With Tempting Kate, author Deborah Simmons has proven that she is a multiple personality author, capable of writing in more different styles than any other romance author this reviewer has read, In The Vicar’s Daughter, she wrote frothily, funnily, and sexily. In Taming the Wolf, she wrote dark, dank, and moody. In The Devil Earl she wrote farcical gothic, and very sexy. With Tempting Kate she has written obsession and redemption. That’s another thing about this author – both in The Vicar’s Daughter and now Tempting Kate, she writes for her heroes’ obsession with their heroines in such a way as to satisfy the fantasies of women readers everywhere.
While Tempting Kate is a titular sequel to The Vicar’s Daughter, it in no way is the frothy confection its predecessor was. Though deceptively light-hearted to start, this book stars a hero so devoid of feeling, so dead on the inside, that his growing feelings for his heroine, his obsession with her, put him through an emotional ringer.
Gray, the Duke of Wroth, is a finely tuned animal – intelligent, sharp-witted, sleek, and dangerous. When he is brought down by Lady Kate, who mistakenly believes he has ruined her younger sister, she and her curmudgeonly old horseman kidnap and remove him from his London townhouse to Hargate, their country estate. Once he discovers that a pup has been using his identity, he decides to stick around and ferret out the weasel (how’s that for mixing metaphors!?!).
Kate has managed the estate with dwindling funds since the death of her father, and Gray is duly impressed by her abilities, so much so that he gets caught up in daily chores. At this point, the book seems quite light-hearted, and, at times, overly dramatic in terms of sexual tension.
But there is a subtle shift that occurs as these two become friendly, and as they come to like and respect one another, their physical attraction grows. Both characters react in a somewhat “typical romance novel” sort of way – she can’t believe he truly finds her attractive and he decides he must get her out of his system. While this is the first book I’ve read by this author to utilize such a basic story-line, and while it did get frustrating, by the time I realized what was happening, the shift had been completed. This was no longer a light-hearted romance. This was now a story of a power struggle, of how Kate’s insecurities nearly ruined their chance at happiness, and of Gray’s obsession for Kate. The same obsession which he thought would destroy him, but ultimately saves him from himself, his internal void, and his cynical lifestyle.
A very powerful scene takes place between Gray and Charlotte, the wife of his friend Wycliffe. Charlotte and Wycliffe’s story is told in The Vicar’s Daughter, and for most of Tempting Kate, Gray feels antipathy and scorn for Wycliffe, for having a love match.
“. . . it’s not easy to have more than the standard agreement. For grand passion, you must give something of yourself. You cannot have it both ways, Wroth,” she said softly. “Either you have an empty marriage, like most of these wretched creatures, or you risk yourself on something better, finer, richer. You are obviously a man of fierce passions. Why would you accept anything less?”
Because it’s a sign of weakness, Gray thought bitterly. But was it? Perhaps weakness lay in following the simple course, the one set by other men who felt nothing for their wives or the mistresses paraded before them. Suddenly, Gray wondered if Wycliffe was not to be admired for his bravery. He had the courage to care.
This is a multi-layered work that would be easy to dismiss as a piffle because of its light-hearted, Amanda Quick-like opening. And while Kate and Gray do enjoy each others’ company until the tone changes, Gray’s growing obsession with his beautiful wife causes him to push her away. Again, nothing particularly novel here, but the manner in which this occurs, and the way in which it is resolved brings to mind two 1996 reads – Elizabeth Elliott’s DIK’d Scoundrel and Jane Ashford’s B level The Marriage Wager.
There’s a lot more in the way of story-line in this book, and I have a sense there’s going to be another sequel, this time starring Gray’s dandy-ish friend Raleigh (The Last Rogue), but if you are looking for a book that is quite a bit more than it seems, I recommend Tempting Kate. If you tend toward the squeamish when it comes to love scenes, you might have a problem with one of the love scenes, which includes a type of love-making I alluded to in one of my recent columns. Taken in the context of the scene in which it occurs, I was surprised to discover it actually worked for me. I’d say any author who can pull that off has done something fairly amazing.