All About Love

Captain Jack's Woman

Devil's Bride

A Rake's Vow

A Rogue's Proposal

Scandal's Bride

A Secret Love

Secrets of a Perfect Night

All About Passion
by Stephanie Laurens
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-380-81202-9
Having already read All About Passion when I was asked to review it, I thought it would be a snap. I enjoyed it and suspected I’d rate it a solid four hearts. I’d just need to skim through to refresh my memory of the plot and remind myself of what I’d enjoyed the first time around.

But the book refused to be skimmed. Every time I sat down, intending to give it a quick scan, I’d find myself caught up all over again. Since my definition of a five-heart book is one whose story, writing and characters capture me as thoroughly in subsequent readings as they did the first time around, this book now has a place on my keeper shelf.

The latest installment of Laurens’ Cynster series, All About Passion is the story of Gyles Rawlings, Earl of Chillingsworth. At the end of the previous book, Gyles was elected an honorary Cynster - a dubious honor in his view, as the Cynsters are fated to marry women with whom they are passionately in love. Gyles has no intention of giving his heart to anyone.

The 35-year-old earl does need to marry, however, as the title needs an heir. Gyles will, therefore, find someone “well-bred, docile and suitably endowed with grace of form, deportment and address” to have his children, act as his countess and otherwise leave him alone.

It would also be pleasant if this paragon had some dower property to enhance his holdings, and he believes he has found just the person in Francesca Rawlings. A 23-year-old orphan, raised in Italy and now living with her aunt and uncle, Gyles has heard good reports of the girl, and her inheritance just happens to be a slice of land that was once part of his estate (they are very distantly related).

To make it clear that this is a business and dynastic arrangement rather than a romantic one, Gyles makes his offer to Francesca’s uncle without meeting her.

On his way out, Gyles glimpses someone he assumes is Francesca. Apparently quiet and submissive, she looks as though she’ll be the perfect wife - undemanding and in absolutely no danger of stirring his senses. Just moments later he is bowled over, literally and figuratively, by an energetic “gypsy” of a woman who doesn’t just stir his senses but whips them into lather.

The fun for the reader begins with Gyles’ unawareness that the gypsy and Francesa are one and the same. He discovers his mistake at the altar where he is stunned to see that the woman walking towards him is not the bland innocent but the passionate woman who unleashes the barbarian inside him - a barbarian he has spent a lifetime subduing behind a rigidly correct social demeanor.

The fun continues with the compelling, intelligent and articulate battle of wills as Gyles tries to keep from falling in love with his wife and Francesca fights with all her might for a marriage as loving as her parents’.

They are a well-matched couple. Both have tempers. Both have brains and aren’t afraid to use them. Both are strong-willed and passionate and, with the explicit and imaginative sensuality that is Laurens’ trademark, the battle of wills is suspended in the bedroom where they find they can agree on at least one thing - how much they want each other.

To a large extent, Gyles is the star of the story as we watch both Francesca and his own reluctant inclinations chip away at the self-imposed emotional isolation that has stood him in good stead his whole life. He doesn’t hold out and hold out and then have a spurious change of heart on the second last page. We get to watch his journey down the slippery slope as he gradually opens up to both her and himself and accepts the inevitable.

And, just to make things more interesting, there is at least one bystander who emphatically does not want this couple to have a happy ending.

I enjoyed reading this book the first time. I enjoyed it even more the second time. I suspect twice will not be enough.

--Judi McKee

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