Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You Don't Complete Me: Solace Ames' THE SUBMISSION GIFT

"You complete me." "You're my missing half." "You make me whole." Such phrases were once the stock in trade of romance, both of the filmic and the written variety. Find your soul mate, connect with your one true love, and you'd find the one person who could—and would—give you everything you'd ever wanted, ever needed. Fall in love, and you'd be happy and sated for the rest of your life.

In real life, people who expect their mates or spouses to fulfill their every need are doomed to disappointment. But even today, romances that reject the "you complete me" trope are far less common than those that embrace it. Perhaps that's why I found Solace Ames' The Submission Gift such a treat. For Ames' erotic romance (the second in her LA Doms series) insists that one can be happily married, even if one's partner can't meet all one's sexual desires.

Adriana and Jay, a Mexican-American couple, have had a difficult start to their married life. A car accident a little over a year ago seriously injured Jay, and Adriana has spent the subsequent months splitting her time between caring for her husband and working grueling hours as a sous chef. But now Jay's almost completely recovered, and ready to resume his life, including his sex life with his wife.

Jay loves Adriana so much, he'd do anything for her. Or, at least, almost everything. Adrianna's into being dominated in bed, but Jay's just not that into playing that role. Because he cares for her, Jay can sometimes get into such scenes:  "Even though he wasn't much into controlling—he played these games for her sake, not his own—sometimes he'd sink far enough into her feelings that he'd genuinely enjoy this easiest, most playful level of teasing, denying, restraining" (Kindle Loc 162). But he doesn't enjoy it enough to fully satisfy Adrianna: "If he gripped her wrists and held her down... She wanted that. Such a small thing, and he couldn't do it, couldn't take that step. Because she only wanted it if he wanted it. And he didn't, not really" (187).

Jay wants Adrianna to be happy, though, and comes up with the idea of using some of the insurance money they've just received to hire a "rent boy," a sex worker who can take on the dominant roles that Jay just doesn't enjoy. Jay finds Paul, a white thirty-year-old who specializes in BDSM work both with gay men and also with couples. As a threesome, and later, pairing off individually with Paul, Jay and Adrianna gradually find themselves growing not just more sexually fulfilled, but also developing a real emotional bond with Paul. A bond Paul, too, recognizes: "We've got a strong emotional connection.... I feel it as much as you. It's okay. It doesn't take away from what you have with Jay," Paul reassures Adrianna (1039).

All too soon, though, the extra settlement money is gone, and Jay and Adrianna can no longer afford Paul's services. But before they can tell Paul, Paul announces he's firing them as clients. Not because they've done anything wrong, but because he wants to "see you, both of you, on a non-paying relationship basis.... Dating. Or free sex. Whichever way you want to look at it. I'm easy. I'm very easy" (1915).

Ames gives us the point of view of all three members of this unusual threesome: Adrianna, tough and competent on the job and in everyday life, who gets off on sexual domination and pain, but not discipline or punishment; Jay, a "bi guy on the femme side," a social worker who counsels abused women (2867); and Paul, who enjoys his sex work but imagines leaving it behind someday, after he's earned his architecture degree. Each continually questions his or her own motives, his or her desires, wondering if they are wrong, if they are hurting one another, or themselves: for example, Jay thinks "Maybe there was something wrong with his mind, or his heart, for him to not feel particularly torn or jealous. But he just couldn't bring himself to care about whatever flaw it was. As long as she was happy, the whole issue was academic. Boring, even" (1159). They key is to find a proper balance, one that allows each member of this threesome the chance to have his or her needs met. Their sex together, as a threesome or in pairs, is hot, but it's not just there to titillate the reader; it's there to convey and develop a fascinating set of characters.

In typical romance novel fashion, secrets from Paul's past throw a huge monkey wrench of a black moment into the burgeoning relationship of this threesome. Add in some work angst, some overblown tempers, and, ultimately, some straight talk, and you have all the emotional lows and highs of a traditional monogamous romance story. It's a tribute to Ames' skills as a writer that she had this reader, with her own personal investment in monogamy, rooting for this unconventional threesome to overcome their differences and hurts and make their relationship work.

Photo credits:
Feet in bed: Advertolog

The Submission Gift
LA Doms Book 2
Carina, 2014


  1. I have often thought that no one person can fulfill one's needs -- sexual or otherwise. And I have often thought that it is our own insecurity that drives us to seek fulfillment at all. Relationships are complicated for two -- I would imagine that a ongoing relationship between three would be very difficult. However, it is also a shame that our society pushes us into a One-size-fits-all model

    1. Thanks, Paul, for stopping by and adding your thoughts. Where do you think your belief that no one person can fulfill all one's needs comes from? And why do you think society feels it necessary to push us into a one-size-fits-all model?

  2. This sounded interesting until I got to the bit about Paul firing them as clients so he can see them for free and be in a relationship with them. While there's be no story without it, I know enough about sex workers to know that while I can't say this never happens, it's not how it usually works. If anything, the way it should work is for him to fire them as clients and walk away. In the past, I might have been able to get past that; now, I'm not so sure.


    1. Hey, Lawless:

      Why do you think "the way it should work" is that Paul "should fire them as clients and walk away"? Because his having feelings for a client would interfere with his work with other clients?

    2. Because it's not how it works. I actually know some some male sex workers. "Pretty Woman is not a documentary," as one of them said.

      Falling in love with clients is a bad, bad idea because it takes down the wall there needs to be between client and escort for the work to operate as a business. At that point, you might as well throw in the towel and quit because mixing business with pleasure means you're no longer treating it as a business. It also give other clients the idea that this might happen with them or in other cases leads to escorts quitting and becoming, in essence, kept boys/men, with all the attendant problems that has.


      It took me awhile to realize, but Ames could have done the same plot believably by having the husband locate a dom at a local BDSM club and have it start out as an arm's-length no-strings relationship that turns into something more. Wouldn't have relied as much on the settlement from the accident, but it would be more plausible, and the money from the settlement could be used as a source of conflict midway (as in the dom refusing to take money offered out of gratitude).

    3. Thanks, Lawless, for explaining your thinking here. In her bio blurb, Ames notes that one of her jobs was working in a strip club, so she might have some familiarity with sex workers. My feeling in reading the book was that she was trying to portray sex workers in a positive light with her depiction of Paul; interesting to think about Paul as a figure of fantasy not just for Jay and Adrianna, but for the reader, too.