After a dud of a date, Jessica Randall's car skids off the road into a ditch in the middle of nowhere, during a tropical storm, leaving her hiking through the rain in search of help. She comes upon a secluded but inviting mansion where she seeks refuge. The doorman informs her that it's a private club, but after asking permission from the owner, she's allowed inside where a man calling himself Master Z sees to her comfort. However, Jessica quickly realizes that this is unlike anyplace she's ever been to before and that it's actually a sex club. As she wanders the floor, she finds herself strangely turned on by many of the scenes being acted out by the doms and their subs. But Jessica is an accountant, and as an independent, professional woman, she couldn't possibly be a submissive. Could she?
After witnessing abuses in other sex clubs, Master Z opened Club Shadowlands, feeling that he could do a better job of providing a safe environment for doms and subs to act out their desire for kink. As an empath, it's easy for him to sense when things are going too far and put a stop to any activity that's out of line. Exercising his dominant nature, Master Z often provides for the needs of the subs who visit his club, but it's been a long time since he's been as attracted to a woman as he is to Jessica. He finds himself deeply intrigued by her mixture of intelligence and reserve. He can sense that she's aroused by the acts she's seeing, but never having been exposed to such things before, she's also feeling hesitant and uncertain. As the evening progresses, Master Z gradually pushes Jessica's boundaries, helping her discover her true passionate self. But when the night is over, will she want to return and could she ever entertain a more long-term commitment?
Club Shadowlands has been on my TBR pile for quite some time. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it, because it ended up being a great story. It's an ultra-steamy, erotic, contemporary romance that begins with our heroine, Jessica, returning home from a bad date in a rainstorm. Her car hydroplanes off the road into a water-filled ditch in a rural area, leaving her hiking through the downpour in search of help. She comes upon a well-lit, inviting mansion, but the moment she arrives, she's told that it's a private club. When she's finally allowed inside, Jessica is met at the door by a man who calls himself Master Z, and he sees to her every comfort including helping her warm up in a shower and getting her clean clothes. Then he shows her around the place, which she quickly realizes is a sex club. Despite having no experience with such a place, many of the things she sees oddly turn her on, making her wonder what's wrong with her. However, Master Z proves to be a deliciously alluring host, who pushes her boundaries and gives her the most erotic pleasures she's ever experienced in her life. But when morning comes, she still isn't certain if she can be fully comfortable in his world and isn't convinced that he'd ever want her for anything more than one night of mind-blowing sex.
Jessica is a straight-laced accountant who loves volunteering at an animal shelter in her spare time. She's been out with a variety of guys and is somewhat sexually experienced, but most of those experiences have been underwhelming, leaving her feeling like sex is overrated. It doesn't help that she's petite, but plus-sized, and she's very self-conscious of her curvy body after some unkind comments from men she's dated in the past. When she arrives at Club Shadowlands, she's instantly attracted to Master Z, but certain that a hunky guy like him would never truly want someone like her. When he surprises her by giving her plenty of attention, she's drawn to his alluring charm, and turned on by many of the things happening around her, she can't resist becoming more intimate with him. He leaves her more pleasured and satisfied than she's ever felt in her life, but she's still very uncertain about a lot of things. When he invites her back the next weekend, she simply can't say no, but she also can't help wondering if there can ever be anything more between them than these stolen moments of incredible sex. Jessica is a very relatable heroine who is equal parts innocent when in comes to the types of activities going on in the club and curious adventurer who can't resist exploring her body's passionate side. She's a little bit feisty, unwilling to just stand by when she thinks someone is in distress, a very admirable quality, but one which gets her into a bit of trouble with Master Z.;-) She's also a woman whose self-esteem has been damaged, leaving her with a lot of doubts, but Master Z helps to put her totally at ease and makes her feel more like a desirable woman than she ever has before.
Although his age isn't mentioned, I got the feeling that Zachary aka Master Z is a little more on the mature side. He's described as having a bit of gray at the temples and is divorced with two college-aged children and is also ex-military. There are other tantalizing tidbits of character development revealed throughout the story, but since it was so much fun discovering those things for myself, I won't give them away and spoil it for other readers. All I'll say is that the more I found out about him, the more I fell for him. He started Club Shadowlands because he saw abuses going on in other sex clubs and wanted to see if he could do better. Master Z monitors everything very closely and if any dom gets out of hand, he kicks butt and takes names, while if any sub misbehaves, he doesn't hesitate to dole out appropriate punishment. Others seem to think he's a mind-reader, but in reality he's an empath who can almost unerringly read people's emotions, giving the story a touch of the paranormal. As someone who's fascinated by the complexities of the human mind and psychic phenomena, I found this aspect of his character extremely appealing. When Jessica shows up at his door, looking like a drowned rat, his protective instincts kick in. He soon discovers that he hasn't been this physically attracted to a woman in a long time, while he's deeply intrigued by her mixture of innocence and adventurousness, as well as her surprising courage. It all makes him want to be the one to introduce her to his lifestyle and he quickly lays claim to her. I can't even begin to say just how drop-dead-sexy and yummilicious Master Z is. Practically everything he did made me melt into a puddle. He's completely calm, confident, and controlled, always even-tempered and never doing anything in anger, engendering almost instant trust in Jessica (and me as the reader). He can take a woman to the heights of sexual bliss, but then also hold her with the utmost tenderness, building her self-esteem with kind, caring words. I never thought I would call a dom sweet, but that's exactly what Master Z is.
Club Shadowlands is the first book in the Masters of Shadowlands, which is a fairly long-running series. As such, readers are introduced to a few characters who will become heroes and heroines of future books. We get a couple of glimpses of the widowed Master Dan who will be the hero of the next book, Dark Citadel. Although she isn't seen in this story, I'm pretty sure that Jessica's sister, who was severely abused by her husband, becomes the heroine of the third book, Breaking Free, as well as Book #11, Protecting His Own. Master Cullen, who is the bartender at the club and one of the few other people Jessica connects with becomes the hero of the fourth book, Lean on Me. The doorman and security guard, Ben, becomes the hero of the tenth book, Servicing the Target. Then Master Z and Jessica get an additional story in Defiance, Book #13.5, which I think may be the final novella of the series.
BDSM romances can be hit and miss with me, but if you couldn't already tell, Club Shadowlands was a huge hit. Once I got past the strangeness of a heroine trusting a man she's barely met, I was fully invested, and Master Z proved himself more than worthy of that trust. He's also not too hard-core, and everything he did made sense, so I didn't get weirded out at any point. This is a novella-length story, albeit a longer one, so admittedly there isn't a ton of character and plot development. However, there was just enough to keep it interesting. A part of me wished it could have been longer, to flesh out the characters and story a bit more. There are no unrealistic declarations of love, only a tacit agreement that they would begin dating. I wouldn't have minded seeing Jessica and Master Z interacting outside the club environment, but it wasn't a deal-breaker. I ended up giving it a perfect rating because the story gave me all the feels that I've come to expect in a romance and more, and it was also surprisingly well-written for an erotic romance. Not to mention, Master Z alone is worth giving the book five stars, and I loved Jessica, too. I just wasn't quite ready to let them go so soon, so I'm definitely going to be looking forward to hopefully seeing more of them in future books of the series as well as in their wrap-up novella. With such a stellar read, I'll definitely be putting Cherise Sinclair on my watch list and will make every effort to get to the next book very soon.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations including BDSM elements, voyeurism/exhibitionism, sex toys, anal play, and a light M/F/M menage scene, all of which could be objectionable to sensitive readers.
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