I would like to share my review of THE CONTRACT by Natalie Dae. I really enjoyed this unique erotic romance suspense:
Fresh, dark, gripping, emotionally deep and erotically charged.
That's how I would describe The Contract by Natalie Dae. It is romantic suspense with an erotic edge and BDSM. A coming of age and self-discovery story as much as a suspenseful love story.
The first person POV drew me right into the heroine's feelings and thoughts. I felt like I was living her experiences in the moment. An attempt to reach out for her dreams in the most harmless way brings the heroine face to face with an evil element that will shadow her every move and bring her right to the edge of human ability to endure.
Master Michael is sexy, powerful in his own right and determined to protect Lisa with every breath he draws. He also strives to bring out the very best that she is capable of giving. He uses their sexual interaction to empower her.
This story is told in two parts, now and then. I always adore stories like that, such as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,The Joy Luck Club, Snow Falling On Cedars / East Of The Mountains and others. I think it added depth and richness that really made this novel the compelling read that it is.
It is a story of two people coming together in the face of danger and forming a unique bond. This book is refreshing and different. Gritty and ominous yet filled with burgeoning hope that flowers into a new start and a happy ending.
Here's the blurb and first chapter excerpt:
From the moment I stepped on the path that I hoped would take me to a better life, things changed forever—for the worst. I was dragged into the belly of the underworld, where a gang lord had chosen me to do his bidding. Caught up in a trial that had nothing to do with me, I was forced to sign a contract, binding me to do whatever the gang boss ordered—or lose my life. With no choice but to obey, and me falling in love with the defending lawyer, my world was turned upside down.
Master Michael was that lawyer, a man who wanted to teach me the BDSM lifestyle and keep me safe, offering me an entirely different contract. But I couldn’t allow him to. If I did, he would also face danger. Being beaten, stabbed, and hunted down became the norm for me, and I ended up having to make a choice—his life for mine or go into witness protection.
I should have been safe. I should have been able to stop looking over my shoulder. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t. The gang were always there, dogging my every step. And so was Master Michael.
‘How do you feel about losing your identity, Lisa?’ my counsellor, Stephan, asked, sitting on his side of a desk in what was formerly someone’s living room.
He operated from a house in Headington, Oxford, on the rising road that led to the John Radcliffe hospital, and I was thankful a bus stopped right outside it. Walking up that hill would have been a killer on my muscles, would serrate my nerves too. Anyone could be watching me.
‘I’m angry,’ I said.‘Wouldn’t you be?’
‘Of course I would.’ He nodded, a lock of his grey hair bouncing against his pale forehead. ‘Anger —that’s good, in the right doses. It’ll see you through, you know. Help you fight to get your old self back.’
I thought about my old self, Rebecca Matthews, and how my life had been reduced to this. Me sitting on a leather office chair once a week, swinging on it occasionally when Stephan asked questions I found difficult to answer. Living in a new city, far from everyone I knew, just so I could be termed ‘safe’. I wasn’t, didn’t think I ever would be, but you never knew. The people I was hiding from hadn’t found me in the time I’d moved from London and might not bother to try to find me now. Still, you could never be too sure, could you? And as long as they were out there, I had to stay here.
‘And what about your appearance?’ he asked.
‘What, having to cut all my hair off and have it short? I don’t like it. I have to have it trimmed too often, which means going to the hairdressers over the road from my flat, being vulnerable while they sort it out. I’ve got the hang of dying it myself now, but I don’t like the fact that my eyebrows are dark and my hair’s blonde.’I laughed at such a trivial dislike. ‘But hey, what does it matter what I look like now?’
‘It matters a lot if it’s making you unhappy.’
‘I suppose. I can hardly grow it again, though, can I? Or go brown like I was before.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. You could grow it a bit, maybe dye it red.’ He laughed. ‘There are times when you get angry, red hair would quite match your mood.’
