Kat Martin has written a powerful story with the exception of about 40 pages in the middle, a story that could have been so much more. One stupid, immature act by the heroine sent this book into mere acceptability, only to redeem itself with a thrilling conclusion that leads me to recommend The Fire Inside.
Kassandra “Kitt” Wentworth is like many Regency heroines: feisty, feeling the limits placed on a woman and vowing never to marry. Her vow stems from rape by a young nobleman when she was just sixteen. This rape was unreported due to threats made by the young man and Kitt’s fear that her father would force her to marry the fiend. She lived with the certainty that she can never be a normal wife.
Clay Harcourt is like many Regency heroes: a womanizer, an unacknowledged bastard and a quietly intelligent businessman. He has a good relationship in private with his father. However, he is the result of a long-term liaison with a mistress, therefore he is not publicly acknowledged, but is publicly accepted by the ton. Clay is strong and sure of himself on the outside, while hiding some vulnerability due to his upbringing.
Kitt is on the immature side, seeking to get her way and getting herself into outrageous situations. When first we meet her, she is involved in a high stakes card game at a soiree. Her next endeavor is to dress as a boy, climb out her window and run away to a friend’s estate in order to escape her father’s punishment of being locked in her room for the gambling escapade.
Clay encounters the young lady and the chase is on. Clay is attracted to Kitt’s energy, her love of life and the passion he sees in her eyes. She has a zest for living that she brings to life with her sketchpad, a skill few appreciate, but one Clay actually encourages. When he realizes he wants her for his wife, he tricks Kitt into a compromising situation. She shares with him her fears of the marriage bed, and he is gallant, as only a hero should be. They marry and he woos her, treating her with gentleness as she overcomes the memories and learns the pleasures he can bring her.
In the course of things, Clay discovers the identity of the scoundrel who raped her. He engineers a duel for some other slight. It is during this scene that both Clay and Kitt realize their love. The story up to this point is well written, engaging and truly heartwarming.
But with the book only halfway complete, Martin sinks to the lure of the “Big Misunderstanding”. Actually, it is less of a misunderstanding and more of a stupid action on the part of a selfish heroine… she leaves Clay because she fears he will eventually tire of her and turn to another woman. She knows she cannot stand that to happen. When she comes to her senses, she must work to bring Clay back to her.
It is only Martin’s writing skill that brings me back into a story I was giving up on. Danger from unknown sources supplies both suspense and a reason for Clay and Kitt to rediscover their need for each other. Clay is such a good hero, that I find myself hoping he gets the happiness he deserves. And Kitt does finally grow up, adding maturity to her other enjoyable attributes.
This is apparently the second of three stories about friends. The characters Ariel and Justin return from Heartless and there is a hint of a story for Clay’s friend Adam. All three bring some depth to the tale; helping to ensure the reader understands the history and providing sound advice to both Clay and Kitt. Adam particularly was an intriguing character. He is at first, withdrawn, having survived a scarring injury in the war. Yet as a good friend of Clay’s, he offers help and advice while working through his own angst. He plays a pivotal role in the final chapters to ensure a happy ending for all.
The romance of Clay’s wooing is endearing. The sensuous scenes of their lovemaking are sizzling with passion. As Kitt matures, so does her understanding of love and there is definitely fire in their relationship!
Aside from those 40 pages, I recommend this story and can only lament that Martin was not able to make it top-notch all the way.