Unbound by Cara McKenna
ORDER A COPY: Unbound: (InterMix)
Publishing Date: October 15, 2013
eBook: 294 pages
Rating: 4 stars
She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.
Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…
Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.
Merry is on a quest but to find what, she isn’t sure. She had planned to take a vacation with her mother to her birthplace of Scotland, but after her mother’s death, Merry decided she wanted to see her mother’s homeland a little more intimately, and after losing 100 lbs. she decides the best way is to hike from Glascow to Inverness. Merry is on track to meet her three week goal until she falls ill and has to seek shelter at the lonely little cabin on the hill. She is surprised by the man she find there living off the land, almost like a hermit, in his tiny cabin with no running water and an outhouse. Rob is definitely hiding from the world, but the question is why?
Over the next few days of her recovery, Merry gets to know the Rob that he has been hiding from the world and what she sees beneath the shaggy hair and the beard in need of a trim, is a thoughtful, kind and generous man, one she can’t equate to the one he describes of his life before his cabin.
She also gets him to talk about some of the secrets he has been hiding deep down within himself. Some of which he never even shared with his ex-wife. The more Merry gets to know Rob, the more determined she is to have a taste of him before she completes her hike to Inverness. Can she convince her mountain man to allow him to indulge some of his deepest fantasies before she leaves?
This was great storytelling. There is no villain to be thwarted (unless you count Rob’s inner demons) and no grand adventure. This was simply a story of two people who are forced together and find that they truly like the person they are with, and when I say simple, this is a man who lives off the grid with no running water or electricity. He gets his water from a well and heats it on his wood burning stove which heats his house. The facilities are an outhouse back beyond the house. Considering Merry is hiking across the country, sleeping in a tent, drinking filtered water out of the loch, and bathing out of doors, Rob’s cabin is a luxury accommodation. That’s a little too away from the world for me, but it certainly leads to a lot of time for conversations and getting to know someone without the distractions of phones and technology and the rest of the outside world.
It takes Rob a great effort to have a conversation, and I like that he recognizes his own failing and works to overcome it while he has the novelty of a guest. He has spent the last two years barely speaking to another person, let alone having a real conversation a pretty woman.
The only issue I had with this story is that Merry learns Rob’s sexual kink involves ropes and being tied up. The only thing I personally didn’t like about the story is not that our hero had a kink and like to be dominated. I mean, really how many bondage stories are out there where the man wants to tie up and dominate the woman. This was an interesting change, but I didn’t like that he indicated he liked being demeaned. I don’t enjoy a story when one character degrades the other, especially during sex. Playing dominatrix for him added interesting role-playing and I feel our heroine didn’t take it so far that it would ruin their growing relationship, or to a point that I was uncomfortable with. I do feel that wanting to be humiliated as part of the act starts to go above and beyond kink and screams of real deep issues and starts taking the fun out of it for me.
I was truly enjoying the characters and the story and was sad to see it end. I would have like to see what, if any, future there might be for Merry and Rob.
Received an ARC courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Rob’s final shot found the tree, if a bit low and off-center. He squinted at it, frowning, then headed across the grass, dog on his heels. Merry joined the parade, watching the way Rob’s shirt shifted back and forth between his shoulder blades. Watching the motions of his hips, the flex of his triceps, the lift of his overgrown hair in the breeze; watching the rhythm of this lean body and its mysterious owner.
He let her help him pluck the shafts from the tree. Judging by the pits drilled into the trunk from all sides, this was no rare diversion.
“Where’d you learn archery?” she asked, tugging another arrow free.
“From my father, when I was a kid. Then I retaught myself when I moved out here.” He shot her a tight smile. “Even hermits need hobbies.”
She laughed, startled and pleased to find this man was capable of cracking a joke. “I wanted to take a class last summer, but it sold out. Because of all the kids into The Hunger Games.“
“Into the what?”
“Oh, right—you probably don’t have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. Anyhow, archery’s very hot at the moment.”
“Good to know I’m on trend.” Rob tugged the final arrow from the trunk, and Merry fetched the few that had found the ground. Two jokes, now. She’d discovered some little doorway into a different version of this man. She wanted to keep her foot jammed in the gap, keep the guarded, anxious Rob from returning and scaring this smirking fellow away. She handed him the arrows.
“Thanks,” he said, and slipped them into the quiver-thing. His equipment looked sporty and modern, the shafts some kind of lightweight metal, with flexible plastic fins instead of feathers.
“Do you hunt with these?”
He shook his head. “I hunt with a rifle. I’m not such a great shot that I’m likely to ensure a humane kill.”
“I dunno about that,” she said, eyeing the tree. He’d been quite the dead-eye…up until an audience had arrived.
“If all the deer deigned to stand still, a hundred paces from me,” he mused, “Then maybe. But I think I’ll keep sparing them the flesh wounds and myself the lost arrows.”
“What’s it like, killing an animal? I can barely stand to peel shrimp.”
“It’s, um…” Rob held the bow with both hands, resting it along his shoulders behind his head.
“It’s humbling. It’s hard to explain.” His arms flexed, and that and the three-fingered glove on his right hand were giving Merry pleasant feelings.
“So,” he said, dragging her attention off his biceps. “Your head’s still sore. How’s your stomach?”
“Better. Way better.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
She nodded, brain going fuzzy as her gaze caught on his. Those eyes really ought to come with some kind of controlled substance warning. Judging by how bleary she suddenly felt, they had to be at least 100 proof.
“Do you do this often?” she asked, forcing her mouth to make conversation. “Target practice?”
He nodded. “Most afternoons, once the chores are done.”
She eyed the bow, wondering how heavy it was. Wondering if holding it would make her feel as tough as Rob had looked.
“Would you like to try?” he asked.
“Kind of.” Kind of definitely. Especially if it might mean Rob would stand right behind her, his capable arms brushing hers as he corrected her form, voice so close to her ear. Pervert.
“All right,” he said. “Come on.”
A year ago, Merry wouldn’t have said yes. She’d avoided most any new activity that called attention to her body—to her physical competence, or rather, complete lack thereof. A year ago she’d never have tried archery with witnesses, nor kickboxing lessons nor tango classes nor a beginners’ jogging meet-up, and certainly not a 170-mile solo hike across fucking Scotland. The old Merry, she thought as she walked. Good riddance, you poor frightened thing.