Why is it when an author turns up the heat, she all too often turns down the character development?
Unfortunately, that’s the biggest problem with this Regency-era sensual romance, which, on the positive side, does manage to deliver some real erotic kicks from a likable and appealing if somewhat one-dimensional couple.
Lady Sarah Compton is the victim of that character we all know so well, the scoundrel, wastrel brother. Now 25, she has spent her life tending to the crumbling family estate while her worthless sibling spent his time engaged in various debaucheries in London. And, of course, we all know that when various debaucheries are involved, loosing most of the estate at cards is an eventual certainty.
With the contents of her home about to be sold out from under her, Sarah accepts an invitation to forget her troubles for a while by joining her cousin Rebecca at a country house party. But, sadly, our heroine is not in possession of several key facts:
- Rebecca and her brother Hugh are lovers;
- Rebecca and Hugh have cooked up a plan to save the estate involving the compromising of Sarah and a resulting shotgun wedding; and
- The “country house party” is actually a gathering of Swingers. (I hate it when that happens, don’t you?)
But our heroine is no wimp and she is also someone who has had a thought or two about the pleasures of the flesh even if she’s not quite sure just what that involves. And Michael Stevens, the bastard son of an earl and owner of a gambling club in London, is just the man to teach her.
Michael is at something of a crossroads in his life. With both his mother and his brother having recently married (his mother to the natural father of both her sons an earl who had ignored their existence for most of their life), he is a man who has lost his direction. Understandably bitter about the treatment his mother, brother and he received at the hands of their father, and equally mystified by his brother’s marriage (the story told in the author’s earlier Love Lessons), the currently aimless Michael is more than willing to attend the gathering of Swingers and stand as stud to any number of bored ladies looking for diversion.
When Rebecca sends him to Sarah’s room and he finds our virginal heroine in her bath, stud-stuff is exactly what he has in mind. And while Sarah is sequentially shocked, angered, and later aroused by the skilled Michael, things cool off when he discovers she’s a virgin and she discovers the true nature of the party. But, of course, that’s hardly the last of their encounters. Especially since Rebecca is there to make mischief and Sarah’s dissolute and desperate brother (who has had some less than pleasant dealings with Michael in the past) is about to appear on the scene.
As Sarah and Michael overcome the obstacles on their path to love, sex, and happiness, Cheryl Holt does make an effort to help us understand her characters and their motivations. But, sadly, it all felt pretty pre-fab to me. Sarah is just like a thousand other heroines toiling away in the thankless job of keeping the estate afloat while the worthless men in the family drive the family to ruin. She does a better job with Michael, but I did find myself muttering, “oh, get over it” a few times as I read page after page of stud-boy angst.
But, erotically? Well, for me at any rate, she’s got something going there. I enjoyed the love scenes and since they appear on just about every other page, the book is enjoyable on that level. Which pretty much sums it up for me. If you’re looking for erotica flavored with a little costume drama and are willing to overlook fundamental weaknesses in characterization, Total Surrender is the book for you.