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

 
The Promise in a Kiss
by Stephanie Laurens
(William Morrow, $18.00, R) ISBN 0-06-18888-X
***
Late one night sixteen-year-old Helena is in the garden of a convent school in Paris when a man climbing over the wall falls at her feet. She helps him evade capture, and before he leaves they share a sweet kiss.

Seven years later they spy each other across a crowded London ballroom and recognize each other immediately. For both of them, their first meeting was a magical, memorable moment.

Helena, comtesse díLisle in her own right, has been sent to London to capture the attention of eligible men and expand the sphere of influence of her domineering guardian, Fabien de Mordaunt, the Comte de Vichesse. He used her in the same way at the French court. Helena resists being used again and has managed to obtain his signature on a document granting his permission for her to marry as long as certain conditions involving title and estate are met.

Helena is living with the Thierrys, French ťmigrťs. Mme. Theirry informs her that the gentleman is Sebastian Cynster, Duke of St. Ives, and warns her against considering him as a potential suitor - he is dangereux. Moreover, he has vowed never to wed.

Neither Sebastian nor Helena is able to resist the attraction between them. He is resolved to seduce her and to that end tells her he will help her find a husband even as he resolves to introduce her only to men he knows are unsuitable. Gradually, the knowledge that she will not succumb to his seduction as well as his aversion to his sister-in-law Almira eventually holding the title of Duchess of St. Ives changes his mind. He will wed, and Helena will be his.

But Helena has a stronger will than he is used to in a woman. In spite of the physical desire between them, she has her own convictions.

ďI have had half a lifetime of such managing, such manipulation-I will not suffer more. In your case, like my guardian, manipulating others-especially women-is part of your nature. It is part of who you are. You are helpless to change it. And the last man on earth I would consider as my consort is a man so steeped in the very characteristic I wish to flee.Ē

Sebastian becomes even more convinced that she is meant for him. Fabienís machinations, however, will reach across the Channel to place obstacles in the way of their happiness.

In this, her eighth Cynster novel, popular author Stephanie Laurens has written a prequel to her other Cynster books. Her first hardback book, it features a vague Christmas-theme and is being marketed as a holiday title.

I will confess to some disappointment, and I cannot recommend The Promise in a Kiss. I expected Ms. Laurensís first hardback book to be a model for her talent. Instead itís her weakest effort and - literally and figuratively - her thinnest since she began her Cynster saga nearly four years ago. The solid character development and plausible plotting Iíve come to expect from her are given short shrift in Promise. Whatís left are some mighty hot intimate encounters between the hero and heroine (one kiss lasts a full ten minutes!), but marathon kissing does not substitute for an engrossing story line.

The story starts and ends well enough with sufficient character interaction and conflict to keep a readerís interest, but the pace in the bookís middle sags as the story goes over the same ground again and again. Furthermore, Ms. Laurensís seems to have contracted the Robin Schone Syndrome where the bookís page count is augmented by a series of ...

One.

Word.

Paragraphs.

Helena and Sebastian are both vividly depicted. Usually dynamic characters mean multidimensional characters, but the two main characters in Promise are simultaneously vibrant and one-dimensional. The reader is told particular circumstances exist but is never given any explanation for them. Why is there a long-standing quarrel between Sebastian and Fabien? Why is Helena unaware of their conflict if she is so familiar with other details of Fabienís ambitions? At the age of twenty-three why is Helena still under the control of her guardian? Why has Sebastian vowed never to marry? How can he have a reputation of being dangerous when he clearly is the soul of charity? The reader never learns.

What does work and works very well is the burgeoning relationship between Helena and Sebastian. Ms. Laurens excels in writing sexual tension between her characters, and Promise is a showcase of her skill. There is no question but that these two characters are right for each other - their bodies know it, and itís only a matter of time before their minds do, too.

But maybe sexual attraction alone isnít enough.

Some readers complained that in Devilís Bride Sylvester never expressly tells Honoria that he loves her. Cynster men are uncommonly devoted to their wives, and that will have to be sufficient. Thereís a similar situation in Promise, but readers who are familiar with the series will have the foreknowledge that Sebastian doesnít remain faithful to Helena, fathering an illegitimate child with another woman (Scandalís Bride). Itís hard to believe in their happily ever after when marital infidelity is to be part of their future, and a happy ending is an integral part of the romance genre. Perhaps there ought to be a better reason for marriage than wanting to block oneís sister-in-law from gaining a title.

The Christmas connection that is heralded on the book jacket is fairly understated. Readers shouldnít choose it for its strong seasonal quality, but those who are looking for dynamic characters and superior sexual tension and donít mind an anemic plot may want to check it out.

--Lesley Dunlap


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