Ask For It by Sylvia Day
(Brava, $14.00, R) ISBN 0-7582-1472-3
**
In their rush to put so-called erotic romances on the market, authors – and editors, too, apparently – have forgotten that a reader’s most important sex organ is between her ears. Unfortunately, too much of this book assumes that the space between the reader’s ears is empty of anything at all.

Marcus Ashford is the seventh earl of Westfield and head of the family shipping firm. Because those two occupations are apparently not enough of a challenge, Marcus is also a member of an “elite band of agents whose sole purpose was to investigate and hunt down known pirates and smugglers.”

In this last capacity, Marcus is demanding the “mission” of providing protection to Elizabeth, widow of Viscount Hawthorne. After being “sequestered in mourning” for three years (no explanation for such an excessive length of time), Elizabeth is getting ready to re-emerge into Society. The Agency Marcus works for has become aware that she has in her possession a journal of encrypted intelligence regarding the notorious pirate, Christopher St. John, that her husband (who also worked for this Agency) collected before his death.

Marcus has a dual interest in this situation. First, St. John has been stealing from Ashford Shipping, so Marcus would like to put the pirate out of business. Second, Elizabeth jilted Marcus four years earlier when she found him in a compromising position with another woman. Elizabeth stormed off (without giving Marcus any opportunity to explain, naturally) and eloped immediately with Hawthorne. Now that Elizabeth is available again, Marcus is determined to get back into her life and collect on the sensuous promises she made him all those years ago.

My first difficulty with this book is that the plot has some gaping holes in it, and since the hero and heroine don’t spend all their time in bed there’s lots of time to wonder why neither the author nor her editor noticed. Although everybody seems to think that possession of Hawthorne’s journal is vital, nobody seems to think that anyone but Hawthorne can decode it, so it’s just pages of gibberish. The Agency allows Elizabeth to keep the journal because she’s received some vague instructions to turn it over to some vague person it may or may not implicate in order to satisfy some vague notions of honor. This is not exactly riveting stuff.

Even though there’s a whole Agency dedicated to capturing pirates, apparently nobody has gathered any more evidence on St. John in the three years since Hawthorne’s death. To insult my intelligence even further, even though everyone in London seems to know that St. John is a pirate, Marcus keeps letting him walk away. Once, when everyone is searching high and low for St. John, Marcus apparently locates him with no trouble at all, in order to beat him up because he approached Elizabeth – then lets him go again!

The contradictions in the story might have been less annoying if Marcus and Elizabeth were more likable, but these two are a throwback to an earlier era in which ‘romance’ equalled a power struggle between a peevish shrew who complains about everything that doesn’t go her way and an arrogant bully. For example, Marcus’s idea of teaching Elizabeth to ‘trust’ him is to tie her up and spank her before they have sex for the first time. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that if he’d spanked her later in the book (when I knew her better) I’d probably have cheered him on.

The descriptions of sex use lots of four letter words to describe various acts and body parts, but there’s a certain paint-by-numbers feel to it that stopped it from achieving any eroticism. Returning to the idea of brain-as-sex-organ, in my opinion, it’s the connection between the characters (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic connection) that makes sex between two characters compelling. These two were too egotistical and self-obsessed to really connect with each other.

Presumably the author found this story compelling and the relationship sexy, and it’s entirely possible that some readers will agree with her. If you are titillated by explicit language, and aren’t concerned with tight plotting, this might be your book.

-- Judi McKee


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