Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terms of Surrender by Becky Barker

TITLE: Terms of Surrender
AUTHOR: Becky Barker
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.50

Two years ago, Cassie Pallard left the man who’d loved her most of his life to join the rodeo…with his best friend. Now, Cassie is back, and Brody Chambers doesn’t know what to think. She wants a second chance, but he doesn’t want to be played a fool again. If he can have her back on his terms, maybe he can finally get her out of his system. But her surrender works in ways neither one of them ever anticipated…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for Uniquely Pleasurable.

One of the most important things to remember about short erotic romance stories is that your length restrictions mean you have to be extra careful about why readers like romance in the first place. Hot sex is all well and good, but if one or both of the lead characters is completely unlikable, then it doesn’t really matter how well written a story might be.

That is exactly where this story suffers. Cassie left town two years earlier with Brody’s best friend, a huge betrayal no matter how you look at it. She’s come back because she’s decided she’s both tired of rodeo life and wants Brody back. Is that necessarily a problem? No, but it does mean that the author needs to try harder to make me like Cassie because my initial impression is very negative. She doesn’t. What we learn instead – in the very first chapter – is that Cassie is incredibly manipulative. At the top of the story, she has pulled up behind Brody’s truck, but when she goes to leave, her car won’t start. Which she knew it would do:

A twinge of guilt nagged her as she studied the man she loved beyond measure. She hadn’t planned to trick him, but she’d needed to get past his prickly anger. Her old car never started when it was overheated and she’d been driving in the hot sun for several hours. Her little fit of pique had been a ruse. She’d fully intended to accept his terms of surrender, however harsh they might be, but she hadn’t wanted to cave too easily.

Then, we learn the real reason she left town:

She never would have left if he’d loved her as deeply. She’d thought her threat to join the rodeo would elicit a marriage proposal, but her plan had backfired. He’d let her go without a fight, without a call or letter or speck of protest.

So not only do we have a woman willing to trick this guy after breaking his heart, but she broke his heart in the first place just because she wanted a proposal. This doesn’t make me empathize or like her in the slightest. It makes me loathe her, instead. This sort of emotional manipulation is very hard to accept, even when you know a character well. I don’t know Cassie well at all at this point, since this is the start of the story. So when Brody treats her like an object, my initial reaction is, “Good, she deserves it.”

Not that Brody is much above reproach. His resolve not to let her walk all over him again only lasts until he gets the bright idea to demand her as a sex slave. He is cold and unfeeling in most of the sex, so while it’s competently written, I can’t even respond to the whole vengeance/angry hotness that it’s probably meant to convey. By the end, when they are both being idiots, I can only say that they probably deserve each other. Some really nice, evocative detailing on the setting, and solid sex scenes – though individually brief – can’t rescue the distaste the two leads leave behind.


7/10 – Relatively clean prose can’t help infuriating characters that make me want to toss the story


4/10 – Starts out strong, and then turns into a slimy idiot


1/10 – I honestly can’t remember the last time I loathed a heroine this much

Entertainment value

2/10 – Frankly, these two deserve each other.

World building

8/10 – There’s some really nice details in between all the awful characters



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