I recently re-released my second novel, An Unexpected Exile, a mostly lighthearted story about a mismatched couple who indulge a mutual sexual obsession while embroiled in a politically-charged culture clash. But it also deals with a much more serious issue: Domestic abuse.

My protagonist, Risa Weinberg, is not your stereotypical abuse victim. Self-centered, attractive, and financially independent, she is under no economic or social compunction to remain in a relationship with (much less marry) an abusive man. And yet, she stays with Arturo long after his aggressive tendencies become obvious and inevitably spin out of control.

Their relationship starts off innocently enough: Arturo is endearingly persistent; Risa is skeptically reserved. The first time they have sex, Arturo proves himself an expert and earnest lover. (To put it bluntly, he blows Risa away in bed.) Besides which, he is chivalrous and gentlemanly: He calls frequently, rushes over at a moment’s notice, and meets Risa at the bus stop after work each night to carry her bags.

But Risa detects an ambiguous undercurrent of control behind Arturo’s actions. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but Arturo’s behavior leaves her both flattered and vaguely unsettled. It gradually becomes clear that he uses sex as a tool to control and antagonize. And each overlooked infraction lays the groundwork for further escalation. In Arturo’s mind, to love a woman is to possess her, dominate her, and cleverly bully her. He’s a smart guy and a master of manipulation—even when disadvantaged by a language barrier. Little by little, he chips away at Risa’s self-confidence using a toxic brew of passionate sex and legitimate adoration.

An Unexpected Exile tells a cautionary tale of lust gone awry while exposing the darker side of romantic love. Granted, Arturo devolves into a bigger and bigger A-hole, and Risa makes poor decision after frustratingly poor decision as the story progresses. But these two are not supposed to be likeable characters; their starkly entertaining gambol into abusive territory is meant to sound a warning bell.

Perhaps Risa’s curiously low self-esteem is the real cause behind the predicament she finds herself in. But like many single women approaching thirty, her sense of worth is inextricably tied to her ability to “partner-up” before it’s too late. Never having found her perfect mate, she tries her hand at love with an imperfect one. But Arturo’s tumultuous passion quickly transforms into aggression—an unlucky trap that could ensnare virtually any woman, given such a perfect storm of well-aligned circumstances and innocent delusions. Like most women who participate in abusive relationships, Risa plays an equal role in this dysfunctional dance and must reckon with the consequences of her actions.