Brianna Reeves has suffered much in her short nineteen years of life. After losing her mother, she went to live with her father who later traded her to a man as payment for his gambling debts. That man in turn sold her into sexual slavery, where she was held prisoner for ten months being horrifically raped and abused. Then Stephan Coleman came into her life, giving her back her freedom, as well as hope for the future. For five months, Stephan has been Brianna's whole world, helping her find peace and healing from all that she went through, but now he's under investigation by the FBI for purchasing her freedom. To protect him from additional scrutiny, Brianna left him and moved in with her childhood friend, Cal, and his girlfriend, Jade. While they've been kind to her, she's still been miserable without Stephan for the past two months and he feels the same way. However, since neither the investigation nor the media frenzy have died down even after two months, they have little choice but to remain apart for the time being. Cal makes a deal with Brianna to publicly support Stephan in exchange for her attending regular therapy sessions, which she surprisingly finds helpful in the absence of Stephan, the only person she's really been able to open up to. A misunderstanding involving Stephan's ex coming to visit, stirs up a little trouble between them, but eventually circumstances improve, allowing them to finally reunite. However, the trial for Brianna's abuser is looming, and while Brianna would prefer not to have to take the stand against him, she's willing to do whatever she must to clear Stephan's name. But when faced with actually testifying, will she be able to find the inner strength to prevent her abuser from walking free?
Trust is the fourth book in Sherri Hayes' Finding Anna series, which follows the same couple throughout as they navigate Brianna finding healing for the horrific abuse and human trafficking she was subjected to with the help of Stephan, the Dom who saved her from that life. This book opens about two months after the events of the previous book in which Stephan was placed under investigation by the FBI for buying Brianna's freedom from the man who enslaved her, which led to Brianna selflessly leaving him to help protect him. Ever since, she's been living with her childhood friend, Cal, and his girlfriend, Jade. Right from the opening pages, it's obvious that both Brianna and Stephan are miserable without the other, but they have no choice but to remain apart until Stephan is no longer under FBI scrutiny and the media frenzy has died down. After making a deal with Cal, Brianna finally agrees to see a therapist, which in Stephan's absence, helps her to continue to make progress in putting her life back together. Although terrified of facing her abuser in court, she's willing to do so if it will help clear Stephan's name and keep him out of jail. It's not until about a quarter of the way into the book that Stephan and Brianna are able to finally see each other in person again, but not long after, a misunderstanding about Stephan's ex staying with him stirs up a bit of trouble. Eventually, though, all is forgiven and circumstances change, making it possible for them to reunite for real. However, after spending time with family and friends over the holidays, the specter of her abuser's trial hangs heavy over Brianna's head, when it looks like she'll have no choice but to testify or possibly see him walk.
Brianna has made great strides since the first book where she was so timid and fearful she was practically afraid of her own shadow. Admittedly she's in a bad place when this book opens, deeply depressed over the forced separation from Stephan. It was hard to see her like this, but given all that she's been through and that the one stable constant in her life was unfairly taken away from her, it's totally understandable. Although she begins to have a few doubts when she finds out about Stephan's ex living with him, she ultimately still trusts him when he's finally able to tell her the whole story and make appropriate apologies (not to worry, there's absolutely no cheating involved). Although Stephan is wary of therapists, Brianna finds some solace in her counseling sessions, which offers her someone to talk to besides Cal and Jade. Once she's able to reunite with Stephan, her moods improve dramatically, and she's able to enjoy the holidays with their friends and Stephan's aunt and uncle. The thought of having to testify against her abuser terrifies her, but if it comes to that, she's determined not to let him win. Brianna also begins making headway in her relationship with Stephan, slowly warming up to some of the milder aspects of his BDSM lifestyle. Overall, I was very impressed with how far Brianna has come since her early days with Stephan and how much farther she progressed in this book. She may still be outwardly quiet and fearful of certain things, but she has an inner strength that would be easy for outsiders to miss. I'm so glad that she has Stephan who sees all of that and never fails to compliment her on it even though she often doesn't feel strong and that she has been able to make friends who also support her as she weathers through the turmoil in this chapter of their story.
In the beginning, Stephan is nearly as downtrodden as Brianna over their separation. The only thing that keeps him going is his work and the hope that one day soon, things will change and they'll be able to reunite. In addition to his friends, Logan and Lily, his ex, Sarah, comes for a visit to offer her support. Due to certain circumstances that come to light, Stephan offers her a place to stay at his condo, but it's purely platonic. He only wants Brianna and isn't tempted by Sarah in the least. However, his naive failure to tell Brianna about Sarah's visit leads to a bit of trouble for our lovebirds. It's a rare misstep from Stephan who usually tends to be very controlled in every aspect of his life, but at the same time, I thought having him make a mistake only made him seem more human. At work, Stephan continues trying to ferret out the person who embezzled money from the Coleman Foundation. After he and Brianna are able to reunite, they share lots of quality couple's time, including holiday festivities and plenty of sexy fun times. But the possibility that Brianna will have to testify in court weighs heavily on both of them. Stephan is an amazing dreamboat as always. He may be a Dom but he's also a sweet, teddy bear who's kind, gentle, and patient. He takes care of everyone around him, including his employees and the people he helps with his philanthropy work. I especially love how he cares for Brianna and would do anything to protect her, but at the same time, he allows her to make her own decisions. Even if he doesn't like or agree with them, he respects them and her, frequently offering her praise and encouragement. I always come away from reading one of these book with no doubt that Stephan's love and belief in Brianna is in large part responsible for her making such strides in her recovery.
Once again, I was blown away by this installment of the Finding Anna series. I've adored Stephan and Brianna together since the beginning. They have such a beautiful relationship built on, not just love, but also mutual trust and respect. I've had no doubts about their rightness for one another, and with each one of the books in this series that certainty only grows stronger. I was impressed with how much Brianna progressed in this book and just know that she'll continue to grow as time goes on. I adore Stephan who has definitely earned a spot among my favorite romance heroes. He just always seems to intuit what Brianna needs and is more than prepared to provide it. I was happy to see resolution to both Brianna's relationship with her father and with the greater story arc concerning her ex-slave master. I can honestly say that he got what was coming to him. That being the case, this volume wrapped up nicely with no cliffhanger ending like the previous books. Based on the cover blurb and the way in which the epilogue of this volume seems to bring some closure to much of the story, I'm guessing that the author originally intended Trust to be the end of Stephan and Brianna's journey. However, since I'm a little late to the party on this one, I already know that there's an additional novella and a novel with more story for this favorite couple of mine. Based on something Ms. Hayes said in one of her recent newsletters, I believe that she has plans for even more down the road, too, which makes me a very happy camper indeed. I can't wait to share in more of Stephan and Brianna's lives together. I'll be interested, though, to see whether it picks up after the main body of this book or after the events of the epilogue, because I certainly wouldn't mind seeing all that was relayed in the epilogue play out in a longer, more detailed format.
Note: I'm classifying this book as an erotic romance, mainly because of the underlying BDSM themes. There is a small amount of explicit language, but only one scene that includes light bondage, sensory play, and use of sex toys. So overall, the sexual content in this installment, while slightly steamier than most mainstream romances is still mild when compared with most erotic romances.
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