Don't Tempt Me
Don’t Tempt Me is in many ways a typical Lori Foster book. Chronicling salacious going-ons in a small-town setting among working-class people, she’s been writing about a world where everyone’s horny and the male lead is irritatingly controlling since the 1980s. Only this one features the hero gaslighting the heroine. What fun. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll want to pick this book up. If you’re on the fence, then there’s only a modicum of charm in the pages of this story.
Jason Guthrie is one busy dude. He’s trying to keep an eye on his smart-assed teenage nephew Colt, works as a handyman for his run-down and tiny Ohio hometown and helps out his widowed brother Hogan while Hogan searches for a job and tries to get back on his feet after a financial setback. With all of that on his plate, Jason is absolutely sure he doesn’t have any time left over for romance.
Enter stylist Honor Brown. Brand-new to town, she’s moved in next-door to Jason. They are immediately physically attracted to each other but Jason’s primary concern is Honor’s safety in the slow-to-revive neighborhood; Declaring her ‘in over her head,’ he persuades her slowly to let him help her renovate the dilapidated house. Working together at close quarters allows their mutual attraction to build.
But while Jason is charmed by Honor’s can-do spirit and Honor loves…well, Jason’s chest, Honor is so self-protected and reluctant to accept his compliments that their romance is slow going. Things get difficult when Honor must reveal the truth about her abusive family as she tries to safeguard her dying grandfather’s wishes and deal with several home invasions. She must learn to lean on Jason before it’s too late.
Honor’s best friend, the flirtatious and party-hearty fashion buyer Lexie Perkins, has driven with Honor to Clearwater to help her with the heavy lifting. Their across-the-way neighbor, Sullivan Dean, teaches karate during the day and moons over Lexie at night – even though Lexie happens to be the kind of naughty girl he swore he’d avoid years ago. But Sullivan’s happy to clean his pipes out with Lexie and vice-versa, but can Lexie ever prove she has enough depth to impress Sullivan as marriage material?
In fine Foster tradition, Honor at least owns her sexuality… as much as someone who hasn’t even held hands with a man in two years can own her sexuality. Unfortunately for all of her ‘I’m an independent woman’ talk, she’s literally the sort of person who goes into a paralyzing panic when her trash accidentally blows over during a storm. She also dances around like a toddler at the sight of a snake (the italics are Foster’s) and runs off to the menfolk for help while they laugh at her ‘cute’ antics. Yet we see her as her grandfather’s caregiver, and note that she’s independent enough to at least improve a portion of her house. Foster can’t seem to decide if Honor is a self-possessed woman damaged by her crappy family or a total ditz, and the deficit between the two approaches does not leave one with a good impression of her.
Jason, meanwhile, is the most creepy, possessive hero I’ve read in many a week, and yes, I’ve seen the new Carpathian book. Convinced Honor cannot manage her own life, he talks down to her like a child – she’s simply too petite and strangely alone to be a home owner! I could hear the theme from Psycho running through my head as he spied on her house through his back window during a rainstorm. After watching her for weeks he slowly manipulates her into taking help from his family, even eventually accepting a dog in the name of protection. In another story, the robbery that pushes the two of them closer together would have been staged by Jason; but because it’s a romance she eventually finds his protectiveness charming. Their courtship is cute enough, and he does have a grovel when he realizes why she’s behaving the way she is, but everything that comes before makes it impossible for me to surrender to the romantic element. A major plot element involves Honor learning how to stand up for herself – as her grandfather’s primary caregiver she already would – or should – have known how to do this.
Not much different is the Sullivan and Lexie sub-plot. How does Sullivan prove he’s Lexie’s equal in banter? Why, by calling her a ‘one and done’ girl. Sullivan is a ‘charmer’, in that I wanted to unleash a cobra on him; he’s the kind of man who stares at a woman’s breasts when she’s telling him about the tragic death of her friend’s grandfather. The relationship with Lexie is all about sex, which is fine – Foster writes good sex, which is all that stopped this story from being an F for me – but at some point I should start rooting for the relationship. Eighty pages from the end of the book, Sullivan and Lexie were still dancing around romance. I wanted to throw in the towel. In this case the groveling happened way too late for me to care.
The secondary characters are a bunch of oddities. Hogan moves on and finds a relationship but somehow barely manages to be a character. Meanwhile Colt is, in a word, a problem. When Lexie accidentally lusts after the seventeen-year-old for a paragraph or two (“He looks twenty-one!” she cries, in a line that is jaw-dropping, and the characters often talk about how he looks twenty-five or older) one is apt to cringe. Then Honor tries to fix him up with a twenty-one year old waitress, because romance abhors a vacuum and it’s not statutory rape if the heroine does it. Then again, Lexie is the kind of friend who loudly asks if her friend has a vibrator during a very serious scene. These characters alternate between being reasonable, thinking human beings and cartoons.
The second half of the book is much better than the first, but by then I wasn’t willing to care about Foster’s characters. It’s a shame because some elements of the romance work perfectly well but they die a painful death at the hands of plot.