Complete Abandon

My True Love

Too Hot to Handle

Too Tempting to Touch

Total Surrender

Too Wicked to Wed by Cheryl Holt
(St Martins, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-93799-7
I had a hard time deciding which is more prevalent in Cheryl Holt’s Too Wicked to Wed, the clichés or the offenses. I didn’t keep count, but there are plenty of both.

The plot is so hackneyed that we’ve all read it before. How familiar is the story of the spinsterish sister rescuing her ne’er do well brother from the clutches of a dastardly but toothsome villain by bargaining her virtue? In this scenario, the heroine, Helen Mansfield, has to amuse Luke Westmoreland for thirty days in order to satisfy her brother’s gambling debts. When Helen first encounters Luke, the handsome, sexy, bastard son of a duke, he’s surrounded by and fondling scantily clad women. Helen’s titillated and scandalized. Luke’s unapologetic. They’re instantly attracted to one another but Helen manages to resist his charm. She can’t convince Luke to let the matter drop, so she has to go back home to Archie, her irresponsible brother, and advise him that they are going to lose their home.

While booting Archie and Helen from their home, Luke’s attraction to Helen is renewed and he offers her a bargain. Helen may stay in her home for one year if she’ll work with Luke on his deportment. His life on the streets of London, and in the penal colony of Australia, has left him unprepared to enter society. While Helen teaches Luke how to go on, Luke teaches Helen about sex. In the meantime, Archie plots against Luke and Helen both with the aid of his lover, Adrian.

A secondary romance occurs between Luke’s secretary, Robert, and his second in command. It’s another cliché, since Luke’s second-in-command is actually a girl-in-pants. The fact that Robert finds “Pat” attractive and becomes aroused when around “Pat” makes Robert’s flesh crawl. And their heterosexual relationship is difficult to read. At first Patricia is very dominant, being very sexually experienced, but the slightly effete Robert soon decides he has to become manlier in order to deserve her love.

Another dominant lover is the evil Adrian. He completely subjugates the formerly heterosexual Archie, pursuing a homosexual relationship with him. Worse, he feeds every petty or malicious impulse Archie has, including Archie’s wish to have sex with his own sister. Yuk. Adrian also uses a maid in Helen’s household to spy for him, and he mistreats her sexually. Yuk again.

As for the rest of the book, well, it was just unimpressive. Helen and Luke’s relationship progresses along familiar lines, there’s some angst, there’s some drama, etc, etc, etc. One item of note that bothered this reader is how the characters would be standing face to face or lying down face to face and one would kiss or bite the other on the nape of the neck. I kept picturing prehensile goose necks until I realized that the author meant the front of the neck and was calling it the nape. It bugged me so much I even looked it up to be sure I wasn’t wrong.

Some of the love scenes in Too Wicked to Wed are pretty hot, because this is Cheryl Holt, after all. Unfortunately it’s really not worth reading the rest of the book to get to them.

--Wendy Livingston

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