This Is Who I Am (Masters of the Shadowlands 7)

This Is Who I Am - Cherise Sinclair 3.5-4 starsThe Club Shadowlands Series, book #7This is Master Sam's story... Sam is over 40 and a sadist. I don't pretend to understand sadism or masochism, but there are a lot of things that I don't understand or participate in. This book and this series are about much more than BDSM; they are romances with a "kink". Yes, they're steamy. Yes, they portray a lifestyle and preferences that are other than what most people would consider the "norm".But a lot of what this book is about is just that - what is Normal? Why do we tend to judge others harshly when their preferences or lifestyles are other than our own? If those people don't advertise or proselytize their lifestyle, why do I care what they choose to do in their private lives?Linda is over 40, too. She was captured in the sex slave ring that Raoul and Kim helped the FBI take down in the previous book, [b:To Command And Collar|12076070|To Command and Collar (Masters of the Shadowlands, #6)|Cherise Sinclair||17043818]. Kim had been taken as a sex slave, too, but she escaped. Raoul "bought" Kim's freedom and then provided "entertainment" with Kim at a big slave auction. Master Sam was there, posing as a buyer. He knew that Linda was Kim's friend, as the two met during their captivity. Sam also knew that Linda is into pain, or masochism; so during the auction, Sam kept Linda occupied and "safe" by taking a test run of his whips on her. Problem is... Linda isn't ready to accept that she's a masochist. She knows that she likes a bite of pain during sex, but her husband (now dead) and her boyfriends since haven't been able to comply, because it's "not done". Since Linda was freed by the FBI during the bust of the slave auction, she's been trying to put her life back together. But she's no longer sure who she is... does her need for pain during sex make her a monster? Does she obey a commanding voice because of her captivity and being conditioned by her slavers? Or is she truly submissive?Linda just wants to get back to her "normal" life. But she was drawn to Sam at the slave auction. And now, he seems to be everywhere... and she's confused and torn. Her testimony helps to put away the buyer who beat her young friend, Holly, to death. But her family and friends and community aren't ready to accept her back into her life. Many think she's tainted, after being a sex slave. And a vindictive wanna-be reporter who dated her a few times and couldn't do it for her in bed is now selling newspapers painting her as a pervert who likes pain. The implication being, that because Linda had visited a BDSM club before her capture and supposedly liked the whip, that she was just asking to be used and abused.What I really liked about this book was how Linda had to face herself. She realized that hiding her fears and feelings and even her preferences were only keeping her in misery and depression. She had to open up and allow herself to talk about her experiences. She had to take a stand for herself against any and all (including herself and her kids) who wanted to make her feel shameful or dirty or a slut. She had to learn to speak up when she was triggered by words or sounds or anything that put her back into her memories of captivity. Linda had to learn to say, "This is who I am." and be content.But Sam had to learn to say, "This is who I am", too. Sam's been closed since his failed marriage to a drug addict, who used and abused him - and still makes his life hell whenever she comes around. Nancy used to tell Sam that if he loved her, he'd... fill in the blanks - give her money, pay her debts, etc. Sam stopped sharing his life with others, after his wife started using his feelings, dreams, thoughts, and plans against him. For Sam, it's not about shame, it's about vulnerability and not allowing anyone but his daughter to get too close. And he even holds Nicole somewhat at arms length.The attraction between Sam and Linda is palpable. But neither it quite sure what to do about it. Sam wants to be around Linda, so he offers his help in practical ways, including staying at her house to catch a vandal who continues to spray paint slurs on the front of her home - something that the sleezy Dwayne reporter-wanna-be gleefully reports almost daily with pictures. But in their developing friendship and relationship, Sam and Linda are helping one another to heal. He's helping her to overcome her shame, triggers, and fears from her captivity. She's helping him to open up.I especially enjoyed the female bonding between the subs at Club Shadowlands. Linda is embraced and finds joy again in female friendships. This is a touching romance... not your average one, no. But it's a book about second chances - starting over again and learning to be who you are.