When Kelley meets Tom, she's still barely coping with the end of a relationship six months earlier. After he nearly shoots her, he manages to coax the entire story out of her, including details about the rough sex her ex-boyfriend Michael had with his former girlfriend that he decided to reminisce about with her. In what turns out to be a recurring theme for the entire book, Kelley asks Tom to hurt her during sex then and there on a picnic table, and he does. Later they have bonding time over dinner and drinks.
Superficially, their relationship takes a predictable path: they have a lot of sex, spend a lot of time getting to know each other, she finds out he's got some secrets, he confesses all, she has her doubts about her life, he gets possessive, generally happily ever after follows. Well, there's a lot of other stuff in there, but I'm not offering any spoilers.
These are two complicated and damaged people who use each other just as much as they need each other. Kelley is eager to start seeing Tom because he's ready, willing and able to give her what she asks for without any questions asked, with the bonus that he comes with a weight room filled with floggers, paddles, canes and big things that shouldn't go in certain places. Tom is thrilled with Kelley: she's self-created a situation where she nearly needs him to get through the day. After years of meaningless sex with thousands of women, he wants one woman he can have in his own little world who enjoys his kind of sex and Kelley's it. They do find a way to love each other but it felt like it was in spite of who they were in the beginning rather than because of it. There is romance, but it seems to come mainly from Tom and since the story is told from Kelley's narrative, it's a little disconcerting.
Of course, not everything's sunshine and light. Tom is controlling and possessive at times, although he teeters on the edge of being, "aw, romantic!" and "ooh, that's creepy," once in a while. He's messed things up in his private and sexual life so badly that unless it's under his thumb, he doesn't trust it. Kelley is ridiculously still obsessing over Michael six months after their breakup and the initial and still occasional reason for all the rough sex? It's both a way to give the figurative middle finger to Michael, his ex-girlfriend and their sex life as well as a way to make Kelley stop thinking about him for a little bit. Nice, huh? If it weren't for the sweaty caning, blistering anal sex and improper usage of a weight bench, I'd have to wonder what it was that brought these two kooky kids together.
As extreme as some of the sexual elements were and as much as I didn't like Kelley sometimes, the story had me interested and turning the pages until the last several chapters. For all the emotional angst and the way it played out in their sexual lives, the way things ended felt a little cheap and formulaic to me. This was a four star story up until the last few chapters, three for those last few and a two for the final one.