Fair Trade by Dylan Cross

    Fair Trade new cover

"When you're at the top, the only way to go is down."

Corporate VP Joanna Barnes is condescending, domineering and micromanaging. She belittles and insults the workers beneath her. In other words, she's a bitch. Her behavior at her industry's trade show is no different. Her poor intern, Steve, has been on the receiving end of her verbal abuse all day. But, when the two of them get behind closed doors in the hotel room... it will be Steve's turn to call the shots, as he literally brings the curvy executive to her knees...

Fair Trade is a tale of role reversal. Curvy VP Joanna is loathed and despised by all of her subordinates. Steve, however, knows how to handle a woman like Joanna, and it will be a ride she'll never forget...

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Review

Joanna is the boss from hell; Steve is her trainee who can do nothing right, and she lets him know about it at every opportunity. We're introduced to both characters at their company's trade show, where they're working a display booth together. We cringe as Joanna lays into her intern repeatedly, referring to him sarcastically as "genius" and reminding him that he "doesn't get paid to think." At this point, we ask ourselves why he doesn't just give his notice.

The answer comes in the main part of the story, and Cross doesn't waste time in getting us there. The two are lovers, but with a twist: it's complete and total role reversal. A half hour after taking a brutal verbal beating from Joanna in public, she's blindfolded outside his hotel room door, begging for sex. Perhaps seeking payback for her earlier abuse, he makes her describe the purpose of her visit in explicit detail, even while other hotel patrons pass in the hallway. (She gets groped by strangers a couple of times, but no serious action here.) When he finally grants her admittance to his room, she's made to crawl to him on her hands and knees. He even strips her of her right to speak of herself in the first person tense. Instead, Joanna is made to refer to herself with such colloquial titles as "this skank" and "your whore." Steve lays it on thick as well, labeling his boss with the filthiest, most degrading names imaginable. Delightfully, he even speaks to her in the same verbiage which she used to berate him: when she says that she entered the hotel room because she thought it was what he wanted, he informs her that she "doesn't get paid to think."

This story is packed with action, but it's not novel-length. Dylan Cross moves the story along well, and doesn't bog it down with needless details. We're never told what the company's actual niche is; nor is it relevant to the story. The physical descriptions of the main characters are also largely left to our imagination. Steve the trainee is in his early twenties and is well-endowed, but we're not inundated with descriptions of "rippling abs" or "steely, penetrating blue eyes." In fact, Joanna is blindfolded for a good portion of the scene, and the entire story is told from her perspective.

We're given a little more detail about her: a dyed blonde with a large chest, fifteen years older than her trainee and a very full figure which she's uncomfortable about. In fact, in this reader's opinion, this is what sets the story apart from other "raunchy reads." Rather than giving Joanna a stripper or gymnast's body, Cross instead elected to write her as a real-life woman, and it's what makes the story work: like thousands of women who aren't a size 2, Joanna is dealing with tremendous insecurity about her physical appearance. However, as is often the case, others around her have no problem with the way she looks, and accept her as she is. This includes a number of observers and voyeurs, as well as Steve himself. Ostensibly, he could have someone his own age, but instead pursues an affair with his much-older boss. The various sex games he plays with her, while seemingly centered on humiliation and degradation, actually end up serving the opposite purpose: demonstrating to Joanna that she is a very sexy and desirable woman.

Compared to Dylan Cross' other work, this storyline is more refined. The sex is consensual. At one point, Joanna balks and wants to end the affair, but her lover won't let her and instead sets her straight. There's spanking and whipping, but it doesn't overshadow the story. The name-calling is the piece which is most likely to turn certain readers off: it gets pretty vulgar. However, it's obvious that it's part of the play; it's also understood by both parties that, if the intern were to employ such degrading talk anywhere other than the bedroom, he'd immediately find himself unemployed.

This story is a recommended read. A word of caution, however: if you have a tyrannical "boss from hell," chances are you'll never look at her in the same way again!

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