From the New York Times bestselling author of Off the Clock comes a story of love, hate, and the fire that ignites when the two collide…
Dr. Elle McCray has a plan. Work hard. Be the best. And do it alone. After her ex-husband’s betrayal, she’s learned being feared is a hell of a lot easier than being humiliated. So when trouble personified, Lane Cannon, dares to flirt with her, she shuts him down cold. Too gorgeous. Too cocky. And his job as The Grove’s sexual surrogate is to sleep with patients. No, thank you.
Former escort Lane Cannon has spent enough years with people looking down on him. Stupid. Trailer trash. Rent boy. He’s heard it all. He’s worked too hard to shed his past to let some haughty doctor cut him down. But something about Elle’s ice queen act has his dominant instincts perking up and his body taking notice. He can’t walk away.
After an evening of verbal sparring turns into a night of steamy hate sex, Lane’s ready for round two. But Elle proposes a business deal. How better to keep things strictly physical than to pay him for his services?
Lane wants her, not her money. But he’ll play along in exchange for one thing—all the control. It’s only supposed to be a dirty little fling between colleagues, but these two are about to learn a lesson in love…by the hour.
From the synopsis alone, I knew that Elle and Lane’s story would take my heart and my emotions on one hell of a ride, and boy did it! These two couldn’t be more different in the paths their lives have taken them, which only adds to their contradictory feelings for one another and the frustrations of wanting someone who they hate but want to do dirty things to and with because as opposite as they are, where Elle and Lane collide is in their desire for kink…their need for raw and dirty sex…the feel that a good hate fuck gives them, which means that one way or another, they’re going to strip each other bare and enjoy one another’s body, even if that’s all they’re willing to give.
Elle McGray is quite the complex female; she comes across as a hardass – one who uses her intimidating demeanor and closed off personality in order to not allow anyone to truly know her or what she’s been through and continues to deal with in her personal life. She’s a woman scorned and her embarrassment and anger in regards to her ex-husband’s dalliances forces her to stick to loveless relationships – ones meant for purely physical release and nothing else.
But the true Elle – the one that no one takes the time to see beneath her armored façade – is an emotional mess…a hollowed woman who protects what’s left of her heart and self-esteem by not letting her guard down for anyone. Her Dr. Ice persona allows her to keep control and set boundaries for everyone in her life, and up until this point, Elle’s been able to stay true to her rules of living, but when Lane Cannon sets his sights on her and forces her to give up control, challenging her to open up to him and give him more than her body, the struggle to remain the guarded woman who she is with her holier than thou attitude and her abrasive personality is pushed to its limits, forcing both Elle and Lane to be honest and real about who they are and what they want from each other.
Lane Cannon is sex personified, which is quite fitting for his profession as a sex surrogate at The Grove. And even though he’s judged for the legitimacy of his specialty, he takes pride in his work in a way that helps him to put his past “profession” behind him and come to terms with how his escort days defined him and made him the man he is today. But he refuses to be used ever again, so Elle’s treatment of him as a way to protect herself is unacceptable and while Lane’s all for playing kinky games, he plays them on his terms and with him in control – something that he forces Elle to understand from the very beginning.
The layered dynamics of Elle and Lane’s relationship fascinated me right from the start of By The Hour. They seem about as incompatible as they come, but for some reason, as long as Elle doesn’t belittle him in order to save face, they connect in significant ways – ones that go beyond their physical attraction and speak to the heart of who they are. There were a number of times that I thought Lane was going to be done with Elle and I was actually rooting for him to do so because her treatment of him was despicable, and even though Roni Loren makes it clear why Elle acts the way she does, I had a difficult time seeing past her hurtful words and cold attitude.
What I found most interesting about the set-up of the story line is that Loren doesn’t provide Elle’s complete backstory all at once. Readers understand she was betrayed by her husband, and it destroyed her in multiple ways, but the extent of the betrayal and the necessary insights aren’t unearthed until further into the story, which actually worked really well because it allows readers to adjust their perspective of Elle and truly see her and understand her in all that Loren shows us about Elle, and as a reader, I like to be able to make my own judgments not be told what I need to know about the characters. For me, Loren’s approach added to the depth of Elle’s character and helped explain why she became the woman she did but actually is so much more than what readers initially saw.
By The Hour is a complex, sultry, and frustrating story, but it’s frustrating in all of the best ways because the evolution of Elle and Lane’s relationship is quite contrary at the beginning and then grows and expands but also backpedals due to thoughtless comments and actions and by the time readers get to the end, they have a clear vision of who Elle and Lane are and why despite their differences, they give one another everything they need and desire.
