The Maiden Warrior

Secret Vows

Beyond Temptation
by Mary Reed McCall
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-060-59368-7
The first in a series titled "The Templar Knights," Beyond Temptation is an extremely well written and interesting story that begins the saga of four Knights Templar fleeing for their lives from French soldiers during the time of the Inquisition.

The four knights, Richard de Cantor, John de Clifton, and the brothers de Ashby, Damien and Alex, meet during a storm in a wood near the French coast after escaping King Phillip's soldiers.  Damien has a manacled Alex in tow, having been charged to bring Alex to the Templar grand master to be judged for carnal transgressions.  After a hurried conference the four decide to travel to Richard de Cantor's home in England where hopefully they'll be safe for a time. They free Alex to give him a better chance to escape, and separate to make their way to England each as best as he can.  Beyond Temptation is Richard's story.

A dirty and exhausted Richard is the first to arrive at the home he has not seen for five years.  There he finds Meg, Lady Margaret Newcomb, caring for his mentally unbalanced wife.  Meg has no good opinion of Richard, believing his absence to be the cause of his wife, Eleanor's, dementia.  Meg also blames Richard for the suffering of his villagers, whom he left under the care of a greedy and unscrupulous steward.  Richard, ignorant of Meg's opinion of him, is surprised to find the highborn daughter of an earl working in the lowly capacity of caretaker of a woman so far beneath her own station and does not know how to treat Meg.  Because of this their first meeting and early conversations are very stilted and uncomfortable.

The secrets behind Meg's penance, Eleanor's dementia and Richard's absence are revealed.  Meg is hidden away from society and paying for her sin of indiscretion with a man she loved.  She explains this to Richard and is treated not with the contempt she expects, but with understanding and compassion.  With this Richard begins to earn her trust and negates her opinion that all Templars are hypocritical and untrustworthy.  Meg finds that Richard did not leave his home for greed and glory but for a penance of his own.  Eleanor's story is just sad and serves as an example of the wonderful pacing the author employs to keep the reader entertained. 

After Eleanor dies, Richard and Meg are forced to go to the court of King Edward. Both are extremely reluctant. Meg has no wish to face the society that spurned her after her indiscretion and sees the journey as the beginning of the end of her few freedoms and her growing relationship with Richard. Richard fears the French may have already arrived at King Edward’s court and lie waiting to imprison him.

Richard and Meg’s relationship is completely platonic at first because of his marriage to Eleanor, and after her death their closeness slowly builds. One of the more sensual and loving scenes involves Richard's request for Meg to give him her hand and her reaction to his request. That sounds pretty tame, doesn't it?  It's not. Their lovemaking , when it finally occurs, is satisfyingly hot.

Richard's brother Braedan and sister-in-law Fiona play pretty large parts in Beyond Temptation.  They have their own story in Crimson Lady, a book I will definitely be reading - as well as the rest of McCall's backlist.  And since this is a series, I'll be waiting impatiently for John, Damien and Alex's stories.

I’m giving Beyond Temptation four hearts for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because it is simply a lovely, lovely book.

--Wendy Livingston

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