Divorced, practical, thirty-something Sandy Jackson runs a café in the suburban British town of Kissley. When she's not waiting on customers or worrying about her finances, she dreams of the young man who rescued her from a mugging fifteen years before. Jay Bentley can't forget his sweet princess, the girl whose lips he tasted briefly after driving away her attackers but never saw again. Years of debauchery and an auto accident that left him scarred, impotent and in pain haven't been enough to erase that precious memory. When he visits Kissley to inspect the property his wealthy father is about to buy, he recognizes Sandy as his long-lost princess and realizes that his father's plans are likely to drive her out of business.
Pretending to be a stranger, he has little difficulty in seducing Sandy, who reacts with uncharacteristic ardor to Jay's advances. Within fifteen minutes of their meeting, he is licking her pussy in the garden of the notorious Waverley Grange Hotel (which has featured in several other novels by Ms da Costa). Their incredibly intense sexual connection soon has them engaging in various carnal activities in a wide range of circumstances: in the washroom of Sandy's cafe, under the table in a classy restaurant, parked in a country lane, on the food preparation counter in her café kitchen, and of course in Jay's room at the naughty inn. Jay both teases and instructs Sandy, introducing her to a variety of minor kinks and making her marvel at her own constant horniness (as well as his). As they spend more time together, though, it becomes increasingly difficult for Jay to hide his identity--or to imagine living without her.
Will Jay's secret destroy their incendiary passion and their growing intimacy?
Of course not. Jay and Sandy are destined for each other. Each has haunted the other's fantasies for more than a decade. Their sexual affinity might seem like casual randiness (as Sandy tells herself, to blunt the impact of Jay's inevitable disappearance), but in truth it stems from their unacknowledged mutual love.
The simple plot of this novel screams "romance," however, Kiss It Better can also be viewed as erotica, pursuing as it does the classic theme of sexual awakening. Jay serves as Sandy's sexual mentor, encouraging her to act out her fantasies and revealing to her the depths of her own lasciviousness. Like the accomplished dom that he is, he pushes her limits, daring her to explore new extremes of sexual abandon.
There is a lot of sex in Kiss It Better, arousing and satisfying sex that involves the characters' whole selves, not just their bodies. Ms da Costa excels in turning up the heat by giving the reader a window into the lovers' sensations and emotions. Most of the novel is presented from Sandy's perspective, but we get occasional glimpses of Jay's bitterness, confusion and frustration. His private cynicism and insecurity contrast with the image of the wealthy, self-confident rake he presents to Sandy.
Sandy is a vivid, appealing character with a distinctive voice and a streak of stubbornness. From the first moment I met her, inwardly cursing the high heels she'd borrowed in order to look elegant, I loved her. She's irresistibly attracted to Jay and perpetually astonished by her own reactions, not to mention her daring. Practical, responsible, a bit conventional, she manages to shock herself again and again as Jay leads her into ever more outrageous sexual situations.
Jay feels less well-rounded and realistic, possibly because the author identified more strongly with her heroine. He's the Flawed Hero, in capital letters; his sins are visible in his scarred visage. His fixation with the princess from his past seems less plausible than Sandy's fantasies of her prince. Still, he fulfills the role of master and mentor with sufficient conviction that Sandy succumbs, and the reader likewise.
I should warn the audience of Erotica Revealed that despite my using the terminology of dominance and submission to describe Jay and Sandy's relationship, the actual power games they play are far milder than what you will find in many of the books we review. A bit of spanking, a little bondage, a butt plug or two--the kink here is recreational rather than fundamental. Nevertheless, Ms da Costa manages to communicate the thrill of Sandy's surrender, which I believe is the essential aspect of a D/s interaction.Kiss It Better is a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop it from being arousing and entertaining. The book doesn't push any boundaries, but it delivers what it promises: lively characters, creative sex, and a happy ending.