secretS.E.C.R.E.T., by L. Marie Adeline, was published in 2013. It’s erotica, and the author freely admits that she and her publisher were inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey. I find this a little odd. Erotic fiction featuring a female protagonist’s sexual awakening at the hands (so to speak) of multiple men is hardly new. It dates back to at least Fanny Hill, from 1749. Many golden age pornographic films, such as The Devil in Miss Jonesas well as the more recent Shortbus, have a similar theme.

To give credit where credit is due, perhaps the popularity of Fifty Shades signals a greater acceptance of enjoying erotica without the need for a moral ending of death or other punishment (i.e. marriage). And unlike the more pornographic variations of this theme, S.E.C.R.E.T. is a series of sexual fantasies, not a series of sexual acts – a critical difference.

Cassie married her first boyfriend, and spent fifteen years enduring an unhappy marriage. She discovered she was infertile. Her husband drank, occasionally hit her, and savaged her self-esteem. Five years ago he crashed his car and died. Now she’s a waitress in a third rate diner, and doesn’t date or do much of anything except envy the occasional loving couple in for a meal.

One day she picks up a left behind notebook, and is shocked and intrigued by its contents: Notes on sexual fantasies. She returns it to its owner, and is introduced to a secret society of women who help other women get more out of life by making a series of sexual fantasies come true. Where do I sign up?

The society itself is of course the stuff of fantasy. It’s age and race inclusive, has enormous financial resources, and can fulfill every aspect of a fantasy, from the right clothes (perfectly fitting) to the good looking and skilled lovers. The logic of the society and the plot, common to erotica, is that good sex is the key to personal fulfillment. Cassie signs up, chooses her fantasies, and we’re off.

Her fantasies are not so much sexual as situational. One is to have sex with someone famous, another is to be rescued. Although she picks them, and the order, she never knows exactly how or when they might be presented, and it’s not always obvious who the partner will be. As she experiences her fantasies, the emphasis is on the situation, not the sexual mechanics, which has led some reviewers to complain that the sex scenes are bland, or the sex too ordinary. These reviewers are missing the point – for Cassie, and the story, the important elements of the fantasies are the setting, the desire, the considerate lovers, and the safety. Sure, the kinkiest thing she does is wear a blindfold, but the delicious context is being given an outfit, driven by limousine to a mansion, and never seeing or knowing anything about the man who entertains her. All she knows is that he will not harm her, and will stop if she wishes. (It’s not that she trusts the men, who are more or less strangers, but that she trusts the women who arranged things.) The performance of the fantasies are a perfect mix of control and abandon, and women are in positions of power, both as arrangers and recipients.

Although the situations are arranged, the men seem to be genuinely interested in her body and her pleasure. It’s suggested that they are also living out fantasies, as opposed to being paid or otherwise fulfilling a duty, and that the society is something of a fantasy matchmaking service, but this is not explored. Cassie is free to pursue a relationship with any of the men, but it’s made clear that they are better one-time lovers than relationship material.

S.E.C.R.E.T. is not without flaws. With some contradictions and unexpected events, at times the author appears to be making it up as she goes, and skimping on editing. One wonders why Cassie continues working as a waitress with all her new found confidence, joy in life, and connections, or why some of her more public activities don’t result in attention from potential suitors. On the other hand, the author makes great use of the post-Katrina New Orleans setting. It’s both gritty and exotic.

Much of what passes for erotica, in books or films, is boring, because it has an adolescent fascination with sexual gymnastics, at the expense of any plot or character growth. L. Marie Adeline, a pseudonym for an established best selling author, has written a story with lots of sex, but with solid plot lines and interesting characters.

The book is clearly written with at least one sequel in mind, and the ending is not completely satisfying. It sets up the next book, with a promise of mysteries revealed. I didn’t feel cheated though. I’m looking forward to reading more, not because I’m wondering if Cassie will finally have the three way she read about (well, maybe a little), but because I want to know more about how she grows and what she does, and more about the society.  The bubble bath rating is hot with lots of musky scented oil. Adding oil kills the bubbles, but it has it own rewards.