Her Last Temptation
After Harlequin Blaze debuted as a separate line in 2001, I cut way down on my reading of the original Temptation line. Evidently I wasn’t alone. This month marks the publication of the final four Temptations in North America (the line will continue overseas). Leslie Kelly’s Her Last Temptation is, appropriately enough, the last of them all. It delivers the right touch of nostalgia to mark the end of an era.
Temptation is the name of the bar Cat Sheehan’s family has operated in Kendall, Texas, for 21 years. Formerly Sheehan’s Pub, it was renamed by Cat herself when she and her sister took over the business from their mother. The bar is her entire world, so when the news comes that they’re being closed down to make room for a street widening project, Cat is crushed. Suddenly forced to confront what she’s going to do with the rest of her life, she sets a few goals for herself. For starters, she’s not going to fall for any more bad boys who she knows are no good for her. Naturally, as soon as she makes the decision, a long-haired bass player walks into her life to test her resolve.
Though she doesn’t remember him, Dylan Spencer immediately recognizes Cat. They attended the same high school for one year. He was a brainy geek; she was an outspoken rebel with a talent for stirring up trouble. She didn’t even know he existed, but he’d fallen hard for her. Dylan went on to become a successful software engineer, though he plays in a band with some of his college buddies in his free time. When he arrives at Temptation to play a gig with the band, there’s an immediate attraction between him and Cat. But she thinks he’s a musician, and now that he’s finally caught her interest, he’s afraid she won’t like the real him.
This is a simple, low-key story, and the best thing about it is the characters. I really liked Dylan, and not just because he combines two character types – the geek and the musician – I particularly enjoy. His character is well-drawn, and the very different sides of his personality combine better than you might think at first. He’s an interesting character who’s easy to empathize with. The unrequited high school crush is a storyline that can come off as kind of sad or pathetic, and usually does. Here, Kelly manages to pull it off, bringing enough sweetness and emotion that it’s romantic instead of sad. It helps that there’s a true sense that Dylan gets to know the woman Cat is as opposed to the girl he remembers, and comes to love and appreciate who she is now. She didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as he did, but they’re both likable and charming. The sexual tension between them is high, leading to some red-hot encounters.
As much as I liked the characters, I couldn’t help wishing they were in a stronger story. This one never really manages to take off the way it should have. There’s not much of an actual plot, just two people who meet, flirt and eventually declare their love for each. That wouldn’t be so bad, except the story kind of meanders around without going anywhere. The author keeps throwing up artificial roadblocks to drag out the action. The first night Cat and Dylan meet, the chemistry between them is combustible. But just when they’re about to kiss at the end of the night, he breaks it off and walks away for the thinnest of reasons. The rationale is so thin that he returns the very next day, determined to get the kiss that he could have had the night before and didn’t for no good reason. More flirting and foreplay ensues, except this time she’s the one who breaks it off, telling him she’s trying to change her ways and isn’t looking for a lover. Of course, it takes her all of a chapter to change her mind and decide she’s going to seduce him. This is how the first half of the story moves. Instead of flowing naturally and building momentum, it lurches along in fits and starts.
It actually loses more steam in the second half, because once they finally do have sex, the story doesn’t have anywhere else left to go. The misunderstanding about Dylan’s identity is extended for flimsy reasons. They have a little more sex. He helps her prepare for the closing of the bar. The characters are so likable that it’s still enjoyable to spend time with them, but mostly it feels like we’re biding our time. The first half of the book is spent waiting for them to have sex and the second half is spent waiting for her to find out the truth about him. While the author’s snappy, engaging writing style keeps it a pleasant read, the plotting is too slack and the story too leisurely to make it much more than that.
Even so, the love story comes to a sweet conclusion. Perhaps more important is the way the book ends. The final scene is very effective, providing a nice sense of closure not just for Temptation the bar, but for the line itself. It’s just about perfect.
The story in Her Last Temptation doesn’t quite match the appeal of its lead characters, who are almost good enough to warrant a qualified recommendation on their own. And with it, the Harlequin Temptation line comes to an end – not quite with a bang, but with a low-key finish that strikes an appropriately sentimental note.