Hard to Get

Alyssa Brooks
July 2008, Erotic Romance
Berkley Heat, $15.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 042522175X

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Burning

Lizzy Cross can’t orgasm without her sex toys. Her inability to achieve le petit mort without battery-operated aid is linked to her unwillingness to fully engage in a relationship with anyone, and this unwillingness is in turn linked to a bad childhood experience.

The Lizzy we meet in the book's opening scene is a woman comfortable with her dildos, comfortable being single, comfortable with life. When Ty giddy-ups onto the stripper stage at her club, her bad childhood experience personified, a self-conscious, emotionally vacillating Lizzy takes center stage and we’re left with her for the rest of the story.

While reading, I wished that Brooks would have written more of a Lizzy who was unrepentantly dildo-loving rather than increasingly sexually frustrated, In retrospect, though, I appreciate the very human characterization to this woman. A super-hero, stylized version of Lizzy may have come across as flippant and unrealistic. With our heroine unable to orgasm even with Ty the love of her life, Hard to Get is full of realism.

For that alone, this book deserves a hurrah. Hurrah! Unfortunately, I didn’t like much else about the story, and that’s because Lizzy and Ty seem to live in a 13 year time warp. That’s the length of time they’ve gone without seeing each other - since a 17-year-old Ty escaped with a 14-year-old Lizzy away from her verbally abusive stepfather and his alcoholic parents.

Soon after the escape, an impulsive action borne out of love gets Ty thrown into juvie with no way to contact Lizzy, who thinks he’s abandoned her. Before this happens, they sleep together. It was a life defining event for Ty and the first of many ho-hum sexual encounters for Lizzy.

Left alone, Lizzy managed to get adopted by a famous TV star. The details to the adoption (where did they find her, how had she survived prior to that, what did her parents do) are vague-to-non-existent and only slightly clarified (in an unbelievable fashion) later on. But Lizzy admits that since then, her life has been "a fairy tale." Despite this, when she meets Ty, she continues to harp upon his abandonment of her - even after she learns about his being thrown into juvie. A little sympathy would not have been remiss here.

Ty tries to find out about her life since their teenage years, but Lizzy is not forthcoming, and remains fixated on the abandonment issue. This however, does not stop her from having sex with Ty, though right then he is no more than a stripping stranger. Worse yet, no update on their sexual history was required by either party before the erotic portion of their romance got revved up.

Ty is a nice guy. He’s got some domineering tendencies (denying even Lizzy the ownership of her own breasts and claiming them as "his") but that’s subsumed by the sacrifice after sacrifice that he makes in the name of love. While she’d been nurturing her anger, he’d continued to carry a torch for her over the years and now that he’s found her, the man literally drops what he was doing and forgoes all other responsibilities to stay near her.

Is it admirable or stupid that he does this based on his vision of a 14-year-old Lizzy? I vote for stupid, but only because Ty’s concept of Lizzy is very sexualized. Yes, this is an erotic romance, but man does not live on sex alone, and certainly not on memories of teenage sex. But he often mentions trying to get her to remember how things had been with them sexually "before." How good could things have been between two scared, hungry runaway teens living in an abandoned building next to drug addicts?

My positive feelings for Ty also took a hit when I realized that he didn’t have much to show for his 13-year hiatus from Lizzy’s life. He would have left the State's care between the ages of 18 to 21, and given his current age of 30, that’s at least nine years out in the working world...yet he’s still stripping full-time to fund his associate degree. I don’t want to read about no scrub! I also don’t want to read through the agonizing inner thoughts of two people for whom 13 years of productive adulthood seem to be worth nothing once they begin to interact.

Hard to Get is saved by Brooks’ refusal to use Ty’s penis as the deus ex machina to Lizzy’s sexual woes. The novel’s last third, back home in Tennessee, also features the best writing. You get the idea that Lizzy’s sexual liberation can only come from the place where she probably had it locked up and in that much at least, Brooks delivers.

-- Abi Bishop

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