Sometimes a hot read gets too hot, and the passion overcomes the love. That was my experience in reading Nicole Jordan’s upcoming release, which is being published in hardcover and paperback simultaneously. The hero and heroine were so busy “getting busy” that it made me doubt the authenticity of the emotional component of their relationship.
Raven Kendrick spent the first part of her life on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, but came to England following her exiled mother’s death. Now she’s about to achieve her goal of marrying into the highest ranks of the nobility. But she’s snatched from her carriage on the way to her wedding to a duke by a rejected suitor, Sean Lasseter. Sean is, to say the least, somewhat unstable, and he wants to make Raven pay for spurning him and (in his mind) having him impressed into the British Navy. He takes her to the gaming hell owned by his brother Kell, drugs the poor girl with an aphrodisiac, and is about to have his way with her, when Kell intervenes, banishing Sean from his house and taking care of his unwilling guest himself.
Naturally, “taking care” of her involves assuaging her drug-induced sexual urges. In the course of the evening, Kell discovers proof that not everything Sean’s told him about Raven is true, and he realizes that his brother’s impulsive act is now going to ruin an innocent young woman. He can see only one way to remedy the situation: Kell will wed her and they’ll enter into a marriage of convenience. He’ll claim that they’ve been secretly in love for some time, and he couldn’t stand to see her marry another man. This “convenient” solution turns out to be inconvenient for all parties involved: Sean, because he’s lost his chance at revenge against Raven, and Raven and Kell, because, in spite of their resolve to remain distant from each other, the attraction between them is so strong that they end up enthralled, entwined, and emotionally engaged.
For all their surface emotional complexity, the characters were little more than cardboard cutouts to me, who engaged in too much anachronistic self-analysis. Kell – the guilt-laden older brother who knows he’s a failure as a protector yet takes on the role one more time. Raven – the innocent with a dreadful family secret of her own, who’s inherited two things from her mother. The first is an ambition to make up for all past slights by marrying a man with a title, to shield her from any possible repercussions once said secret is ever revealed. The other is a book detailing an illicit and explicit liaison between a lady and a pirate. In a moment of honesty, she tells her husband about the book; overcome with irrational jealousy, Kell vows to win Raven away from her fantasy lover, and persuade her to turn to him to satisfy her passion. It was such a nebulous goal that I couldn’t make myself care whether he reached it or not.
The supporting characters were no better: Kell’s assistant manager at his club, a courtesan who’s really just a nice girl fallen on hard times; Raven’s grandfather, who regrets all the wasted years of separation from his daughter; the devoted Irish groom O’Malley; and Raven’s former fiancé Halford, who realizes that it was just his wounded pride that hurt, so he forgives Raven everything. Then there are the two – count ’em, two! – psychotic villains, one in backstory, one in the present day, who threaten to ruin any chance of happiness for Raven and Kell. They were so over the top that I never took them seriously, not for a moment.
My opinion of the book shifted wildly as I read it. It started off as a solid “C,” with the whole abduction-and-aphrodisiac theme, and the by-now tired retread of a never-orgasmic virgin whose notions of sex are shaped by her obsessive reading of her mother’s pornographic book (did it never occur to her, even once, to “take matters into her own hands,” as it were? Talk about tstl!). Then it slipped to a “D” once I realized that Kell and Sean were harboring a really terrible secret about their uncle, and what he’d done to one of them years ago, and the anger, pain, and guilt they still carried. Then it dipped down to a solid “F” when I came across a tasteless passage relating a sexual fantasy game Kell and Raven were playing; it read like a script for a cheesy porno flick. And the climax of the book – I could see it coming from a mile away. No surprises there, and no tension either, since the resolution to everything was so obvious.
I have to address what I see as one of the book’s biggest weaknesses, and that’s the quality of the prose in the love scenes. Once they decide to sleep together on a regular basis – just for the sex, mind you, not for any other reason – Raven and Kell go at it like a pair of minks in heat. While these scenes are hot, hot, hot, I found myself rolling my eyes over the torrid, tired descriptions on lots and lots of pages. Raven is obsessed by the long, hot, hardness of Kell, while he’s equally enthralled by her…well, not to be blunt, but her sleek wetness. I could only take so much of this. At one point, Kell forces Raven to touch herself, “deliberately making her explore her own tender flesh”:
“He was right; she was sultry, yielding, weeping passionately for him…he slid a long finger deep inside her. She whimpered, her body pulsing to his touch as if she had been made for him alone…It was as if her body had been starved for a man’s hardness, for Kell’s hardness. She wanted, needed, craved an end to the restless, hot longing he had created in her. She could feel the heat of his rigid flesh probing her soft folds…The same heat was in his eyes as he entered her slowly, gliding into her yielding, wet flesh…. ‘That’s it,’ he praised in a hoarse whisper. ‘I want you flowing all around me like hot, wild honey…’ ”
Whatever. A little of this works well, but too much is overkill. The initial attraction between Kell and Raven was so blatantly sexual, and there’s so much attention paid to their lovemaking, that I found it hard to buy into any emotional growth in their relationship. In bed they were a perfect match, but out of it, I got the feeling that they fell in love only because the dictates of the genre decreed that they had to and not because they would have done so on their own.
Those who’ve read the previous books in the series will probably want to read this one as well, and if you like Susan Johnson’s work you might enjoy this story, too. But if you’re after more romance and less sex of an explicit and purple quality, you’ll have to look elsewhere. You’re not going to find it here.