A college sophomore and her professor conduct a steamy, forbidden affair in this contemporary romance novel.
It’s a new semester, and sophomore Penny Taylor, 19, meets a handsome young man when he collides with her in a coffee shop, spilling a cold beverage on her shirt. He gives Penny his sweater in compensation. The next day, Penny—a marketing major who dreads public speaking—slides into her seat for Comm 212—Oral Communication in Business. The good-looking stranger turns out to be her professor, James Hunter. Tyler Stevens, an attractive fellow student, invites Penny to a fraternity party, where she enjoys dancing and kissing him. But when Tyler ignores her “no” to sex and holds her down, she knees him in the groin, getting called a bitch in return. Leaving the party in tears, Penny is intercepted by Hunter, who offers her a ride home; when he assumes she’s a senior, she doesn’t correct him. The two soon begin flirting, sometimes in class. As the semester goes on, the dalliance between Hunter and Penny ripens into a full-blown erotic affair, featuring rough, often semipublic sex that she loves. Trust issues and miscommunication get in the way, but as the novel ends, hope remains alive for the couple. Their story continues in three more volumes. Smoak (A Whirlwind of Color, 2018, etc.) provides evocative, well-written (avoiding twee or overly crude phrasing) sex scenes for those who appreciate male dominance and the thrill of almost getting caught. For some, these pluses will be sufficient, but the book is filled with romance-novel clichés: accidental first meeting; obstacles that a moment’s communication could clear up; the hero’s enormous wealth; his reason for liking Penny (she’s not afraid to speak her mind). The main characters have puzzling flaws: Hunter is a terrible professor, running his class like a group therapy session and announcing proudly that he’s an easy grader who wants students to think of him as a “peer.” Penny, meanwhile, easily accepts Tyler’s apologies for her near rape and comes to consider him a best friend.
Vivid sex scenes with attention to the heroine’s pleasure, but characterization remains problematic.