His Ultimate Temptation
by Susan Crosby
(Silh. Desire #1186, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76186-4
****
His Ultimate Temptation is the third in Susan Crosby's "Lone Wolves" series following His Most Scandalous Secret (SD 1158) and His Seductive Revenge (SD 1162). The series is about five friends two whose stories were told in the first books, and two whose stories are told in this book. Hmm... apply a little deductive reasoning, and it's a safe bet that there is at least one more story yet to be told.

I hadn't read the first two books when I read this one. However, I'll be looking for them now. The characters were well-drawn and likable, and the story was interesting as well. I want to catch up on all of these people before I grab the next in the series. While the book did mostly stand alone, I can't help but think that it would have been better had I read the first two. There were references to past events, current situations that would have made more sense with a little history, and also enough of a teaser in the epilogue to tell me a bit about the next book in the series, and make me want to read that one as well.

In the early '80s, the Second Chance at Love publishers released a line of books under the "To Have and To Hold" banner. What made this series unique was that the main characters were already married when the story began... several years into a marriage, when perhaps that 'happily ever after" or honeymoon glow had dimmed a bit, and some serious challenges have emerged. His Ultimate Temptation is written in a similar style.

Ben O'Keefe had been raised in a lower-class single-parent home. His father had been killed in Viet Nam, and his mother expected him to be "the man of the house" before he reached the age of ten. As a result, he has some distinct views on his role as husband, provider, protector. Leslie Sullivan O'Keefe was raised as a tomboy in a nearby middle-lower class neighborhood by her widowed father. As a result, she has her own views on self-reliance, independence, and carrying her own weight. They met at the age of fourteen, were inseparable throughout high school, married shortly after graduation, and were parents by the age of 21.

Ben was just getting started in his hotel business at that point, and money was tight. Without discussing it with Ben, Leslie went out and got a job in the tradition of her father and grandfather law enforcement. Ben had never wanted his wife to work, especially at something so dangerous. He wanted her to be able to stay home and raise their daughter. Leslie was adamant about becoming a police officer, not only for the good salary and benefits, but also because her job gave her a purpose, and made her feel like she was making a difference.

Because neither particularly approved of the other's devotion to their career, they quit discussing anything work-related, and their relationship began to suffer from the lack of communication. Eventually Ben becomes successful enough on his own that Leslie's income is no longer needed, and he wants her to quit her job, and relocate from their little house in the suburbs to the penthouse he's prepared at his hotel. She refuses, they part angrily, and ultimately divorce.

The story begins three years later. Leslie has just been involved in a police shooting during a domestic violence call. Her partner is injured, and she is being investigated for her actions during the incident. Disturbed by what has transpired, and troubled by the fact that she will be spending Christmas alone since Ben has taken their daughter to Vail for the holiday, Leslie makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to spend Christmas at a remote cabin jointly shared by the five friends.

When she arrives at the cabin, she is stunned to find her ex-husband and daughter already in residence. Apparently their airplane was grounded with mechanical problems, and they decided to spend time at the cabin and ski at the nearby resort. Leslie decides to spend the night, and return to San Francisco in the morning. Their eleven year-old daughter, Erin, has other expectations. Ben and Leslie have always put their daughter's needs above their own, and they decide that they can coexist for a few days, and let Erin have both parents together for Christmas.

Leslie and Ben have never stopped loving the other, and both are irresistibly drawn together. During this weekend, they learn their daughter is not coping with their divorce as well as they thought. They resolve to meet later on to discuss how they can best help Erin. They also decide to put some closure on their old relationship and then go forward, testing to see if there is anything to be salvaged once they get to know one another as they really are not as each expects the other to be.

Not only are these two learning about their feelings toward each other, but also how their relationship and break-up impacts their tight-knit friends and families. Woven throughout the story are a couple of suspicious characters who are seeking to find one of the friends who has gone into hiding it seems he's being framed for some nasty construction deal that went awry. I'm assuming that had I read the first two books, I would understand this theme of the story much better. Hmm... more deductive reasoning here... this particular pal is the only one left of the five that doesn't have his own book. Perhaps his book will be next, and will answer all these puzzling questions?

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in a story that deals primarily in relationship and dialogue. The love scenes are definitely there as well, but this tale is told more through the dialogue than the action. I would, however, suggest that you read the earlier books first.

--Diane Grayson


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