Promise Me Tonight by Sara Lindsey
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0451229373
New author Sara Lindsey offers readers an entertaining story in Promise Me Tonight.  A standard plot is turned on its head, as our heroine is a determined young woman who plans to seduce the man she loves in order to force his hand in marriage.

Isabella Weston loves James Sheffield, heir to an earldom.  They’ve been friends since childhood, as James grew up on a neighboring estate, but Izzie hasn’t seen James in five years.  Now James has returned from Ireland, where he’s been busy founding an orphanage, and nineteen-year-old Izzie plans to make him notice her in big way. And what better time and place than at her coming-out ball?

James has a number of demons to fight.  His father, son of an earl, eloped with an Irish woman and James’ grandfather never forgave him.  When James was left an orphan at age ten, his grandfather took him in, only to spend the next eight years heaping cruelty and scorn upon him. As soon as James was able, he fled his grandfather’s estate and spent the next few years traveling with his best friend, Izzie’s brother.  James has vowed never to marry, thus letting the earldom die out. But a childhood promise to dance with Izzie at her debut ball has drawn him back to the Weston family.  And once James sees the grown-up Izzie, he’s smitten.

Izzie’s plan to seduce James into offering for her nearly succeeds.  They share a passionate interlude in a library, but James comes to his senses just in time to prevent Izzie’s complete ruin.  Shaken, and more attracted to her than he ever dreamed possible, James returns to Ireland. The death of his grandfather some months later brings him back to England, and when his grandfather’s will is read, all unentailed property and monies are left to Izzie, not James.  Shocked and bitter, James vows to purchase a commission in the army and leave for good.

Izzie, desperate, sneaks into James’ room and finally manages to lose her virginity.  James is furious, but insists they marry, upon which he immediately makes good on his vow to leave.  Now Izzie must live with all the consequences of her actions – and no James, to boot.

The plot is mostly entertaining and moves at a brisk clip.  Olivia, Izzie’s sister, plays an important secondary role that sets her up for her own book.  The sex is fairly steamy, too – plenty of heat without a hint of purple prose.  Readers won’t be disappointed in this aspect.

What didn’t hold up particularly well were the leads, particularly James.  Izzie fares better here; she’s headstrong and head-over-heels in love with James, and his willing participation in their interludes would be enough to give any girl the wrong idea.  When James rails at Izzie that she never considered his feelings about marriage, readers may be thinking, “well, you didn’t exactly say no to the sex, did you?” while agreeing that her actions were monumentally self-centered.  There’s little maturity in her thinking.

In comparison with Izzie, though, James’ thinking seems positively lunkheaded.  He will never marry, never, because his mother died in childbirth so his wife would likely die, too, and if he lets the earldom die out, well, that will show his grandfather!  It’s the perfect revenge!  Except the grandfather is dead, you dolt, so the only person this is remotely affecting is James himself.  Even James comes to realize that his reasoning is lame, to say the least, but the reader has to wade through several hundred pages of his martyrdom before he sees the light. At that point, of course, our intrepid Izzie decides she wants no part of him, thus creating a good reason for the author to spin out her plot for another hundred pages.

Frankly, I didn’t mind - it was worth it to see James twist in the wind for a bit.  But the romance suffered.  Let’s face it; we spend many chapters with James pushing Izzie away, then many chapters with Izzie pushing James away, and the payoff at the end seemed pitifully small.

For all that, Promise Me Tonight is a respectable debut book.  Izzie and James are never boring, and the author sets up her next story with enough hints that I want to read it.  Sara Lindsey has a clean, often humorous writing style that made this an easy read, and I look forward to seeing her future books. 

--Cathy Sova

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