Grace Reeves has always known that she wanted to work in fashion, but her big dreams have been replaced by bitter reality. At 23 years old, all she has to show for herself is an unfinished degree, a terrible job that barely pays enough to live on, an abusive boss, and a mountain of credit card debt. In short, Grace is stuck and can’t seem to find a way to change things. But that all changes when a wealthy older man named Vaughn presents her with a shocking offer: He wants her to become his mistress. He will give her a monthly sum and an additional clothing allowance; in return, she must be at his beck and call, accompanying him to various social events and making herself available…in every way. At first Grace is shocked and repulsed, but eventually she rationalizes that she can’t turn down so much money, especially when she already finds Vaughn attractive. But as they embark on their “arrangement,” Grace and Vaughn both find themselves changing in ways they never thought possible.
I finished this book several days ago, but I still find myself processing it, which is not something that usually happens to me with chick lit! At first glance, this is a Cinderella story, but it’s a very dark, complex take on that idea. I’m still not sure how I feel about Grace and Vaughn’s relationship. It can certainly be seen as unhealthy or even abusive: Vaughn is very controlling, and while he is never physically violent with Grace, he tends to treat her as an object he’s bought and paid for. On the other hand, as we learn later in the novel, Vaughn does have reasons for being the way he is. Both he and Grace are very flawed characters who have extremely low self-worth. I admire what Manning did here, which was take two damaged, unlovable people and show them learning to love each other. This is definitely not a feel-good romance, but it feels more realistic than many books in the genre. It’s also a very addictive read! So I’d definitely recommend it as a thought-provoking look at love and romance, but be aware that many aspects of this novel are uncomfortable, to say the least.