After penning both medieval romances and “sexy” series books, Joanne Rock combines the two in Hidden Obsession. The first in Harlequin Blaze’s new time-travel miniseries Perfect Timing, it’s a pleasant, if unspectacular, tale.
LAPD detective Graham Lawson is investigating a gang called the Guardians, whose members recently began kidnapping women for participation in twisted sex rituals with a medieval flair. When he learns about a traveling exhibit called Sex Through the Ages at a local museum, he decides to check out the exhibit’s medieval portion for research. He doesn’t expect to be pushed into one of the paintings, or to be transported more than eight centuries into the past.
In 1190 Linnet of Welborne is betrothed to the brutal Burke Kendrick. The merciless warrior is obsessed with virgins, and before he left on crusade, he fitted Linnet with a chastity belt to ensure her purity. Held in isolation at her eldest brother’s castle, she awaits his return while desperately hoping to escape their impending marriage. Then she finds a man hiding in her wardrobe who claims not to know how he got there. Rather than call for help, she realizes he might be her only hope of escape. Together they flee Welborne Keep, and once Graham frees her from the cursed belt, it’s only a matter of time before Linnet asks him to show her all the things she’s been missing out on.
On the plus side, this is the rare Harlequin Blaze to feature the “woman eager to lose her virginity” plot and not have it come across as forced and lame. They just had to set the story eight hundred years in the past to get it to work. The sex is actually one of the book’s strongest elements. There’s plenty of it, and Linnet’s sexual awakening is effectively portrayed. She and Graham have a nice chemistry that works well and helps sell the attraction.
The book gets off to a promising start, deftly introducing the characters and showing their escape from the keep. The first half is stronger than the latter. The author’s prose is smooth throughout. But while pleasant enough, the story never really grabbed me. The characters are sympathetic, but rather bland and could have been developed with greater depth. Linnet has psychic abilities, but her story of the first time she experienced them, which the reader hears both in the narrative and when she tells Graham twenty pages later, doesn’t entirely match up (in the first version her family was furious with her – in the second they just laugh at her).
The medieval setting is okay, but not vivid enough to really make the reader feel immersed in the time period. The pace has a tendency to drag and there were times my attention started to wander. The suspense plot holds no surprises, and an annoying misunderstanding crops up near the end that had me sighing. Graham doesn’t mention his time-traveling to Linnet for much of the book, so the ultimate resolution of that element and the tay-in-the-past/return-to-the-future question feels rushed. In particular, the final chapter seems ridiculously easy, completely glossing over the relevant issues of a person from one time period living in another.
Hidden Obsession isn’t a terrible beginning to the series, but it certainly could have been better. The ending tells us that the traveling exhibit next moves to Atlanta, no doubt in time for Jennifer LaBreque’s Highland Fling next month. Hopefully that book will have a little more spark than this unobjectionable, but unremarkable, read.