After some nicely chilling, quite promising opening chapters, this psychosexual suspense slides into a competent but belabored and predictable ordeal/ melodrama--featuring yet another woman who continues to adore her man even as he beats her to a pulp. Much of the initial appeal here is in the character of 18-year-old Jan Roberts, a homely-faced but bright, trim high-school senior living with her loving, widowed father outside Des Moines. And first-novelist Merritt maintains strong believability as virginal Jan suddenly, ecstatically acquires a handsome, charming suitor: 35-year-old Tony O'Toole, who admires her watercolors, dazzles her with worldly chatter, seduces her with a sad story about a girlfriend's suicide. . . and persuades her to move into his Des Moines apartment, despite her father's pained protests. ""Here she was, just graduated and already living with a man. . . who made love to her in ways her friends couldn't even imagine. A poet. A classical organist. . . . A Renaissance man hiding in Des Moines, Iowa. And she had him."" Then the troubles start, however (for Jan and the novel): Tony suggests a little bondage sex; he's possessive, moody; and Tony's grandedame mother secretly warns Jan that this ""Renaissance man"" is a psycho who killed his father (at age nine), beats women, is in and out of asylums, and has told nothing but lies. Jan's reaction? ""I will love him so much that nothing else will matter."" Still, Jan does eventually run away--after Tony has beaten her, whipped her, tied her up, terrorized her with a gun--and Tony is tried and committed. But then, after a recuperating Jan has found her first real chum (who also has a weakness for sadistic boyfriends), Tony reappears! And when Tony abducts both Jan and girlfriend Susie (whom he rapes and kills), Jan quickly returns to the feeling that ""no matter what he did, she loved him""; what's more, she ""wanted him to hurt her, to make her bleed."" True, Jan will finally strike back, but the essential drift here is sado-masochistic--with behavior that finds adequate grounding neither in Jan's background nor in the dubious notion that a homely girl is so hungry for love that she'll put up with anything. What remains, then, is a shallow torture-ama which is occasionally fairly harrowing--and which demonstrates some basic storytelling talent that could certainly be put to better use in the future.