The Master (The Game Maker Series) - Kresley Cole

Ok, so unlike when I read The Professional, I am now aware of Cole's non-YA work, and had a good idea of what I was stepping into.  All of you who are familiar with her body of romance titles are probably  laughing at my original surprise.

A need colder than Siberian winter meets an attitude hotter than the Florida sun in #1 New York Times bestselling author Kresley Cole’s sultry new Game Maker novel.

Maksimilian Sevastyan is a man of rather singular tastes, ones that he prefers to take care of without entanglements.  Escorts know him as a man that pays well, knows his business, and never books the same woman twice.  Cat Marin had a blessed life, until she discovered the man she married was a monster, now she's in hiding with few friends, passing as an illegal immigrant providing house cleaning for the wealthy.  One of her sole friends is an escort who's home Cat cleans, and when a botox treatment goes wrong Ivanna convinces Cat to take her place last minute, regardless that Cat is nothing like what Maksimilian requested.

Expecting a tall, icy blond who specializes in serving as a submissive, Maksimilian gets a short, curvy, and very sassy brunette who doesn't play by the expected rules.  As for Cat, she's not so sure about Maksimilian's plans for the evening, they sound like an old script, but she does know the man is drop-dead gorgeous and she does know passion.  After the first night, neither can forget the other, but can they move beyond the roles they play, and can they escape their past?

The Master works well as a sequel (with a tiny bit of overlap) to The Professional, I'm guessing the next book will be around the youngest (and perhaps most troubled) brother.  Aleksei and Maksimilian are rather similar characters - haunted by their brutal childhood, living in a world where violence is a fact of life, eschewing close personal relationships, and possessing a desire to control every aspect of their lives.

We get to interact again with key characters from The Professional when Maksimilian and Cat attend Aleksei and Natalie's wedding.  I hope Jess gets her own book at some point, she's a very colorful character.  I like the camaraderie and friendship that builds between the women, steering clear of the romance novel trap of putting down all potential female "competition."

The characters have healthy (and overcharged) sexualities, and real life does actually come into consideration.  Maksimilian has actual work and meetings to do, and when he comes back unexpectedly early, or chooses to reschedule, that is addressed.  Their relationship is definitely dysfunctional right off the bat, but considering that their relationship started as a business transaction that involved false pretenses, and things went even more pear-shaped from there, dysfunctional makes sense.  The important thing is they work through it, there is push and pull, and there is character development.  There is also a whole lot of sex and shenanigans.

Knowing what I did from The Professional and the scene setting for Cat and Maksimilian's first encounter, I expected this book to be all about crazy kinky sex.  The kink is worked in very differently than from The ProfessionalWhile Aleksei was trying to prove that he was in essence 'no good' for Natalie (who in turn was trying to beat it through his thick head that she was totally into all this hanky-panky), Maksimilian and Cat's relationship forms from a different angle.  Cat dismisses his original scene as too rehearsed, lacking in passion, so instead they work their way up to the figurative and literal whips and chains.  This approach also leads them in a different direction in terms of application of kink, largely towards denied and forced orgasm.

I found it refreshing that Cole wrote Maksimilian as a man who hasn't "of course" done every sexual act under the sun.  That perhaps the rigid way in which he directs his sex life has limited his experiences until he explores a personal relationship with a partner.  Obviously, since this is a romance novel, everyone is fantastic at what they do the first time they do it.  But I appreciate that it's not just the woman who's experiencing new things in bed.  Maksimilian also is fantastically appreciative of Cat as a whole package, regardless if she's fresh out of the shower or sweaty from an hour long run.

The Master delivers both on plot and titillation.  Feel free to read it for the story or for the action.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.