The Heartbreaker

The Seduction

Ecstasy by Nicole Jordan
(Ballantine, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8041-1979-1
Sometimes a bookís appeal depends on context. My context was a beach vacation, and Ecstacy is a perfect beach book. A three-heart, acceptable rating means just that - itís acceptable and no more - but no one buys a beach book expecting great literature. I purchased Ecstasy with a pretty fair notion of what Iíd be getting: a larger-than-life hero, a gorgeous, vulnerable heroine, lots of hot gratuitous sex scenes. I wasnít disappointed. With sand, surf, sex, and more sex, who needs solid character development and a tautly crafted plot?

Raven Kendrick, half-sister of the hero in the authorís The Passion, was raised on a Caribbean island. Her mother fell in love with a married man. When pregnancy resulted, her family married her off to another and banished her from their lives, but she never forgot her true love and spent the rest of her life pining for him. Raven is resolved never to fall in love because misery inevitably ensues. On her deathbed, her mother made her promise to marry a great title because that way she will have the status she deserves and will be forever protected from the truth of her paternity.

Accordingly, Raven has agreed to a betrothal to the Duke of Halford. She is content with a loveless marriage - she will be satisfied with her passionate fantasies of a virile pirate. (It seems her mother had an eighteenth century sex manual so Raven is pretty sophisticated in her knowledge.) As she is about to enter the carriage that will take her to her grand society wedding, she is abducted off the street and carried away.

Kell Lasseter is called to his fashionable gambling house. His brother Sean has abducted the granddaughter of an earl, stripped her, tied her to Kellís bed, and is going to whip her. Kell arrives to find his brother, broken, unable to carry through with his intentions. He tells Kell that Raven had given herself to him then spurned him for another, broken his heart, and arranged for him to be beaten and impressed into the navy.

Kell sends his brother away; he will take care of Raven. Sean had given her a powerful aphrodisiac so Kell - what generosity! - satisfies her again and again during the night.

Kell and Sean are half-Irish; their fatherís family never accepted their Irish mother. In their teens they came under their English uncleís guardianship. Kell had promised his mother that he would watch out for Sean. (Oh, these pesky promises to Mom!) Their uncle, however, had sexually abused Sean for years, and Kell has carried the burden of knowing he had failed his brother and his mother.

After jilting the duke at the altar and spending the night in a manís company, Raven is ruined. The only way to repair her reputation is by marriage. Kell knows the responsibility will fall to him. He intends a marriage of convenience where they will both go their separate ways, but the strong attraction will soon make this increasingly diffiult and test both their loyalties.

Nicole Jordanís heroines are often determined to avoid falling in love. Ravenís reason -because her mother never got over her married lover - is more illogical than others. No one seems to recognize that Lover Boy was a first-rate, love-&em-and-leave-&em cad and Raven and her mother were left to pay the price. No, it was a great love, and love is agony. Period.

Kell is a classic tortured hero, carrying his own psychological burdens. Heís positively wallowing in guilt that he failed his mother and was indirectly responsible for his brotherís abuse. Heís still conflicted by his mixed Irish-English heritage. Now, thanks to Seanís villainy, heís acquired an unwanted wife. Some people enjoy being miserable, and Kell comes real close to being one of them.

It doesnít seem to occur to either of them or to Ravenís family that by marrying Kell sheíll be acquiring her abductor as her brother-in-law. Marriage isnít the universal solution to every problem, and getting a guy with a history of criminal action against the bride as an in-law ought to bother somebody. Seanís repeating role as unremorseful, whiny villain is one of the weaker aspects of the plot.

The Duke of Halford has been a continuing minor character in Ms. Jordanís last several interrelated romances. Benefits of wealth and title aside, heís been depicted as arrogant and cold; Raven is not the first heroine heís lost. In Ecstasy heís portrayed as a more sympathetic character. Frankly, I liked him more than Kell whoís supposed to be the hero. Itís possible that sometime in the future Halford will break his ongoing record as the Guy Most Likely to Be Dumped.

Not many authors write sex scenes (itís hard to call them love scenes) as well as Ms. Jordan. This is not a book for those who blush easily. From the opening scene, itís obvious that Raven is a passionate woman who only needs the right man - or maybe any man would do - and it doesnít take long for her to get matched up to Kell. Itís best to read Ecstasy for the hot sex and gloss over some of the bookís literary weaknesses.

Of course, itís best read in the proper context. For maximum enjoyment, take it to the beach.

--Lesley Dunlap

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