4.5 Poison Apples
Elle paced her floors and shook out her hands, trying to get rid of the nerves that had insisted on stalking her as soon as she walked into her house. She never got nervous about things like this. It was only sex. Since her divorce, she’d had her fair share of it with a number of men. Some better than others. This would just be another hookup. A one-night stand.
So what if she’d have to see Lane again at The Grove? He didn’t work on the rehab wing, her domain. He was easily avoided. Plus, she was a grown woman who could separate business and pleasure. She’d compartmentalized the hell out of Donovan. Compartmentalizing was a long-practiced art of hers. This would be no different.
If she were really that worried, she would lock her door. Shut down the possibility for good. Because she knew Lane would hold true to his threat. If she locked it, he’d never look her way again. She put her hand on the lock briefly, but she couldn’t bring herself to turn it, not with her blood pumping this hard and the silky panties she’d changed into already clinging to her. She wanted this.
But after twenty minutes of pacing, her focus switched from worrying about the possibility that this would happen to worrying that Lane wouldn’t go through with it, that it had been a tease. A joke.
So when she heard the back door click open, she had to bite her lip to keep from making a sound of relief. He was here. This was happening.
She halted in the spot where she was in the living room, waiting in the hazy gray moonlight that filtered through the curtains. She wouldn’t go to him, wouldn’t reveal how eager she really felt.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the wooden floorboards, the one in the hallway creaking beneath his shoe, and then he stepped into the doorway of the living room. Somehow he looked even bigger here in her house. Over six feet of man filling up the unevenly framed antique doorway. The stained-glass pane above the door showered pale, colored light onto his shoulders and left his face half in shadow.
Her throat went tight, bone dry. “It took you long enough. Decided to stay for dessert?”
His mouth curved as he stepped forward, absorbing her sharp tone like she’d said something sweet. “No. I’m having you instead. Hope you’re worth skipping bread pudding.” He eyed her. “Frankly, I have my doubts.”
The jab made her pull up short. But instead of it pissing her off, a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding released, the insult somehow softening the edge of her nerves. “Screw you, Cannon.”
Amusement crossed his face. He was close now, almost within arm’s reach, making her step back. “That’s the idea, sunshine.”
She licked her lips and her back pressed against the wall. “No one knows you came here?”
His hands planted against the wall on each side of her shoulders, caging her in and enveloping her with his scent, his…bigness. “No, don’t worry. No one knows you’re slumming it. That you’re horny and hot for the institute’s hooker. Your dirty secret’s safe.”
She winced. “I didn’t mean—”
“Yeah, you did,” he said. “But it’s all right. I wouldn’t want anyone to know I’m here either. I’ve got my own reputation to keep.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What? For only fucking people who pay you?”
He smiled, a wickedness to it. “Oh, people don’t pay me for this, sweetheart. This isn’t for sale.”
Before she could register what was happening, he spun her around, pinned her against the wall, and pressed his body along her back. His erection pushed hard and heavy against her and a hot shudder of need chased down her spine. She had to fight not to whimper.
“Give me a safe word, McCray,” he said, his voice low and serious against her ear. “Because I’m about to give you what I know you want, but I’m not gonna do it without one of those. Your attitude’s got me wanting to do bad things to you.”
She closed her eyes, heat flooding her sex and making every part of her prickle with awareness. She said the first word that came to her head. “Birthday.”
He pressed his nose to her hair, inhaling. “Good girl.”
“No.” She tensed, the endearment scraping across her psyche and making her stomach clench.
He stilled. “No, what?”
“Don’t call me that. Ever.”
He was quiet for a second, and then his hand coasted down her bare arm in a soothing touch, like he was trying to calm a skittish horse. “Got it. That’s all you have to say to me, all right? Anything that’s out of bounds for you, just tell me and I’ll respect it.”
She took a deep breath, hating that she’d reacted so strongly, that the demons floated so close to the surface. That her ex-husband’s old endearment would get to her. She was off her game tonight. He was putting her off her game. “I don’t need your therapy mode, Lane.”
“This isn’t therapy mode. This is me being a responsible dominant and human being.”
A dominant? Great. Of course he was. “I’m not submissive.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“And if you ask me to call you sir, I will fucking punch you.”
He chuckled behind her, his breath tickling her neck. “I’d like to see you try.”
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About the Author
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her cooking, watching reality television, or picking up another hobby she doesn’t need–in other words, procrastinating like a boss. She is a RITA Award winner and a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.