Taunt Me is the second volume in Annabel Joseph’s Rough Love trilogy. It takes place two and a half years after the ending of Torment Me, with Chere about to graduate Design School. She has not seen nor heard from W during all that time, but he is still very much on her mind – as is she is on his, as we find out in the first chapter told from his perspective.
This is the first marked change in this second novel of the trilogy – it is told from the point of view not just of Chere but also of Price (we also finally get told his name) in alternating chapters (a pattern the novel strictly adheres to – with two exceptions, but those are again symmetrical). Annabel Joseph once again proves that she is a very clever writer by adjusting the novel’s form to the changed circumstances – the relationship between Chere and Price has lost its fixed framework now that she is no longer an escort and he no longer her client – in fact the main part of Taunt Me after our protagonists have found each other again is the working out of precisely a new framework for their relationship, and the novel concludes when they appear to have found a new and hopefully lasting foundation for their love – making the ending simultaneously a satisfying stopping point (they’re finally together!) and something of a cliffhanger (will this really work?).
The overall structure of the narrative, then, is looser in this second volume, and more space is given to non-sexual events and character development. There still are a lot of very hot, very intense BDSM scenes in Taunt Me, but each comes after a slow build-up in tension which then explodes into a frenzy of rough sex. Again, this is very deftly handled by Annabel Joseph – even as in the first third of the novel Chere goes about her mundane everyday life as a design student we get Price’s point of view which not only presents readers with his perspective on the events of the first volume (thus bringing new readers up to speed while still keeping things interesting for readers who have read Torment Me) but also maintaining a faint but steady air of menace and a slow-burn eroticism. Overall, I’d consider Taunt Me more of a Romance than as Erotica, and it is clearly the middle volume of a trilogy – which is not a bad thing in this case. If it is somewhat less intense than the previous novel was, I think this is quite intentional – it tells of a period of character growth and re-orientation, of finding out where one stands and where one wants to go; and this is mirrored by the narrative form which marks a slowing down, but one that is like taking breath, like gathering strength for the final effort.
And while it may be somewhat slower-moving, Taunt Me is certainly not boring – I’m not sure how well it would have worked on its own, but after already being invested in the characters after having read the first volume, I found it quite fascinating to follow the winding course of their relationship, they way Chere and Price circle each other, are attracted, then repelled by each other, only to move close again, like a binary stars caught in some complex dance of gravity. And I am quite looking forward to reading the third volume to find out just how stable the orbit they seem to finally settle into at the end of Taunt Me will turn out to be.