Accidental Slave opens in a dungeon. A dom named Gary ferociously whips a bound and gagged submissive while ruminating on his anger towards his boss Elizabeth. He transfers that rage to his flogging, continuing to lash at the slave even after she executes the gesture they've agreed upon as a signal for him to stop. He even calls the poor woman Elizabeth.
I'll be honest. I nearly stopped reading right there. The scene set all my red lights flashing. If I had not committed myself to reviewing the book, I probably would have tossed it out, assuming (incorrectly) that this was an example of the kind of crude non-consensual smut that gets some people off.
As it turns out, that would have been a huge mistake. In fact, Claire Thompson's novel revolves around the sort of ethical, tender and romantic D/s relationship that pushes all my buttons. The individual introduced in this first scene is the villain in Ms. Thompson's saga. Passed up for a promotion to vice-president when his company decides to hire the eminently qualified Elizabeth Martin, Gary Dobbins plans a devious revenge on the woman he sees as his nemesis. Accompanying her to a company-sponsored charity function, he spikes her drink with a date rape drug and leads her to a BDSM club, where he offers her for sale at a slave auction. Handsome, wealthy dominant Cole Pearson purchases twenty-four hours of play with the gorgeous brunette, only to have her pass out on him when he gets her home.
From this point, the book focuses mostly on the relationship between Elizabeth and Cole. They are irresistibly attracted to one another, but Cole wants more than just sex or even love. He seeks a true D/s partnership with a woman who is as serious and committed to exploring the boundaries of power exchange as he is. His first marriage fell apart because he couldn't be honest about his real needs. He is determined that this is not going to happen again.
Ambitious, intelligent, and work-obsessed, Elizabeth initially seems like an unlikely submissive. However, Cole sparks her curiosity with his talk, and his demonstrations of the seductive nature of erotic power. Gradually Cole leads her deeper into submission, to the point where she agrees to spend two weeks (her long delayed vacation time) in 24/7 slave training. This is a make-or-break experiment for both protagonists. Although Cole has the typical confidence of a dom, he really doesn't know if Elizabeth is capable of the sort of surrender he requires.
The book includes a subplot in which the evil Gary attempts to blackmail and disgrace Elizabeth, while she and Cole struggle to unmask his deceptions. For the most part, however, Ms. Thompson is concerned with the growing attraction and trust between Elizabeth and Cole. Elizabeth's work is a serious obstacle to their deepening bond. She uses it as a shield to keep Cole from getting too close, as an excuse for lateness and even disobedience. Cole's patience is tested again and again, but unlike Gary he understands that anger has no place when punishing a slave.
Accidental Slave is smoothly written and professionally edited. And of course it involves my personal favorite erotic scenario: initiation of a new submissive by a caring yet authoritative dominant. By the time I reached the chapters detailing Elizabeth's training (which are relatively hard-core BDSM, not merely a few bonds and spanks), the book was pushing my buttons and influencing my dreams.
Somehow, however, I found the end of the book less satisfying. As the two-week training period nears its end, Elizabeth's resistance has melted away. She has been transformed into the willing and skillful slave of whom Cole has dreamed. The two look forward to an idyllic future together. In short, the book concludes with a happily-ever-after (except for Gary, who is subjected to a particularly appropriate revenge).
In trying to analyze why this conclusion felt like a let-down, I came up with two theories. First, it was too easy. Elizabeth is not going to abandon her work, and there are bound to be conflicts with her relationship, committed as she is. Second, although the book includes many climaxes with a lower case 'c', there is no real Climax, no single transcendent interaction that pushes the D/s connection to a higher level. A collaring, a branding, some ritual in which Cole seriously took possession of Elizabeth, would have helped. After the emotional intensity of the earlier parts of the book, the ending was surprisingly bland.
I debated for a long time how to rate this book. (I really wish that Erotica Revealed didn't have these ratings, to be honest.) Starting the book with the villain's scene was, I think, a mistake on Ms. Thompson's part. Readers with tastes similar to mine will be turned off and not continue. Ending the book with a ho-hum HEA also detracts from what, overall, is an arousing and competently written BDSM tale. However, I ultimately recognized that very few erotic books manage to engage my personal fantasies the way Accidental Slave managed to do for much of its length. For this accomplishment, the book deserves a thumbs-up.