Bailey Edwards has had a six month sexual drought. Forget about Mr. Right; she can't even find Mr. Right-Now. Bailey decides that the perfect solution to her problem is her safe, dependable best friend, Sebastian. She thinks they can scratch each other's itch and still remain friends without any messy commitment issues, but Bailey never could have imagined what really lurks beneath Sebastian's adorable exterior.
When Bailey propositions him, Sebastian couldn't be more surprised. They've been hanging out as just friends for the last six months, and during that time, he's been sorely tempted by the beautiful Bailey, but never had an inkling that she might be too. He doesn't want to ruin their friendship, but neither can he allow this affair to move forward without being completely honest with her about his kinks. Every time he pushes Bailey, she pushes back. The dom in Sebastian won't allow Bailey to take control of the relationship, and she seems to be warming up to his discipline, at least in the bedroom. However, when Sebastian tries to get a deeper commitment from Bailey, she does what she always has when problems arise: she runs away. It will take all of Sebastian's patience and charm and a little help from their best friends to prove to Bailey that he's not like the other guys she's known and is absolutely perfect for her in every way.
Friends with Benefits has now taken over the top spot for my all-time favorite erotic romance. Forget content warnings. This book should have come with a health warning.;-) While reading it, I found myself literally short of breath and light-headed more than once. It had me feeling like I might spontaneously combust while simultaneously melting into a puddle of goo. This friends-to-lovers story had a surprising amount of emotional depth and a pretty decent plot for an erotic novel. I've discovered that erotic authors often have a tendency to put in just a few too many sex scenes, leaving my interest waning by the end, but that definitely wasn't the case here. I was fully engaged from beginning to end, because all the intense, scorching hot love scenes were interspersed with a good balance of great outside-the-bedroom scenes between the hero and heroine, as well as their interactions with the secondary characters. In fact, the one and only thing that wasn't quite my cup of tea was the group sex scene. Aside from that, everything made for a superb read that left me hot and bothered, emotionally enthralled, and wishing the story were longer, so that I wouldn't have to say farewell to Sebastian and Bailey.
Sebastian was almost sheer perfection in a romantic hero for me. I know it might sound strange, but occasionally, I can tire of all the gorgeous men in romance novels. Sometimes I just long for a hero who seems a bit more attainable, and Sebastian fit that bill perfectly. He is without a doubt attractive, but in a more subdued way. Bailey describes him as cute rather than all that Hollywood hotness, he wears glasses, and he's more average in height. I absolutely loved this dichotomy. By day, he's a relatively mild-mannered attorney and Bailey's safe, always dependable best friend (next to Cat). But when this tiger is turned loose, he becomes a jealous, protective dom with a kinky spanking fetish. Sebastian exudes an air of confidence that's close to bordering on cocky, but not quite. I simply found him too endearing for that. The authors also gave him a wicked sense of humor and a touch of vulnerability in the way that Bailey touches his emotions so deeply that he sometimes looses his carefully planned control. He was even the first to say, "I love you" even though she didn't hear him. I adored his protectiveness and need to take care of her in a kind of old-fashioned, "I'm the man you're the woman" sort of way even before they were intimately involved, and he does take care of her quite well in more ways than one. I also loved that his dominating behavior was never intimidating to me, and the spankings were never, ever intended to hurt or humiliate. Even when he was "punishing" Bailey, his love and deep desire for her still emanated from the pages. All in all, Sebastian was just too scrumptious for words, and has definitely earned a spot on my favorite heroes list.
Bailey is a strong, stubborn lady with commitment issues. Normally, a romance heroine who has slept around quite a bit and is forward enough to proposition her best friend when she can no longer bear her sexual drought would irritate me, but Bailey never did. I think the authors did a wonderful job of conveying Bailey's fear and confusion over the feelings that Sebastian stirs up within her, and with giving her a good reason for her reluctance to commit. Every time Bailey got riled up at Sebastian for some small thing, I thought she might cross that annoyance line for me, but then, the authors would show some of her deeply buried vulnerabilities and I would realize that she was simply scared out of her mind by what he was making her feel. Sebastian's patience finally won the day, chipping away at her defenses to expose some of her soft spots and then soothing them with his love. I also liked that in the beginning, when Sebastian begins revealing his kinks to her, she is confused and wary, but also spunky enough to be fascinated by it all and revel in the sexual freedom she feels with him. Overall, Bailey was a very relatable heroine who I really enjoyed.
I think one of the things that made Friends with Benefits such a wonderful story was all the great relationship dynamics. I liked that the authors took the time to address the race issue, and show just a small taste of the difficulties Sebastian and Bailey might face as an interracial couple. Friends to lovers is one of my favorite romance themes, and here the friendship was a very palpable thing. I loved the way this couple teased and bantered with one another. The hero and heroine of a romance butting heads and exchanging barbs is another thing I usually find grating, but here I loved it and found it to be utterly endearing. I also thoroughly enjoyed how they could talk and laugh and simply share things. It was definitely a true friendship in the deepest sense of the word that made them falling in love very believable. I also liked Bailey's friendship with Cat and her closeness with her mom. The dialog she shared with both of them was breezy fun. We don't get to see as much of Sebastian's guy relationships, but his other best friend, Mason, played a strong role in the story too.
Friends with Benefits is the second, and I had originally thought, last book in The Boulevard series with the first being Maverick's Black Cat which had featured Mason and Cat as the hero and heroine. However, after reading it, I can say that the ending definitely left open the possibility of another story. Sebastian's law partner, Phil, and Natalie, the owner of The Boulevard fetish club and one of Sebastian's clients were certainly admiring each other from afar and obviously wanting more. Even though Phil was a bit too smooth for my taste, Natalie caught my attention, so I wouldn't mind reading their story if the authors ever decide to write it. I was also hoping to see more of Sebastian and Bailey in their book, much like I did, Mason and Cat in this book, but sadly, I don't know if that will ever happen. It has been close to five years since Friends with Benefits was first released, and neither Ms. Matthews nor Ms. Casper have any announcements of another book in the works on their websites. Even if this does turn out to be the end for The Boulevard, it was a fabulous way to go out. Friends with Benefits will always have a well-earned spot on my keeper shelf, and I'll look forward to checking out the authors' other works.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual situations, including mild domination/submission, spanking, use of a sex toy, and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive.
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