take Mike’s indecent desires to the next level, by opening their bed to a sexy, brazen stranger. A man seeming custom-made to grant every last one of Mike and Samira’s sinful wishes.

Welcoming someone new into their lives was always a dangerous proposition, but the couple imagined if anything was at stake, it was their privacy…not their hearts.

Spoilers Ahoy – what I want to talk about involves spoilers. The book has been out a while so I don’t feel bad about that. Still, be ye warned.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Crosstown Crush is a fairly unusual book for a mainstream romance publisher (Intermix) because it involves a husband with a cuckolding fetish. For Mike Heyer, he gets off on the idea of his wife cheating on him with another guy – a taller, more muscly guy with a bigger dick. A guy who, in the fantasy at least, is better than Mike. Samira, Mike’s wife, has been indulging her husband’s fetish via fantasy for a little while. She comes home late, smelling of the cologne of another guy (she stops at a shop and samples, there is no actual other guy at this point) and Mike confronts her. Samira then makes up a story about how she cheated and who she cheated with for her husband’s pleasure. Samira doesn’t get off on the kink herself but she does get off on how much her husband gets off on it. When the book begins, Samira is at the point where she’d be willing to explore actually having sex with another guy to indulge Mike’s kink. There is a bit of a lack of self-awareness here because Samira thinks it’s mainly for Mike, not really acknowledging to herself that thinking about other guys gets her hot and bothered too. She’s not a cheater by nature so for her to be willing to have sex with another guy just for Mike’s pleasure did not really fly with me. It was obvious from the beginning that Samira requires some kind of emotional connection with her sex partners. And that, in the end, is what causes all the trouble.

After a careful process (which is nonetheless rather serendipitous), Samira starts emailing Bern, an electrician who has a voyeurism kink. He gets off on being watched so the idea of Mike watching him bone Samira turns his crank. They meet and hit it off. Mike is still on board (more than on board) and Samira is surprised at how much she desires Bern. Bern has hit the jackpot so he’s happy too. At first the scenes they do are mainly about Mike’s humiliation – how he’s not man enough to satisfy his wife etc but eventually it morphs into a more “hot wife” type scenario. I’m not sure how realistic this is as I am so vanilla I could be Streets Blue Ribbon but the humiliation was key to Mike’s kink and it not being satisfied gave me some questions. That said, the way the story moved on also made sense because it would, as a matter of logic, be harder to maintain the humiliation fantasy when Bern is the guy who keeps coming back as the special guest star. At some point that script gets old and either the script or the actors need to change to keep things fresh and exciting.

Samira wonders quite early on about her growing feelings for Bern and acknowledges to herself that she has a crush on Bern. She doesn’t share this with Mike however. For a couple who have a rule of being totally honest always with each other, I found this curious. But actually talking about it early and dealing with it would have ruined the black moment – even though it was the more mature and sensible thing to do. That Bern and Samira would eventually cross the line from putting on a show for Mike to having sex with each other for themselves was so inevitable, it’s hardly a spoiler to say so. I found it difficult to believe that the possibility hadn’t crossed Mike’s and Samira’s mind.

What else? When things come to a head (heh), Bern steps back for some months and it’s just Samira and Mike again until Mike gives the go ahead. But this part was done in a brief epilogue and the specifics of how they negotiated their new arrangement weren’t stated. There was some stuff – it wasn’t completely opaque – but I wondered whether they were still monogamous to each other and going condom-free and I wondered how long the arrangement could last. And this was the bit where the argument of the romance novel failed for me. Because there’s no HEA. There’s a HFN but, for me (and I stress this is my personal view only – ask 20 romance readers what a HFN or HEA is and you might get 25 different opinions) a true HFN is where there is a HEA coming but it’s not on the page. Where I can see that there’s a way to have a HEA. Where the relationship is destined to fail doesn’t feel very HFN for me. I know there are separate arguments about constitutes “failure” and “success” in relationships but they are about real life for me and not romance novels. I can see that at some point Samira and Mike would part ways with Bern and count the entire experiment as a success but that’s not a HEA for me – because they split up. And Bern isn’t going to stick around forever. He’s just not. It is obvious from the way he’s characterised that he will want to be the primary partner to someone at some point and that’s never going to be Samira. He will only ever be the special guest star. He’s 36 years old. Eventually, he may well want children (he’s somewhat ambivalent now but really only because he doesn’t want to be an “old dad”, not because he doesn’t actually want kids of his own). Unless Bern marries a woman who is a cuck-queen, or potentially has a voyeurism fetish of her own, it seems unlikely any primary partner Bern has will want him to continue hooking up with Samira and Mike. It works in the story because Bern is at a stage where he’s happy to be having the best sex of his life but it’s clear he will want more at some point – and it’s equally clear he has all he is going to get from Samira (and Mike).

I’m a romance reader first and foremost. As a romance, I struggled with with the HFN here because it didn’t really fit my personal definition of HFN. I expect that won’t be the case for everyone so I’m not prepared to say it doesn’t have a HFN, only that it doesn’t have one for me. That is the central premise of a romance novel – and I just don’t think it made its case.

The story was certainly smoking hot and I liked Mike, Bern and Samira very much. While I congratulate Ms. McKenna for writing something so different and while I was thoroughly entertained for most of the book, ultimately, the ending let the story down and some of my credulity was stretched too thin to make this book a complete success. Still, I’m glad I read it and I don’t regret the money or the time I spent to do so.

Grade: B-

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