The Heartbreaker

The Lover

The Seduction

Desire by Nicole Jordan
(Ivy, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-449-00486-4
Just as I was getting really cranked up to complain vociferously about how there aren’t any good romances out there anymore, Desire rose to the top of my TBR (to-be-read) pile. Yes! This aptly named book satisfies one of my desires: a book with a sexy hero, an engaging heroine, and good stuff between the sheets and other places. As I was reading it, I fully intended to give it a four-heart rating then as I neared the end I realized there was no way this one was going to a used bookstore. This one was going into the box under the bed. That means keeper and that translates into five hearts.

A somewhat superfluous prologue that primarily serves the purpose of getting the hero and heroine (and the reader) some quick gratuitous sex introduces us to the characters: Lucian Tremayne, the Earl of Wycliff, and his wife Brynn. Obviously these two have got a really hot, active sex life, but the marriage itself seems to be in serious trouble. Lucian suspects his wife of trying to either poison or drug him and wonders if she’s a traitor. He knows he’s at fault for the initial problems in their marriage, but must he sacrifice his honor?

Then the story shifts back in time three months to their first meeting, and things improve.

Lucian Tremayne first catches sight of Brynn Caldwell as she swims in the secluded waters of a small cove. Before she escapes, they exchange a passionate kiss. Lucian is a spymaster for the British government and has come to Cornwall to investigate who’s smuggling gold to the French and Bonaparte agents. He knows the leader is a mysterious Lord Caliban and has suspicions that Sir Grayson Caldwell may be involved.

Brynn and Lucian meet again at a ball where he learns her identity. As the descendant of a notorious beauty who stole a gypsy’s lover, Brynn is widely believed to be cursed. Her beauty is such that she is irresistible to men, but the man she loves will die. Brynn lost her first suitor by drowning when she was only sixteen. She tries to keep a low profile and not attract attention.

Lucian has had a recent illuminating experience as a result of his spying activities. He has realized that if he were to die, he would leave no legacy, nothing of himself. He is determined to have a son, and for that he needs a wife. His uncommonly intense reaction to Brynn convinces him that here is the woman he needs.

Brynn refuses his proposal. She feels responsible for the raising and educating of her youngest brother Theo, dislikes Lucian’s reputation as a well-known rake, and has chosen to remain a spinster for life to avoid causing any man’s death. When she learns from her brother Gray that the family’s financial situation is so precarious that only the marriage settlements may save it, she is forced to accept.

Lucian knows he has a reluctant virgin bride. They share a tender interlude on the beach of the cove whether they first met. Immediately afterwards, however, Lucian receives bad news and leaves Brynn to be escorted to London by his secretary.

Abandoned literally on her wedding night, Brynn is a lonely, unhappy bride. Her only consolation is that Theo is thrilled to be enrolled at Harrow. She still feels a strong allegiance to her brothers. Her first encounter with Lucian’s family members is not encouraging, but she becomes friends with a cousin Raven who introduces her to society.

When Lucian returns to her at last, he sees that she has a attracted a number of admirers and treats her coldly. Brynn resents his attitude but does not want to become fond of him because of the gypsy curse; she struggles against any budding closeness between. Lucian is still strongly desirous of having a son. Gradually he realizes that Brynn is an admirable person in her own right and sets out to woo her in bed (this book deserves its R rating) and out of it. But Brynn’s divided loyalties will lead to a crisis in their relationship.

Desire takes two stock romance conventions - the dissolute rake who decides he must have an heir and the reluctant bride - and makes them work. Lucian has fought and killed a friend who was spying for the enemy, and it haunts his conscience and his dreams. His work for the government shows he’s more than a lazy, dissolute aristocrat. He marries Brynn because he desires her and needs a wife to have a son, but he doesn’t look much below her surface beauty. His slow realization that Brynn is more than just a pretty face and a desirable body is convincing. He doesn’t just wake up one morning, as too many romance heroes have, and in a bolt from the blue decide he’s in love. The emotional connection that develops between them is completely believable.

Lucian doesn’t believe in the gypsy curse, but he fully appreciates that Brynn does. Far too many romance heroines have married against their will and embarked on a marriage filled with hostility and silly statements such as, “You’re a brute, and I’ll hate you forever!” Brynn believes that for her to love a man dooms him so she strongly resists softening towards Lucian. She’s also a considerate enough person that she doesn’t provoke Lucian just to heighten the conflict. I was pleased to see her act like the intelligent, responsible person she’s supposed to be rather than the sharp-tongued, accusatory model of heroines before her.

There are some passing references to characters in previous books by the author, but Desire stands well on its own. I was not familiar with them and never felt at a disadvantage. A preview in the back of Desire indicates that Raven will be the heroine of the next book.

Ordinarily I think of a five-heart book as perfect or close to it. Don’t get me wrong: Desire is not perfect. Lucian is one of those irritating alpha rakes who thinks he knows everything for far too long. Brynn needs some assertiveness training and rethink whether sacrificing herself for her family is worth flirting with conspiracy to commit treason. It would be nice if the two of them shared a few confidences. And the Lord Caliban subplot is treated as something of an afterthought and comes to no resolution by the book’s end.

But there’s so much that goes right in Desire that I’m willing to overlook some weaknesses in light of its strengths. Desire is going to spend the rest of its natural life in a box under my bed. I can only say, “Go get your own copy. This one’s a keeper, and it’s mine.”

--Lesley Dunlap

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