No one does dark and twisted quite like Lisa Henry. Her new story, Naked Ambition, is part of Grim and Sinister Delights, a multi-author collection of dark romances based on fairy tales and stories. This one is loosely tied to the Emperor’s New Clothes. One should definitely heed the word “grim” when it comes to this particular novella because what happens to poor, naïve Christian Roquefeuil is enough to make one shudder and then some. In fact, for those who may be triggered by drug addiction and dubious consent/rape, please be aware that this story has both.
When Taylor Ritchie began as an intern for the House of Romano, so did the shy and awkward Christian. Known for having torrid affairs with most of his interns, Luca Romano had one minor flirtation with Taylor, but took a special liking to Christian—so much so that he secretly married the man. When Luca dies suddenly, not only does he leave behind a shocked and hurting Christian, but he also gives the guy over sixty percent ownership of his clothing empire. Christian is a lost lamb and one that is ripe for slaughter, which is exactly what psychopath Taylor and his sadistic boyfriend, Connor, aim to do. Trust me when I tell you, they are successful.
Piece by piece, the two men set out to dismantle the empire Luca built, first by befriending Christian, secondly by making him drug dependent and abusing him, and third by destroying the highly important spring clothing line that will make or break the clothing company’s future. Only one man sees Christian as he really is, but Mike is nothing more than a lowly accountant in the firm and he is certainly not in Christian’s league at all. Still, there’s something about the man that makes Mike feel protective, like he should somehow save Christian from himself before it’s too late.
I cannot relate everything that Taylor and Connor do to poor Christian, but suffice it to say that no one deserves the horrors and abuse they heap on this poor, grieving man. While there isn’t exactly a happy ever after to this novella, there is definitely a hopeful happy for now and a sense that Christian’s future will include Mike in a good way. I must say that even though this story is pretty brutal to read, it is very well written. Taylor and Connor just exude evil so well and Christian’s innate goodness is the perfect foil. Then there is the mild-mannered, slightly nerdy Mike who screams “hero” as soon as you meet him. Honestly, the story itself, while very disturbing, is quite gripping and even horrifying at turns.
The only thing that threw me off about the plot is the lack of reasoning behind Luca leaving Christian in charge of his empire. I realize that no one, especially Luca or Christian, expected Luca to die so suddenly, but still, these two had more than a few years together and surely Luca saw how intensely shy and sheltered a person Christian was during that time. If Luca understood the man he loved at all, why would he leave him in charge when he knew it’s the last thing Christian would ever want? Couldn’t he have found another way to provide for him? It just seemed rather cruel to put such a burden on the guy and even though initially there are certainly staff in place who can help Christian, they have little respect for the man. It just didn’t make sense to me.
If you like your stories dark, then I have little doubt that Naked Ambition will be a novella you might enjoy. Honestly, I would love to see more of Christian and Mike, but alas their story will just have to go forward in my imagination only.