‘Sometimes I don’t think I’m angry enough,’ I said, staring out of the window behind him at a back garden that had perfectly trimmed hedges instead of fences and a lawn made for sunbathing. ‘Sometimes I’m just too tired of it all and don’t want to fight.’
‘Do you feel, if you gave up and became a recluse, like you told me you wanted last week, it would be letting them win?’
I shrugged. ‘Yes, but it’s all so difficult. I’m getting there, I know that, but there’s still such a long way to go.’ I lifted my hand, waving off what I knew he was going to say.‘I know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.’
He chuckled, and we sat in companionable silence, him waiting for me to go on, me waiting for him to ask another question, and he did when three or four minutes had dragged past and the view outside had become boring.
‘So, tell me why you went into the courthouse,’ he said. ‘What made you go in there that day?’
I sighed, hating this part of our sessions where I had to go back, to remember, and face up to what had happened. I was glad I only had to be here for an hour — any longer and it would be too much.
‘I’d had one of those light-bulb moments, d’you know the kind I mean? That my life wasn’t going anywhere and that if I stayed where I was I’d end up a mother of three, trapped in a marriage with a man who didn’t really care about me, and what I’d wanted to do had passed me by. So I sat there one night in the pub with my friends and didn’t join in much. I watched them, laughing and joking, talking about the same things we talked about every night after work, and I realised…’
‘Realised what, Lisa?’
‘That I wanted more. That I ought to be doing something.’
‘What did you want to do?’
I blushed, feeling silly at the career choice I’d wanted to make. I’d had the ambition as a kid, but those days were well and truly gone too. I’d been stupid to think I had it in me to do it. I sighed again. ‘I wanted to go to uni, study journalism. Get a job where something new happened every day. And that’s why I went into that courtroom.’
‘What did the courtroom have to do with journalism?’ Stephan asked, poking his pen into the salt-and-pepper hair at his temple, surreptitiously scratching his head.
The rasping sound grated.
‘I’d thought… Silly as it sounds, I’d thought that if I went and watched a trial, something I’d maybe have to do as a reporter, I’d know then whether it was the career for me.’
‘Well, you have to write about all sorts, don’t you? I wanted to see if I could handle things like that and remain impartial. I know we all have opinions, and mine would certainly cloud whatever I wrote to some extent, but if I could just see how a court session went… I was going to go home and write about it after, see how it turned out but…’
‘But what?’ He took the pen from his hair and ran it under his nose.
‘But I didn’t get the chance.’ I shuddered, thinking of that day, wishing I’d been happy with my life, wishing I hadn’t wanted a change, but no amount of wishing could make the past go away. I’d tried and it hadn’t worked.
‘No, you didn’t,’ he said, giving me a sad smile. ‘Still, you’re going to be able to get through this, you know. It may seem an impossible task now — after all, we’ve got so much to get through, and we’ve already done a lot — but it can and will be done. You just need to have faith in yourself.’
I’d heard all this before, from several people, and I repeated it to myself often enough. Maybe one day I’d believe it was true.
‘What do you want me to do this week?’ I asked, changing the subject so I didn’t have to think of back then, referring instead to the tasks he set me, clever little things that would seem pointless to someone else but had proved invaluable to me. I’d practised breathing exercises, going out alone after dark — and that wasn’t hard, being alone, because I had no friends, no one to walk with anyway — and generally trying to change my ways and habits. Those habits were a result of the past — the gnawing of the skin beside my thumbnails, the obsessive cleaning, the need to cover the windows as soon as night began falling. I couldn’t let go of any of them yet, but hoped that one day soon I’d be able to sit in front of a window, the curtains open, and stare out into the darkness without wanting to throw up.
I’ll only be able to do that when they’re caught. When they’re in prison.
A shiver went through me, and I held myself rigid so Stephan wouldn’t see it.
‘What did you just think about then?’ he asked.
‘Him. Them. Watching. Being outside my place in the dark.’
