Belinda has always suffered from a need to control everything in her life, a holdover from a time when she was responsible for helping her younger siblings overcome a rough start in life while Belinda also attended college. Despite having had only a few boyfriends, Belinda doesn’t suffer from a lack of male attention. Her Barbie doll blond looks and curvy body have men hitting on her all the time. But even being choosy regarding with whom she shares a bed doesn’t help, because Belinda has never been able to have an orgasm with a man. By herself, no problem, but letting someone in with that level of trust has proven impossible. She’s faked her way through intimate relationships but the men in her life have seen through her guise, usually dispensing some hurtful remarks about her frigidity and her need to organize everything before they’ve walked out the door.
Now a successful interior designer at age 39, Belinda is attempting to be less rigid about organizing her life and let in some spontaneity. Out at a bar with her friend Trina to celebrate Trina’s two-timing boyfriend no longer being in her life, the women glimpse two gorgeous guys across the room – and they are definitely looking back. Before a move can be made by either party, a few sleazy biker guys attempt to hassle Trina and Belinda. Not wanting to hang around with the scene getting threatening, the women decide to leave, with the two good looking guys noting that four bikers have left to follow the women. Luckily for Belinda and Trina, the two good Samaritans manage to break up the attempted assault on the women, but not before Trina gets hurt.
One of the men is clearly taken with Trina (and luckily a paramedic) but the slightly scary, dominant Adam brings a host of sex pheromones on the scene with his protectiveness toward Belinda and his refusal to leave her at the hospital while she cares for Trina. Soon Adam’s courtship reveals that he is in a long term (and long distance) relationship with Joel, who is about to move back to Sydney. Adam and Joel have been looking for a woman to share their life and they both feel that Belinda (who they call Bell or Bells despite her asking them not to) is the one. But with her holding back about her sexual problems and having a dangerous stalker on the loose, both men are uncertain if they can overcome the obstacles to develop this relationship to its full potential.
A good erotic novella can be seriously undermined by a lack of backstory. The writing was extremely readable but I was genuinely shocked at the revelation that Belinda was 39 – she sure didn’t act it. Clearly she has undiagnosed (and untreated OCD) with the sexual side effect of being unable to have an orgasm with a partner. Yet this financially successful woman has never sought medical help in the form of medication or therapy despite one failed relationship after another? Winters also mentions Belinda as “pouting” frequently throughout the novel which seems like juvenile behavior. The final nail in the age coffin was that Belinda never – not once – has the slightest bit of insecurity about her appearance in front of these two hot men. No woman makes it to age 39 without noting the changes in her body, no matter how in shape and beautiful she may be!
The story is set in Australia but the occasional colloquialism is not off-putting to a non-down under audience. While not addressed, Joel’s physical description clearly indicates he is black, but no mention is made as to whether he has Aboriginal ancestry, which would come with a host of social and political baggage in that country. It’s fine to leave his ethnicity a mystery, but the fact that the barest explanation is given as to the origins of Belinda’s problem, and there is virtually no backstory as to Joel and Adam’s relationship, makes it easy for the reader to feel less attached to the characters. The side plot of Trina and Rob, while sweet, takes away real estate that should have been dedicated to the main triad relationship.
From a sexual dynamics perspective, it’s hinted that Adam and Joel’s dominance is what helps Trina overcome her mental block, yet they are barely dominant, so that felt like a resolution to one of the conflicts that went unexplored to the detriment of the overall plot. The sex scenes were extremely erotic (it is a ménage after all!) but it was jarring to have so many of them end unpleasantly when Trina’s issues would surface, particularly when no one mentioned therapy as a possible solution, even after she was physically (and almost sexually) assaulted by her biker stalker. A distinct lack of condoms or any discussion of physical health or birth control also inspired the feeling that these characters were lacking in intelligence and caring toward one another. So many great erotic authors have demonstrated that this discussion can be straightforward and sexy, inspiring confidence and trust among the protagonists.
As a result of these drawbacks, Relax, Bell ends up falling flat when it had the potential to be much more.
-Reviewed by Tori
Laurel Cremant is an opinionated author and reader of romance with a wicked sense of humor. RNIC was smart (or crazy) to bring her on as a blogger. In 2016 she took over the management of this site and relishes her new title of “Overlord of Awesome”