My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Since Don’t Let Go is the final installment of the Dark Erotica series, I feel like writing a eulogy. Eh, not the way those are used but just some of my own thoughts on the series.
When I started reading this series, I did it only because I was very moved by the author’s writing from her Beauty series, specifically book 1, Beauty Touched the Beast. Mind you, dark erotic, non-con stories weren’t my forte. At all. Yet I put my trust in Ms. Warren to guide me through this unknown territory or so to speak, and never once was disappointed. It was not a smooth journey by any means and it certainly wasn’t always nice but there was always hope and redemption at the end of every book. She delivered what she promised to the max.
When I heard of Carlos’s book, I had only one thought in mind... ‘OMG, whadda...? did she hear me or what?’ because I wanted to know this perverted criminal mastermind’s story since I met him in book 1, Keep Me Safe. Maybe I’m a little crazy myself but I had been fascinated with him. I don’t mean it as a compliment mind you, he made me cringe and had me agape with his activities, yet I couldn’t stop reading. But never once, I thought Ms. Warren would actually make him the ‘hero’ of a book!
But then, there it was.......
So how did it all begin?
In book 1, we’re introduced to Carlos who was the reason behind the kidnapping of Rachel, the h. Zachary, the H, was an undercover FBI agent who had to do some not-so-nice stuff to Rachel in order to blend inside the group. Yet, we learn that he is not only in FBI but he’s also related to Carlos. Nephew, I believe. This is the reason why Zachary so easily got inside the mafia group so successfully and ruthlessly run by Carlos. He was investigating a chain of human trafficking. He knew from his time with them that those reports were correct. It was clear as daylight that Carlos and his bunch of criminals are expert in training sex slaves.
We’re, also, soon introduced to Carlos’s various questionable sexual proclivities. Perversions that turn him on, most prominent one probably was his love for getting forced and rough blowjobs, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted. I was like... holly.. what... huh...?????
Rachel and Zachary do find a way to escape but it distinctly felt like Carlos was still playing with them, then providing them with the opportunity to escape.
Book 2, Trust in Me, was the story of one of Carlos’s kept women, Mia. It was the most twisted story of this series IMO.
Mia had been sexually abused by her father at a young age. It went on for a long time, until one day she ran. She had no money, nowhere to go and Carlos found her. She was fed, clothed and then acted as Carlos’s mistress for a while. Even with their somewhat big age differences, Carlos was her knight in shining armor. Then things started changing. Carlos began to become rougher with her at each passing day. I can’t really explain or tell you the things he made Mia do with him or with numerous of his men... or just to her, to humiliate her. To break her. But then he got off on those things he made Mia do, perverted bastard that he is. I didn’t know what to feel or think. I got sick of Carlos’s doings and wanted to crush his balls. I knew in this book that Carlos has very little, if any, redeeming qualities... at least that’s how I felt about him.
Mia was also working for the FBI in secret. Being a whore, she was ignored most of the times. She had plenty of opportunities to spy on Carlos’s dealings etc. while serving him or some other men as they never thought anything but a mindless little sex slave. However, she was more than those. It was fortunate that Mia was able to meet a childhood crush, Tyler, who was also an undercover FBI agent, trying to get into Carlos’s good graces. It worked… somewhat. But the best thing that happened to Mia in long years was the fact that she and Tyler were able to come together, a chance of knowing each-other once again… and make an escape from Carlos’s clutches. But did they escape on their own or Carlos let Mia leave? Or why was Mia that important for that matter to have a book of her own? These questions are answered in Don’t Let Go.
Book 3, Hear Me is not really directly related to Carlos or our FBI agent heroes. However, the heroine, Melody was one of the escapee from Carlos’s last group of sex slaves before things went wrong in Trust In Me. Melody has been trained to become a mindless thing bend on pleasure and pain, or pleasuring through pain. She’s rescued by a lonely carpenter living in the wood, Sam, who, it turns out, has his own proclivities. Melody gets under his skin right at the moment he rescues her. This is mainly their story with some luscious twists and unexpected turns. I loved it a lot, especially the ending.
Don’t Let Go, book 4, starts out as it does generally, from the heroine’s POV. Samantha is a junior FBI agent. And as any other Dark Erotic heroines, she gives us a fair warning about her own dark past. She’s been raised in foster homes as her father was caught and imprisoned for rape and murder of young children. Samantha doesn’t talk about her father to anyone. She lies about him being dead. But the FBI knows of everything, of course.
