Someone is kidnapping bratty subs to sell as slaves to the highest bidder. When Gabrielle's friend Kim is taken, Gabi decides that she needs to do whatever possible to get her back. As a victim support worker working close with the FBI, she manages to get a job as a decoy due to her previous (sparse) experience as a submissive. She is stationed in the Shadowlands, a club yet to be hit, and must play the bratty sub as obnoxiously as possible to get the kidnapper to notice her. But playing the bratty sub in the Shadowlands has its consequences, especially when stationed under Master of the trainees, Master Marcus, a man notorious for his dislike of rebellious subs.
Gabrielle was a great heroine. It was heartbreaking to see her struggle to be bratty and rebellious when all she really wanted to do was submit wholeheartedly. I loved when her natural rebelliousness shone through, as it stood out in stark contrast to the fake brattiness. Despite the ire and resentfulness she garnered from the Doms and subs at Club Shadowlands (apart from Z, who knew her real purpose there), Gabi carried on resiliently. She desperately wanted Marcus's approval, especially as she fell more and more for him, but she had to keep doing things that would earn his disappointment and anger. She didn't even falter when she pissed off the rather scary Master Dan (*swoon*), but kept her sights on her goal: helping to rescue her friend. For me, this was a mark of a truly brave heroine. And of course, as a Sinclair heroine, she is damaged by events in her past, which makes her willingness to stand in as a decoy all the more remarkable.
Marcus Atherton. What can I say about him? Well, aside from the fact I found his Southern drawl swoon-worthy, I was of the same opinion as Gabi for a while. That he was a cold, gentlemanly stick-in-the-mud. How wrong we were. Master Marcus was just as warm, good-humoured and personable as the other Doms in Club Shadowlands. He doesn't really feel like he fit in with the others, being relatively new to the Shadowlands, so I loved his slow realisation that, actually, he had friends in the other Doms. And I loved how welcoming
they all were to him. I reminds me of a big happy family. Marcus does have a hatred of bratty subs, and he can't figure Gabi out; he can tell that she wants to submit to him, and he can't work out why she keeps rebelling when it makes her so unhappy.
Though I loved the two of them together, I didn't really think they were perfect for each other until the latter end of the book. Then, when both their true personalities begin to shine, I saw how great they really were together.
For me, this was a book of two halves. The first half was with Gabi undercover, baffling all the Doms (except Z) and getting punished for it. The second half, after Marcus interrogates her whilst she's in subspace, everyone (well, the Doms at least) is on the same page and it feels like a different book. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. It feels like a natural transition and I'm glad Sinclair didn't drag out Gabi's angst at trying to act up in the face of punishment for too long. And, of course, in the second half, the book was gearing up towards its inevitable conclusion.
Actually, there were a few mistakes that bugged the hell out of me on the first few pages of this book. Gabrielle's surname is Renard, and there was an Agent Rhodes in the room too, and they actually got mixed up for a bit. It confused me a lot until I realised it was a mistake. You'd kind of think mistakes in the first few pages would be caught, but there we go.
The only other thing that really annoyed me about this one was the character of Celine. Grr, manipulative cow. *shakes fist*
Agent Rhodes was an interesting character. He wasn't the main villain of the novel, not by a long shot, but he was certainly a very big dick. Dickhead, as Gabi calls him, goes out of his way to make Gabi's life a misery during her assignment, due to some bad blood between them. Weirdly enough, he becomes very important in the plot, but that doesn't make me stop wanting to punch his slimy face in.
I really enjoyed the Masters in this novel. They were all a bit more prominent, rather than just background to the main couple. In particular, Master Sam and Master Raoul. Master Raoul is the star of the next book in the series, and according to Sinclair's website Master Sam is next, so this makes sense. One of my favourite bits of the book was Master Sam and his orange-flavoured condom. Read it to find out why. ;D
Something that struck me as strange was that the book occasionally left Marcus and Gabi and crossed to Z and Jessica. This wasn't a bad thing - in fact, I loved catching up with the two of them - and it definitely cemented my love of Master Z. Why I didn't really love him in his own book I have no idea, but I sure loved him in this one. Poor Jessica was getting very insecure in this book, which is unsurprising as Z is holding back on the commitment for her sake (apparently). Add to the fact she meets Z's grown up sons and they don't particularly like her, we have a very unhappy Jessica. It is
a romance novel, however, so everything works out in the end. Jessica's unhappiness ends up integral to the plot, so suddenly it all made sense why we went into her head every so often!
On another note, I love Galen and Vance, the FBI agents in charge of the mission. They are both Doms, which came across every so often and made me swoon inside. (I did a lot of swooning, can't you tell?) Sinclair's website says there is a possible book on the horizon involving the two of them, and perhaps Sally (yay, Sally!), so... I cross my fingers for that. *fans self vigorously*
I loved the ending of this one. It didn't just end with the dramatic climax. After said dramatic climax, the ending wound down to a sort of slow burn. It was necessary in order to get all the loose ends tied together and for Marcus to convince Gabi that she was perfect for him after all. Iw as all very happy, aside from the fact they still haven't rescued Kim ;A;. :)
Overall, this was a great addition to the Shadowlands series. It feels like Cherise Sinclair has moved from the erotic shorts to stories that feel like fleshed out, substantial novels, which is great. I can't wait to read the next one, though I'm sad there isn't another after that (yet)!