Behind Closed Doors
By Betina Krahn, 1991, Tudor Romance (Elizabethan England)
Avon, $4.99, ISBN #0380757796
Preceded by Caught in the Act
Luscious Corinna Huntington is the youngest and prettiest of all the ladies at Queen Elizabeth’s court. Elizabeth is a great statesman, a hardened ruler with nerves of steel – but she is also an embittered, lonely woman. Proud Elizabeth knows all about lying men. As a result, the queen is strict and watchful, always keeping an eye on her love-starved ladies in waiting.
The trouble begins when Rugar Kalisson comes to the court, swearing that he is going to seduce the pick of the queen’s ladies just for spite. The handsome count is tired of English jokes about oafish, muscle-bound Swedes. It’s true he has the body of a Viking warrior, and the face of a boy angel. But Rugar is also an educated noble who has mastered all the courtly arts of Renaissance Europe – dancing, fencing, music, and most of all, skilled lovemaking. He wants to demonstrate his absolute mastery of all these things, and what better way than to sweep one of Elizabeth’s sheltered maidens into ecstasy right under the old queen’s nose?
It’s a good plan, but sweet and trusting Corrie Huntington has a way of disarming Rugar’s cynicism. She keeps making him feel protective and loving, just when he wants to appear cold and cynical. Though she seems just a naive young thing at first, Corrie has a lot going for her. She was raised to think for herself and ask questions about everything, and her knowing parents – handsome, roguish Jack and playful, loving Merrie – are wonderful role-models. (Prequel note: these two were an adorable couple in their own book, the equally delightful Caught In The Act .)
Though raised in a loving home, Corrie is still entirely innocent where physical loving is concerned. Her refreshingly honest curiosity about men and sex is most appealing, because she approaches each new mystery with such breathless, wide-eyed enthusiasm. Fortunately, Corrie is soon placed in the care of the most knowing lady of the court, a provocative beauty named Anne Bosworth.
Anne is scrumptious. She introduces Corrie to the court, teaches her about love and sex, and adds laughter to every scene. She’s the ultimate wisecracking heroine, an open and uninhibited force of nature. A passionate woman forced to live in an outwardly chaste court, Anne is overflowing with repressed sexuality. Her only outlet is humor. She says outrageous things about men and sex, reducing the reader to tears of laughter even as she provides a much-needed education for Corrie. Even her casual exclamations (“plough and plant me!”) and her good-natured grumbling (“why is it that you can never find a troop of bloody horse guards when you need them?”) add heat and spice to the book. Anne outrageously refers to herself as a “strumpet,” but it’s apparent very early on that she is much more than that. She is completely devoted to Corrie, an ideal companion who is always cheerful and friendly. Yet the reader senses very quickly that on the inside Anne is very lonely.
Although her sense of humor and boldness are a vital part of what makes this book a Desert Island Keeper, it’s important to realize that Anne Bosworth is not an original character. There are countless horror movies, suspense novels, crime shows, etc., where the innocent heroine has a sexy and outrageous friend like Anne. But in these other genres, the woman who likes sex and says so is usually punished, sometimes in horrible ways. What makes this story so delightful is that Anne is not punished, but ultimately rewarded with lasting love for being just what she is – a passionate woman. See what happens when women tell their own stories?
It’s impossible to talk any more about Anne without giving away some of the most jaw-dropping escapades ever described in a romance novel. Suffice it to say that, behind closed doors, the court ladies are not what they seem, and that Corrie learns some unforgettable lessons even before handsome Rugar appears. Once he arrives, there is plenty of intrigue, some breathtaking court scandal, and a number of very hot love scenes that take place in some delightfully unlikely places.
What is it that makes Betina Krahn’s books so unique? I think it’s her ability to use humor as a route rather than a destination to take the reader into deeper places. It also allows her to describe the wildest, hottest, most outrageous sexual acts without demeaning either the characters or the reader. And it lets her speak honestly about the sexual needs of women (and men, for that matter) without losing sight of their basic goodness and deeper emotional needs. Other writers have experimented with even more outrageous sex, and even more explicit language. But no other romance writer goes where Betina Krahn goes – and finds so much love.
— Larry Rogers
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