Samantha’s becoming a cop/agent, to me, felt like an attempt at some kind of closure for what had happened to her, those memories of catching her father with blood in his hands. She feels guilty of ‘telling on’ him to the police that irrevocably condemned him to a life sentence in a tightly secured prison. After that, she has been sort of floating around, never taking roots anywhere; be it in foster homes or any other kinda relationships she’d tried in the past. Samantha likes older men, and thinks she has pretty bad ‘daddy issues’. This came in the story over and over again. I wasn’t sure I liked her repeating it though. What shocked me was the source of her ‘daddy issue’ when it was revealed in the middle of the book. Then again, I shouldn’t have. There had to be something seriously f*cked up about her being wanting to be dominated and seeking pleasure through pain; a fact that is still the deepest secret of Samantha’s heart. She wants this, but also knows she’s messed up inside if she thinks this is what she wants from a man.
One day, out of nowhere, her big boss, Brody calls her to his office. She goes in, not knowing she’d be hired to do a job that every FBI agent wants but also, is apprehensive about; the Carlos Laguardia case. The most wanted of FBI, a perverted criminal, who, like many, has also fascinated Samantha. So much so, she was going through his files in secret. But is there anything secret in FBI? And so, somehow, Samantha finds herself as the partner of a seasoned FBI agent, Ian Hennessey. Samantha is very surprised but agrees to work with him, reason we already know; her fascination with the man.
Makes you wonder, which man exactly was it?
It seemed, at first, Ian wasn’t happy being paired with a rookie cop, but they soon stuck a totally unexpected friendship laced with an attraction that should’ve been declared criminal in itself. Working together late night only fueled it. Ian is just the type of guy Samantha is generally attracted to; older, maybe in his early to mid 40s, handsome with gray-peppered light brown hair and silvery eyes. To top it off, he’s extremely intelligent and ruthless enough to have become one of FBI’s most successful agents. Samantha is 23 herself. And she can’t keep thinking of this man since day one without getting horny; more so when she sees those flickers of gentleness in his eyes or those rarest slight smiles that she has come to adore in their short time together. He even affectionately starts calling her ‘rookie’.
Laguardia comes off as one of the most elusive of criminals in History to Samantha as he must’ve been to her predecessors. Ian is very determined to see the man is caught and tried for his numerous horrible crimes that range from illegal trades of all kinds, sexual slavery, to kidnapping and murder. In every context, he is a ruthless man and cruel to boots. They interview some of Laguardia’s accomplices, mainly in prison. After a while, Samantha proposes that they interview one of Laguardia’s regular girls, Mia. Ian instantly opposes this and quite vehemently so. When Samantha tries to put forth her points, i.e. Mia’d know how Laguardia looks like (because he’s such an expert in disguise), Ian goes straight to the point of why exactly she wants to interview Mia... I’ll let you imagine what he says but that gave me the frisson of unease, and flusters Samantha rather bad. She definitely was interested in knowing Laguardia’s sexual perversions that Mia obviously knows firsthand.
It felt like I was in the brink of something that isn’t quite coming to me… I kept feeling that Ian… maybe… and damn I wish I didn’t read a spoiler-y review, so now I don’t know how hard ‘the revelation’ would’ve hit me in the first place. But I did have long moments of ‘OMG OMG OMG OMG... Oh My God, WHAT??’ in my head.
Samantha’s curiosity gets the best of her and she pays a visit to Mia, entirely hiding it from Ian. She told herself that she wanted to gain more information on Laguardia and yet, the talks always return to Carlos’s sexual perversions. Mia tries to evade most of it by a slight shake of her shoulders as if it was nothing, she was returning her ‘debts’ to Carlos for taking her in when she needed it most. But then, we all know it’d never ever be ‘nothing’. Samantha could see the momentary blankness in Mia’s eyes, which she’s fighting hard to stay sane... even for her loving, protective husband, Tyler. Samantha returns with the picture of a monster in her mind, yet no less intrigued by him.
Soon enough, Ian finds a trade route of Laguardia’s and decides to go for a hunt that’d surely catch Laguardia this time. Every FBI agent is needed for this task as this might be the biggest haul for them ever... Samantha is here for the job, excited, even oddly exhilarated that maybe finally they’d catch Laguardia. But things clearly go wrong. She’s kidnapped by someone, who later identifies himself as Laguardia. Samantha is blindfolded and bound, kept for 3 days. She’s beaten and heavily bruised but not really harmed big-time. Samantha tries her best to talk to him, to know Carlos but he’s as elusive as he had ever been. He touches her, ‘marks’ her, even performs sexual acts on her as if he knows how f*cked up she is and her deepest, darkest sexual desires. Samantha is scared as hell but her body has a different idea of its own that reacts positively to Carlos’s touches. But the man doesn’t really have sex with her and is oddly affectionate after one of those ‘sessions’ that he shows through kissing her whole body. He takes care of her too. He never speaks out loud; never enough for her to determine his true voice. One day, Carlos gives her one moment of respite by unbinding her hands and Samantha takes that chance. Before running away, all Samantha could see is a pair of brown eyes and curly hair... Not much to determine anything as her only thought was ‘escape’ before she locks him in.
