To Tempt an Heiress
I read the first book in Susanna Craig’s Runaway Desires series earlier this year and though I didn’t love it, I thought it showed promise. My thoughts ran in a similar fashion while reading To Tempt an Heiress. This book also has good ideas and likeable characters, but unfortunately, the writing doesn’t support them. Characters fall for one another after spending mere moments together, bad guys don’t get a chance to be very bad, big themes (slavery, feminism) are merely plot devices that don’t receive the gravitas they deserve, and the chemistry and relationship development between the principals is sorely lacking.
Young and beautiful, Tempest Holderin is one of the wealthiest landowners in Antigua. Fortune hunters are eager to marry her, but so far she’s managed to keep them at bay. A student of Mary Wollstonecraft’s teachings, Tempest has no intention of marrying or surrendering her independence and wealth to a man. Once she comes of age, she’ll inherit Harper Hill sugar plantation and, in honor of her father’s dying wish, she’ll free the slaves who work there. Until then, she bides her time advocating for and educating the slaves at Harper Hill. Unfortunately, her actions haven’t gone unnoticed and Lord Nathaniel Delamere, a friend of her late father’s, is both determined to marry Tempest and put a stop to her plans. Recently, he’s become more aggressive in his pursuit and seems increasingly unwilling to accept no for an answer.
Tempest remains convinced she can evade Delamere and any other suitors, but Edward Cary, Harper Hill’s estate manager and Tempest’s dearest friend, isn’t so sure. To that end, he’s decided the best way to keep her safe is to send her to her grandfather’s estate in Yorkshire. After some discreet inquiries, he decides to approach Captain Andrew Corrvan of the Fair Colleen, and bribe him into taking Tempest to England. When the story opens, the two men are deep in negotiations and Corrvan – a fair, honest leader in spite of his reputation for ruthlessness – isn’t convinced carrying Tempest off against her will is any better than marrying her off to one of her suitors. When Tempest accidentally interrupts their conversation, Corrvan realizes kidnapping her won’t be easy; the lady is headstrong, temperamental and fiercely independent. To his own surprise, he finds himself agreeing to the deal and leaves the meeting wondering what he’s got himself into.
Getting Tempest on board proves easier than Corrvan hoped. After traveling into town without an escort (and against Edward’s wishes), Tempest is readying to return to Harper Hill when she spots an injured young black boy being escorted out of a pub by two sailors. Concerned they’re up to no good, she follows them from town to the docks, onto a rowboat, and ultimately aboard the ship Fair Colleen. When she’s finally spotted and asks after the young boy, a crewman escorts her to the captain’s cabin. Told who awaits him, Corrvan can’t believe his luck. He sets sail for England and heads to his cabin to speak with Tempest.
Tempest, as expected, is furious and demands Corrvan return her to Antigua. Corrvan refuses. As every romance reader can guess, these two love to hate each other. Proximity (not enough in my opinion), attraction, stormy seas, desire… conspire to bring them together. It isn’t long before they kiss and then fall into bed. The sex, which happens maybe the third or fourth time they actually meet (ahem), fails to titillate. Instead it brings to mind the phrase ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am.’ Much like the relationship itself, the sex is abrupt, not very romantic, and random.
As I mentioned previously, Ms. Craig fails to develop the relationship between Tempest and Corrvan. She chooses instead to keep reminding the reader how independent, intelligent and passionate Tempest is; to arbitrarily introduce a gay couple; to demonstrate what a great captain Corrvan is (turns out, he directed his crew to rescue the black boy from… Delamere!); and then introduces an entire subplot related to Corrvan and his quest for revenge against the man who long ago killed his father when he sank his ship. Revenge has kept Corrvan from his family and England for more than a decade and he worries about what awaits him when he finally makes it home. Needless to say, the Fair Colleen makes it to London. From this point, the story slowly makes its way to the inevitable happy ending – but not before Tempest and Corrvan are faced with a few more twists.
In To Tempt an Heiress, Ms. Craig tries to do too much in too few pages. The relationship between the principals never has a chance to heat up before they end up in bed together, and honestly, they barely get to know one another even after it happens. In fact, their intense attraction to one another is slightly baffling – they literally have less than a handful of conversations before they’re having sex and falling in love. We’re told Tempest is a fiery, independent spirit with a passion to help the slaves on her plantation, but her character never demonstrates any of this depth and she comes across as a silly, almost naïve young woman. Slavery, feminism…we barely hear about either once she falls for Andrew.
Andrew doesn’t fare much better. After running away from his mother and stepfather, he pursues a life at sea in order to avenge the death of his father. He doesn’t stay in touch with either of them, and only after he arrives in London does he discover his stepfather died two years ago, leaving him everything – including a robust shipping concern. His mother has been left to worry about him, mourn her deceased husband and run the family business. Once Andrew returns, not much changes. He’s still resistant to taking over the company, and only a threat to Tempest’s safety keeps him from running away from England – and his mother – again. He eventually catches up to his father’s killer, but the scene is so anticlimactic and ugly, there’s little satisfaction in it.
Ms. Craig introduces a few potentially interesting secondary characters – Corrvan’s mother, a pair of gay crew members, Tempest’s grandfather – but again, we don’t really get a chance to know them, and she fails to develop their storylines in any meaningful fashion. Frankly, almost everyone in the story is a bit too good to be true, except Delamere. As for him, he pops up at the very beginning and the very end – and though both Edward and Andrew consider him a threat, Tempest never seems overly concerned with his machinations. Ms. Craig needed a bad guy and Delamere fits the bill.
I wanted to like To Tempt an Heiress. Unfortunately, the idea of the book is more interesting than the book itself. I believe Edward Cary’s story is next in the series; I’ll wait and see what other reviewers think of that one before I’m tempted to read it myself.