Seductive by Thea Devine
(Kensington, $12.00, NC-17) ISBN 1-57566-798-3
Elizabeth Massey is a young widow desperately trying to hold onto her dead husband’s massive estate, Shenstone House, in Exbury. In love with a member of the Russian royal family, Elizabeth never married Peter because of his blue blood and her lack thereof. What’s a poor English girl to do but marry a much older man desperate for a male heir? Unfortunately the much older man in question, William Massey, wasn’t much of a husband and managed to live for seven long years. William now dead, and having not produced an heir, Elizabeth plans to take over the dead Earl’s holdings, only to have an illegitimate nephew turn up to claim the title.

Nicholas Massey grew up in Russia, having only recently learned about his right to the Earldom. He arrives at Shenstone to find the delectably delicious Elizabeth in residence with her spendthrift father, her erstwhile lover Peter, and a host of Russian friends. Never one to miss an opportunity, Nicholas allows Elizabeth and her friends to stay on, and will even set up an account for her father to waste as he wishes. The catch? He will teach Elizabeth how to lure Peter by schooling her in sexual delights. The price she must pay is that she will service Nicholas wherever and whenever he likes. Elizabeth is a quick learner, and she soon has two men panting after her.

Add to these highjinks a stash of Russian Imperial jewels, Nicholas’ mysterious past, an enemy cryptically referred to as “The Unseen Hand” who wishes to murder Nicholas, a man hiding out in Shenstone’s cellars, not to mention Devine’s trademark eroticism and Seductive soon turns into an intense gothic page turner.

There are several problems I had with this story, the main being that Elizabeth is a stupid as a sack of bricks. I mean the girl is really clueless. On one hand there is her father who is milking her for every farthing he can wring out of her. The man has as much business sense as a horse, but she weds William and beds Nicholas in order to secure him funds. Then there is Peter, a man she obsessively loves who continues to string her along. His main concern is trying to convince Elizabeth to snoop, scheme and ultimately sell her body in order to claim Shenstone all for herself. And Peter’s motives? Well she just never questions them.

Nicholas is an enigma wrapped in a shroud of secrecy, and frankly I fell for him hook, line and sinker. Maybe I’m a sucker, but there’s something about a man with a mysterious past to get my blood boiling. Add to this that Nicholas is on some sort of mission, someone is out to kill him, and there’s a house full of suspects - well, let’s just say I was sunk.

Plot aside, Devine is known for being one of the reigning queens of erotic romance, and she stuffs this book full of enough sex scenes to give my blue-haired grandma a stroke - I loved every minute of it. These scenes are just that, erotic. I never found any of them to push my “ick buttons,” although this is highly subjective - I’m sure there is some reader somewhere who will not share my enthusiasm. Personally, I found that Elizabeth and Nicholas were both consenting adults and their scenes together reflect this fact. Also, Devine blessedly leaves out purple prose - nary a manroot, nubbin or sheath in sight. She treats her readers like adults and I thank her wholeheartedly for ditching the euphemisms.

The suspense aspect of Seductive does take some time to get moving, and things are a bit confusing in the beginning, but once the principals are all introduced, this book turns into a page-turner. Here are TRR, reviewers pride themselves on reading every book we are assigned cover-to-cover. This is a hard thing to do when a particularly unpleasant novel lands in one’s lap. However, even with my problems concerning Elizabeth, and my initial reluctance concerning the suspense, I couldn’t put this book down. The gothic atmosphere, the plot to kill Nicholas, and yes, the sex made this an irresistible read.

Even with a heroine I wanted to smack several times, Seductive was such a guilty pleasure that I know I’ll give this author a whirl in the future. Readers who like their romances hot and gothic in tone will undoubtedly want to pick up Devine’s latest to keep them warm during the cool spring nights. Although, they will have to decide if Kensington’s $12 price tag is cheaper than turning up the furnace.

--Wendy Crutcher

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