Samantha’s life ‘after Carlos’ is different. She wants to find herself again, yet can’t stop thinking about him. Ian seems duly worried. At one point, Samantha decides the only way she can erase Carlos’s touch is to give into the temptation of Ian... And that’s what she does next. I loved what she did to get his attention. But I was also shocked when the revelation of her sexual abuse by her father comes up. Samantha was tired of trying to ignore this whole sh!tty mess, making up things in her mind to convince herself as if nothing ever happened. Her reasoning for telling about her father’s deed to the police was pretty damnable, and sick. Yet the only person she wanted to confess was to Ian, sensing he’d understand her. As if there’s something darker haunting him too... but would he reject her based on this? But of course not... The sex was hot and tender. In other words, nothing like Carlos. Yet, the next day, after a night of intense and thorough lovemaking, what Samantha discovers changes her life once again. That song, in a low baritone... the song she heard Carlos humming under his breath is coming from Ian’s bathroom. Samantha thought her brain was playing tricks on her, but it wasn’t. The similarity between the voices couldn’t be ignored. My mind was already spinning as I was anticipating (dreading?) this moment myself. Samantha’s thoughts go awry and the only thing she wants is to escape. Yet once again.
While debating what to do about this new and damning revelation, Samantha goes to work. She tells herself this is her chance for glory. She might even have a raise or two because of this... but once Brody calls her in and then, Ian comes in too, Samantha, in a nutshell, decides she doesn’t want to hand him over. She’s in love, however insane that might sound and she’s going to stick by him. When Brody makes statements about Ian being somehow involved with Carlos, Samantha even tries to save him. Brody doesn’t believe her of course and she finds herself with a timeout from her job. Samantha didn’t know if she’d run from Ian but she finds him in her house, already waiting. The whole scene was surreal. Ian’s words, vaguely alluding to the fact that he’s THE infamous Carlos were giving me goosebumps. It was unbelievable, yet there were moments of truth. And in this twisted love, there were some playful exchanges too, so unlike the monster I knew Carlos had previously been.
It was plain that apart from being brilliant, Ian is a master manipulator, yet I knew he cared for Samantha in a way he never did for anyone. I believed in it. Something about her snared him right from the start (even though Samantha looking a lot like Mia wasn’t a favorite point of mine), thus began the careful planning of getting what he wanted... And Ian/Carlos always gets what he wants. Samantha recognized all these in Ian and she had no intention of going away. No matter what he does to her. At one point, sex turns to talk, which in turn focuses on Ian’s own f*cked up childhood and then, to Mia, as Samantha confesses that she’d been to see her. Ian, in turn, confesses that he’d loved Mia, so much so that he wanted to break her, but she defied everything he did. It was plain to see that letting Mia go was also Ian’s intention because of course, he could’ve decided not to... A life with Tyler was a gift he gave to Mia for all that she suffered.
This kinda depresses Samantha. So does he love her? What it is that he feels for her? The answer is there, soon, when she teasingly asks if Ian has the same intention for her... This was very surprising, the possessive way he replies that he’s never letting her go, ever. At the end, Ian’s plan of erasing ‘Carlos’ was put to motion... After that, he very quietly tells Samantha that he’s doing it all for her; to have a life with her as he has promised, and he’s sure she’d ‘help’ him forget this side of him...
The epilogue showed me a very different Carlos; not wallowing in marital bliss of course. But whatever there was between them, I had that feeling of mutual understanding in everything. Samantha knew that no matter, she holds the ultimate power because Ian is quite obsessed, frantically so, where she’s concerned.
I kept thinking of Ian, and the ‘Carlos’ I thought I knew all along. I always envisioned Carlos as someone of middling height, stocky built, somewhat handsome, a guy with dark hair and eyes. Nothing like Ian. So what was it? I couldn’t believe that ‘Ian’ was the disguise... then again, come to think of it, I still don’t really know how exactly ‘Carlos’ looked like, just as I don’t know which his real name is or how old he actually is. Everything is vague and you make some assumptions, not knowing what fits. But that’s Ian/Carlos for you. If I knew everything about him, he won’t be the same to me; a fact Samantha recognized too. She was good with it as she has a long time ahead of her to discover the hidden, complex man inside. It was already a big development that he let her into his heart, shared things with her no one knew about him. Good or bad, it depends on your POV but I decided not to judge anything.
This is what I love most about Ms. Warren’s Dark Erotic stories. She made me want Carlos, which I thought would never happen even if the sun rises in the west. She made me think “Oh My, wow, he’s..... hot?” (and then rub my forehead in dismay). It was incredibly crazy (especially when I went and re-read Trust in Me just to slap myself out of the daydream) but it was also true.
Apparently, Carlos is human.
Someday I’d love to read a story from his POV to have a glimpse inside of that complex, perverted little head. I can only wish though... 4.5 stars.
This ARC of Don't Let Go was sent to me by the author herself in exchange of an honest review and I'd like to thank her for it.