Decadent
by Shayla Black
(Berkley, $15, NC-17) ISBN 978-0-425-21721-4
**
Whether or not you like Decadent will depend on why you read erotica. If you're mostly into descriptions of different positions, body parts and encounters, it might work. If, like me, you prefer a more substantial story and more complex characters, you should probably give it a miss.

Kimber Edgington is desperately in love with Jesse McCall, an old friend who has become a big-time pop star. Jesse, however, has a much-publicized sex life, and Kimber is an innocent virgin who does not fit in with his raunchy crowd. She won't let that stop her: she will do what it takes to get and keep her man. She approaches Deke Trenton and asks him if he will give her the sex ed classes she needs.

Deke has been attracted to Kimber for years. He has kept his distance for several reasons, including her youth and his former position as her father's bodyguard. Besides, because of a really BAD thing that happened when he was a teenager, Deke only does threesomes, mostly but not exclusively with his cousin Luc. He's afraid that a really BAD thing will happen again if he gets involved with Kimber, so instead of telling her about it, he is very mean to her. Luc won't have any of it. He has his own BIG SECRET reasons for wanting this threesome. He convinces the other two, and the lessons begin.

Kimber learns a trick or two. She considers offering her virginity to Deke instead of Jesse, but the tortured man will have none of it. She leaves for Jesse and soon realizes he is not the man for her. She is about to settle for a completely different life when her father is threatened and she realizes she too is in great danger. Deke and Luc decide they have to protect her. Eventually, we learn about the really BAD thing that happened to Deke and Luc's BIG SECRET. Everyone can now be happy.

It's not the first time I've read a story that screams out the obvious (and I haven't even mentioned the cardboard villain). I don't think it would have bothered me so much if I'd warmed to the characters, but I couldn't stand Deke. Didn't cruel and abusive romance heroes go out with disco music and flared pants some time back in the eighties? To make matters worse, that BAD thing Deke keeps whining about turns out to be a really pathetic excuse.

Kimber, on the other hand, develops into something more than a sexual novice. She has her principles and sticks to them. I would have had more respect for her if she hadn't had such a bad choice in men. As for Luc, he has some charm, but Black (like Kimber) prefers her men to have dark and dishonorable streaks. By the time he revealed his BIG SECRET, I was having a hard time distinguishing between the way these "heroes" treated their loved ones and the way Jesse and his crowd dealt with their partners in anonymous sex.

Black should probably have stuck to writing pure erotica. She does that well: very little cringe-worthy purple prose here. There's also nothing too weird about the sex. It's mostly about the different things you can do trois. Since there are several body parts and more than one sex toy available, there is quite a variety. Even so, after a couple of rounds, it too becomes tame and predictable. Give me a solid story and engaging characters any day.

-- Mary Benn


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