Essence of My Desire by Jill Jones
(St. Martin's, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-312-96415-3
If you like the "love your enemy" plot with an unusual, sensual twist, you might enjoy Jill Jones' latest mix of contemporary and fantasy. Simone LeFevre has spent the past few years putting her life back together again after betrayal and tragedy. Once she was the daughter of a world famous Parisian perfumer with dreams of following in her father's footsteps. But then a young man calling himself Nathaniel Raleigh became her father's apprentice and Simone's first lover. Nathaniel was revealed to be Nick Rutledge, scion of a rival perfume house. When he absconded with the formulas for the LeFevre perfumes, it broke Simone's father's heart, and the brilliant perfumer died shortly thereafter.

Now Simone is working in her aunt's small perfume shop in New Orleans. As she unpacks a shipment of vintage perfume bottles, she uncovers an amazing discovery. Inside an old bottle is a perfume with a strong scent. When Simone inhales it, she is immediately filled with sexual desire and extremely erotic thoughts. When she places a few drops of the oil in her bathwater she has incredibly sensuous dreams about a mysterious lover who takes her to new passionate heights. Simone is shocked but fascinated as well. If she could just find the secret to this perfume and recreate it, she could become the most successful perfumer in the world, and her father's legacy could continue.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, Nick Rutledge has his own troubles. While he did indeed betray Simone and her father, he did so out of desperation, making a last ditch futile attempt to save the Rutledge perfume house from the financial ruin that caused his father's suicide. Now all he has left is the equipment from an old Indian perfumery run by his ancestor. He has never forgotten Simone but realizes he doesn't deserve her forgiveness. As he unpacks a shipment of equipment from the perfumery, he also finds a strange old bottle with a scent that causes instant sexual arousal. He too realizes the enormous potential of such a scent. And he too has dreams of a fantasy lover, although he recognizes his dream lady as Simone.

When Simone and Nick cross paths as they each try to identify the perfume's essence, they find that their mutual antipathy and mistrust are overcome by sheer chemistry, heightened by the perfume. With the help of a neighborhood witch, they unlock the secret of the perfume's history - but can they duplicate its powerful effect? Should they unleash such an addictive scent on an unsuspecting public? Will they find the secret before the conniving Antoine Dupuis, Nick's former and Simone's current boss, does?

Essence of My Desire contains many sensuous passages as both Simone and Nick give themselves over to the lure of the mystery perfume. They are written with an admirable lack of purple prose and are very effective in their own way. I learned some interesting tidbits about the perfume industry as well. But somehow the actual love story between the two left me cold. Maybe it was because so much of their relationship occurred in fantasies. Their real encounters were largely of the "I hate you but I must kiss you" variety. Also, I wanted Nick to make more of a grand gesture to earn Simone's forgiveness. He was a tormented hero without sufficient redemption. Finally, even Simone came across as a little bit of a humorless shrew. Add in Dupuis, a villain who was neither strong enough to be threatening nor conflicted enough to be sympathetic and you've got a neat idea with only mediocre execution.

Jill Jones is making a name for herself by combining time travel, fictional characters, historical figures and a bit of magic in her unusual plots. While I admire her unique style, I was less impressed by the total package.

--Susan Scribner

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