In Trouble's Arms

Prickly Pear


Violets are Blue

The Dark One
by Ronda Thompson
(St. Martins, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-93573-0
For a fairly standard werewolf romance, The Dark One is a good one. This is the first in a series about the Wild Wulfs of London; three brothers will eventually follow, no doubt. Readers who are unfamiliar with this sub-genre would find this story a good place to start.

The story opens at a London ball. Armond Wulf, Marquess of Wulfglen (yeah, itís hokey) is out in Society for the first time since a woman was discovered dead in his stable, and all of London thinks he murdered her. But there was no real proof, and drawn by some need to surround himself with people again, Armond has attended in the company of an old family friend, a dowager duchess. No one could be more surprised when a beautiful young woman approaches Armond and asks him to please ruin her reputation, then and there.

Lady Rosalind Rutherford is newly arrived in London, summoned by her nasty stepbrother Franklin, who is now her guardian. Franklin has squandered Rosalindís inheritance and is about to marry her off to settle his gambling debts. Rosalind reasons that if her reputation is shattered, nobody will want her and she will be banished back to the country. (Itís not the most mature reasoning Ė why wouldnít the nasty stepbrother just sell her off as somebodyís mistress? Ė but there you have it.) Who better to do the deed than her next-door-neighbor, the disreputable Lord Wulf? But Armondís conscience prevents him from carrying things too far, and Rosalind is returned home unharmed.

Armond canít get his mind off Rosalind. They meet again at a tea, and Armond notices the bruise on her cheek. His suspicions go on high alert. Armond visits Rosalind in her bedchamber after hearing her weeping, only to find that a woman was found hanged in the house Ė a servant who had been abused by Franklin. (Note to editors: women arenít ďhung.Ē) Then another body turns up in Armondís stable again, and he is arrested. Rosalind knows Armond couldnít have committed the crime, because he was with her all night, though only to comfort her. She admits this to the authorities, sealing her fate. Armond and Rosalind are married. Armond tells her he will never love her, and it will be a marriage of convenience unless she wishes otherwise Ė itís her decision.

Armondís family is under an ancient curse from a malevolent witch. For generations theyíve been werewolves, and though there is a clue, they donít know how to break the curse. Armondís father committed suicide and his mother died of a broken heart. Heíll never risk his own heart. Readers, of course, know exactly what will happen.

The biggest challenge I had with this book is Rosalind. Itís basically a rescue fantasy story, with Rosalind playing the part of the innocent girl unable to stand up to her cruel stepbrother, and needing Armond to take her away and protect her. I could swallow this, though it didnít go down easily, but it carries over into her marriage, where she just seems young. Of course she wants Armond in a physical sense. Of course he wants her, too. So why do we need several scenes of coitus interruptus, with Rosalind exclaiming ďI - I canítĒ at the crucial moment? Much as I sympathized with her problem, she spends much of the book as a rather passive puppet. Things improved toward the end, though it was case of ďtoo little, too late.Ē

Armond, however, is terrific. Heís completely infatuated with Rosalind at first meeting, though he knows he shouldnít be, and after that, he just canít stay away. I rather liked his attitude of ďIf you want it, come and get itĒ toward Rosalind and sex, as it put the matter in her hands, so to speak. Of course, it also absolved him of any decision-making and allowed him to keep his self-imposed distance, which is perhaps less laudable. But their relationship heats up beautifully, and at the point where they finally become intimate, Rosalind finally begins to grow up, or at least show some spine.

There are several subplots involving the nasty Franklin, and Armondís brother Gabriel is introduced Ė no doubt to set him up for the next book. There are hints that Rosalindís friend Amelia may be involved. She was certainly left dangling at the end of the story.

The Dark One isnít likely to surprise many readers of paranormal romance, but itís quite well-done and very entertaining reading. With a stronger heroine to wrap the story around, Ronda Thompsonís next release may end up on the keeper shelf. As it stands, itís easy to recommend.

--Cathy Sova

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