Complete Abandon

My True Love

Too Hot to Handle

Total Surrender

Too Tempting to Touch
by Cheryl Holt
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-312-93798-9
Too Tempting to Touch is tale told too many times, and one that is not particularly well told here. Here we have your unrepentant rake and your demure ladies’ companion brought into each other’s orbit on a handy pretext, where they then find themselves unable to resist the lure of…blah blah blah. In this iteration, we have Alex Maxwell, Lord Stanton, engaged since birth to cousin Rebecca. She’s been dutifully waiting for him in the country and now that she’s a practically on-the-shelf 22 he brings her to London to get on with this marriage business.

Lucky for him, the fiancée is accompanied by her charming paid companion, Miss Ellen Drake. Ellen is a truly on-the-shelf 28, her life having been ruined a decade earlier when her brother was accused of theft at a party hosted by none other than Lord Stanton. Although James was innocent, he was a mere estate agent’s son, so he found himself convicted and deported to 20 years hard labor. The shock killed their father, and Ellen has been on her own in the world since.

Naturally Ellen resents Alex for this incident – needless to say, he recalls neither Ellen nor the incident. The tale is complicated when James shows up well before his 20 year sentence is complete and concocts a plot to seek revenge against Alex by stealing away cousin Rebecca and returning her, ruined.

Well then, what’s next? The rake pursues the demure, prim Miss Drake, seducing her against her better judgment because…well, essentially because he wants to and she lets him. Really, the “lust took control of them” motif is so overdone it’s almost used as filler. Again and again we see Alex think, “what is this madness, why can’t I resist her?” while Ellen thinks, “oh, I must resist him, but I can’t.” Ho hum. Not very interesting characters doing not very interesting things. Both the primary and secondary relationships, are based on that ephemeral “didn’t know what compelled him to have her, but have her he must” quality that scarcely rings true.

This type of story is usually only middling annoying, and here it is vastly overshadowed by a thick coating that permeates every nook and cranny of the story. A better title might have been Too Yucky to Touch. First there is Alex’s seduction of an innocent, helpless dependent in his house in a truly crass manner, a deed not later absolved by any personal growth, the dawning realization of what a cad he was, and his pleas for forgiveness. He just seems mean, self-centered, and not too bright. But that is just the beginning: there is the abduction and near rape, the incestuous sex (involving two different characters, and not with each other!), the two malevolent loony relatives whose craziness seems not to be apparent to those around them as they dash around creating havoc and making everyone’s life miserable, and finally, the vicious, abusive sex – but at least that only involves the malevolent and/or crazy, so I guess that makes it okay. I am an honest fan of romantic erotica, but found this to be a pretender to both of those labels.

The prose manages to be both clinical and prudish at the same time – really, would you expect to see the term “private parts” used more than once in an NC-17 book?

Finally, and it seems silly to mention because it is not particularly noticeable under everything else, but the text is dusted with the type of jaw-clenching, teeth-gnashing, jarring anachronistic language that takes you right out of the story (not such a bad thing here) as you ponder the likelihood that expressions such as “And you would mention that because…” and “you need to let go and move on” would have been in common usage at the time. Going beyond pondering is jumping to Google to validate the notion that they would not likely refer to being stricken with influenza “catching a bad bug,” there being no germ theory yet. But, again, readers may find it time better spent than that spent reading this particular book.

--Laura Scott

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