Deeper than Desire
Deeper than Desire is my first book by Cheryl Holt, and while I wasn’t blown away, I can see why she’s developing a readership. Readers who think sweet and hot shouldn’t be romance antonyms might do well to check her out.
Lady Olivia Hopkins is on the prowl for a husband. Her father’s death left her family in dire straits, and her marriage is the only thing that will pull them away from financial ruin. Olivia must find a man capable of supporting her and her entourage of female dependents. She is especially concerned about Helen, the mute and, unfortunately, illegitimate niece her brother left behind. When her Aunt Margaret convinces the much older Edward, the Earl of Salisbury, to invite her niece and family to the country with possible marital intentions, Olivia knows her duty and is prepared to do it.
She is, however, unprepared for Edward’s illegitimate son, Phillip, the gorgeous stablemaster. She encounters him in the library one evening while stumbling across some very interesting reading. Phillip offers his expertise in explaining the erotic book she has unearthed, and Olivia is appalled at his nerve, but she is also intrigued. Their relationship is impossible, however, since she is both his social superior and his father’s intended bride. But the path of true love has never been smooth….
As with many more sexually adventurous romances, the plot of Deeper than Desire isn’t terribly believable. But you have to feel for the author. She’s got a lot to accomplish here: she has to write three different couples’ stories (each of the other two couples includes a member of Olivia’s extended family), develop their emotions over a short time period, and incorporate a lot of bedroom frolicking. Holt does all of that fairly well, and if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, there’s a good deal to like here.
Most of the characters are agreeable, except for the ones that aren’t supposed to be, of course. Phillip is both yummy and sympathetic, and Olivia is pragmatic and dutiful, which a woman in her situation would have to be. Neither of them is amazingly well characterized, but what’s there is nice. The most intriguing relationship is the father/son one between Phillip and Edward, the Earl of Salisbury. I don’t believe I’ve ever come across another book that so frankly presented illegitimacy as it must have existed in the ranks of the British aristocracy. Edward regrets his past callousness and irresponsibility towards Phillip, but doesn’t know quite how to negotiate a better relationship with him. Really, this could have been the book’s entire conflict, and it would have been a much more interesting one than the one Holt wrote.
Unfortunately, as the book progresses the deus ex machina that is tooling the plot along becomes more and more obvious until events that previously seemed unlikely feel rather impossible. Had certain characters chosen to be honest and forthcoming with each other, those last unbelievable bits could have been avoided altogether. Most of the plot problems could have been solved by giving Olivia, Edward, and others actual spines instead of floppy cartilage. Edward, in particular, needed a sharp kick in the pants. His frequent hesitancy was unmanly and irritating.
A note on the sensuality rating: as indicated the sensuality in this book is hot, rather than burning. There are numerous love scenes between three couples, and while all of those scenes are arousing, they are fairly vanilla. Anything remotely resembling kink happens more or less off stage. Several of Holt’s cover blurbs compare her to Susan Johnson, but her love scenes seem more tender and less abrasive than the ones Johnson writes (or at least the ones I’ve chanced to read). Holt doesn’t quite pull off the intensity of the emotion she intends, but she makes a good try, and there were some touching moments (pun intended).
Deeper than Desire attempts a lot and pulls off much of it. Holt’s writing is smooth, if a touch lavender in the love scenes. This is, for the most part, an enjoyable book, and I did not regret the time I spent reading it. If, at the moment hot is as important to you as plot, I’d say, “Go for it.”