Stephan nodded. ‘This is your biggest problem, and it’s one we’ll tackle shortly. If you think about how far you’ve come in such a small space of time, Lisa, you really ought to be proud of yourself. You go to work, you use public transport, you live alone. These are all things another person might not be able to handle after going through such an awful ordeal.’ He nodded again. ‘Yes, you should be very proud.’
I supposed he was right, I had come far, but I hoped he didn’t leave the nighttime issue for too long. The seasons were changing, the days getting shorter, and soon I’d be going to and from work in the dark.
Where they could be waiting.
* * * *
I left Stephan’s practice, glancing left then right, making sure it was safe to go down his path and onto the pavement. No one was around, so I walked on, getting to the street and checking once again. Cars were parked the length of the rise, jammed so tight it was a wonder any of them could be driven away. Steady traffic hummed along, the road almost reduced to a single lane in places where it narrowed and residents’ cars hogged the edges.
I went a little way down the hill to the bus stop and waited, hands in coat pockets, a habit of mine as I was conscious of the fingers of one of my hands being wonky since they’d been broken. A bus appeared at the top of the road, a double decker, Stagecoach written on the front above the radiator. It pulled to the kerb in front of me, slotting into the white dash-space-dash rectangle painted on the road specifically for it. The doors wheezed open and I got on, paid the driver then went up the aisle, looking at everyone else on the bus to check if any of them were people I knew. If any were them.They’re weren’t, and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if they were. Run? Scream? I shook my head and took a seat on the bottom deck right at the back. I could see everyone from here, who got on, who got off, and with my hand curled around my mobile in my pocket I felt okay.
The journey into the city didn’t take long. I hated this part, where I changed buses, as I avoided the city proper as much as I could. I got off and scurried past MacDonald’s, shot around the corner, ignoring a little church wedged there, then headed along the street. The Clarendon Centre’s many doors all opened at once as a stream of shoppers came out, surrounding me, jostling me along. I panicked, shoving through the throng, seeing space ahead but unable to reach it fast enough. I shoved harder, my breaths coming short and sharp, and emerged on the other side of the crowd shaken and annoyed with myself that I hadn’t checked the faces of everyone back there. I’d been so intent on getting away that my usual pattern had been disturbed.
A bus to Blackbird Leys idled at the kerb, and I got on, paid, and scanned the other travellers. Recognised no one. Walked to the back of the lower deck and sat. This was my life now, checking, checking, checking, and I was sick of it and of myself.
Things needed to change before I became crippled by my fear.
* * * *
Once outside the tower block where I lived, I did the usual and looked in all directions. A row of shops stood opposite, and a gang of youths hung around, hoods covering their heads, pulled low over their brows so I couldn’t see their faces. At one time they would have made me uneasy, even though I’d been brought up with tougher kids, but after what I’d been through they didn’t faze me much. I’d smiled at them once, thinking if they thought I didn’t mind them being there they’d be all right with me, but they’d scowled, sucked their teeth, and left me under no illusion they thought I didn’t belong. And they were right.
I entered the flats, assaulted, as usual, by the stench of urine where kids couldn’t be bothered to climb the stairs to home where they could relieve themselves, and held my breath. I didn’t bother trying the lift to see if it worked — it rarely did — and took the stairs, climbing the levels until I reached my floor. Mine was the middle flat of three, and I slid my key in the lock, sighing at the latest rainbow-coloured scrawl of graffiti on the walls between my home and that of the old man next door. I hurried inside, slammed the door, locked it, and pressed my back against it. Let out a long breath, fortifying myself for more checking.
I went through the rooms, ticking off the things on my mental list. Yes, everything was as I’d left it. Yes, I could relax now. I went to the windows and resisted closing the curtains, deciding to try what Stephan had suggested earlier and close them an hour after it had got dark. That hour would be a long one, with me sitting on the floor in the corner of my bedroom, no doubt, curled up, head down, waiting for the alarm on my mobile to bleep, telling me I could get up and close myself in.
But it had to be done, didn’t it? I had no choice.
If I wanted to get better, I had no bloody choice.