The Temptation of Your Touch
Teresa Medeiros used to write books set in a wide variety of times and places and I have to admit that when she started setting everything in 19th century England, I stopped reading quite as avidly. However, her latest series sounded like it might be a bit different from much of what is on the market, so I was curious to pick up The Temptation of Your Touch. Books set in 19th century England are a dime a dozen, so I can’t say this one had a unique setting, but it’s solidly written and the storyline mixed over the top antics with heartfelt emotion in a way that truly worked for me.
This story picks up after The Pleasure of Your Kiss. Maximilian Burke has lost his intended bride to his brother, and after making a bit of a fool of himself, sets out to Cornwall to manage the family’s most remote property. Upon arriving in Cadgwyck, he finds villagers convinced that the manor is cursed and he barely manages to find his way up to the house. The warm welcome he anticipated turns out to consist of an old, befuddled butler, Anne Spencer, the bossy housekeeper, and an extremely small staff who seem to have little training and even less inclination to serve the lord of the manor. Oh, and then there’s the White Lady who haunts Cadgwyck and whose spirit has driven away at least two previous estate managers.
Max pronounces himself unmoved by the servants’ tales of a haunting and settles into Cadgwyck. Skeptic or not, he soon finds himself the subject of mysterious doings and eventually learns the story of the White Lady. Apparently, she is the spirit of the deceased daughter of the manor whose seduction and the events which followed eventually led to financial ruin for the family, and her own suicide. Max finds her story intriguing, and he likewise finds himself curious about the odd habits of his staff – and growing strangely fond of them – particularly the prickly Annie. As Max starts to find his way out of bitterness and also tries to unravel the many mysteries of Cadgwyck, he faces new struggles. And of course, as readers will see from the beginning, Anne has her own secret agenda that she has to adapt to new situations as it begins to seem that Cadgwyck’s newest master is not going to run screaming into the night anytime soon.
Given that the viewpoint switches back and forth between Max and Anne, readers quickly figure out that more goes on in Cadgwyck Manor than Max suspects. In fact, Anne’s perspective tips readers off to more than a few of the plot twists early on, so the unfolding of the story isn’t terribly suspenseful. The fun instead lies in seeing how each new twist and revelation affects Max and Anne, drawing them ever closer. They start the book almost completely at odds, the embittered aristocrat and the stiff, overly proper housekeeper. However, Max is determined and Annie is quite strong-willed, so they spar frequently and unlike many books I’ve read where couples seem to stamp their feet, toss their curls, and have the same inane argument again and again, these two actually make progress when they match wits. First comes respect, then a common ground and friendship of sorts, then the realization of affection and so on.
And there’s of course more to the story than just Max and Anne. The various staff members at Cadgwyck have stories of their own and they really do function as a family, as we see the frail elderly looked after, maids covering for each other like mischievous siblings and so on. The romance in the book essentially works, but it does build rather slowly – a little too slowly for me. Not so the friendships and camaraderie of the household. The readers needs a few chapters to get to know them, but the genuine affection of their relationships comes through very quickly and provides some humor to the slightly gothic-tinged romance.
The supporting cast also make this book a delight. Usually, a gaggle of urchins and random eccentrics would make me roll my eyes, but Medeiros has created a family of sorts in the occupants of Cadgwyck. Their antics are over the top and completely unbelievable, but they have a certain charm to them that makes me smile. In a recent review, my colleague Jean Wan observed that with a story that is “amusing, touching, or both, then improbabilities can be dismissed as charms.” The Temptation of Your Touch is exactly such a story. As completely improbable as it is, this story has a poignant, emotional heart and characters who have a certain likability amidst their eccentricities. It helps as well that the hero notices the complete craziness of his situation upon arriving in Cadgwyck, but he finds himself happy enough there to just roll with it. I suspect readers will have that reaction as well.