An unusual Blaze with an exhibitionist heroine and the man who accepts her trenchcoaty ways.
Series?: Yes, first in Bond’s series about women who took a Sex for Beginners course in college. Their professor sends them their secret fantasy class journals 10 years later.
Setting: Tampa, Florida, put to good use by A/C breakdowns and reoccurring peacock character.
Heroine and hero: Gemma is a recent divorcee at loose ends and trying to find herself after being a high profile politician’s wife for years. Chev is a Puerto Rican American contractor who flips houses between jobs. He happens to be on the job next door.
Plot: Gemma’s recovery from the divorce. She gets a job as a scantily clad tour guide for an adults-only sex exhibit at the local museum, allowing her to explore her exhibitionist fantasies, dormant since college.
Conflict: Gemma’s not ready for a new relationship, especially when she still has unfinished business with her ex.
Fun factoid: Ms. Bond bought the shoe store where she worked while a sophomore in college.
Racy Romance Review:
I listened to this on audio, narrated nicely by Drosty Kane. Blazes are about 6 hours and work really well on audio. Sticklers may not be too happy with the light “Hispanic” accent she gives Chev.
This was very much Gemma’s story, with very little from Chev’s point of view. Chev was unformed as a character. Also, while one can usually count on lots of h/h interaction in Blazes, Gemma’s exhibitionism meant their interactions often took place with panes of glass between them.
Gemma has to pick up the pieces of her life, and in the course of the book she comes to realize her marriage was not what it seemed. I was not convinced that Gemma was ready for a new relationship — the ink was barely dry on her sudden divorce. I felt that the HEA was very unbelievable between these two characters who never even went on a date in the course of the book. So much time was spent on Gemma’s recovery and renewal (which was quite interesting and kept me listening) that she had very few interactions with Chev.
Probably the most intriguing part of the book for me was the focus on Gemma’s exhibitionism (or “E” as I will refer to it from here on in). Gemma’s E surfaced in college, when, in some unappealing flashback scenes, she exposed herself and masturbated in public. She married a straight laced lawyer who became the Florida state attorney general, and curbed her wanton ways to play helpmeet for several years.
In a stroke of pure luck for an exhibitionist who needs a job, the local museum wants hot women to dress in platforms, short short, and masks to give tours for a new sex exhibit. Gemma is turned on by her outfit and returns home to masturbate in front of her window for Chev. She begins the book thinking her habit is shameful, and ends by claiming it as a part of who she is. To my utter shock, the HEA includes Chev accepting her E, and her plans to continue it, with other men. How exactly did this get past the censors at Harlequin?
Like Gemma, I had some E in college, at the Boston Public Library, courtesy of a drunk man in a trench coat with a beer belly and a flaccid penis which he excitedly waved at me as if it, rather than the copy of Aquinas’s Summa contra Gentiles I was reading, would reveal the secrets of the universe. It was an experience I never want to repeat in this or any future life.
I did some research on E, and found out that “exhibitionism” is listed in the DSM_IV as a sexual disorder, in the family “paraphilias”, from the Greek meaning “outside of” and “friendship/love”, the idea being they are socially prohibited sexual practices. Other paraphilias listed include masochism, sadism, transvestite fetishism, and pedophilia.
E is only a disorder if it interferes with quality of life and normal functioning. Most people with E are males (the vast majority) and have problems with sexual relations and often other illnesses like depression.
I don’t think Gemma’s E, in the end, qualified as a disorder, as it did not negatively impact her functioning (indeed, she got a job, a promotion, and a lover out of it!). And all of Gemma’s targets seemed to consent, at least tacitly, to her shows of skin (although this raises some interesting questions about consent which I won’t get into here).
And even if Gemma’s behavior did fall under E as defined in the DSM-V we all know that this manual has a long sordid history of providing medical and normative support to harmful societal prejudice (homosexuality, drug use, and women’s health being just three examples). To ask just one question, what counts as “normal functioning” and who decides?
But I confess I found it hard to believe that a man in love would accept his partner’s need to bring other men to arousal as a way to stimulate herself, as Chev appeared to do at the end. It just didn’t work for me.