Master of Desire by Jessica Trapp
(Zebra Books, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7862-5
****
Gabriel of Whitstone is the King's Hunter in fifteenth century England. Skilled with the crossbow, he supports his numerous young siblings by being the King's mercenary. His current mission is to track down the Spy of the Night - someone who is passing along the most intimate secrets of the upper class and causing chaos in the kingdom.

Lady Ariana takes no pleasure in her voyeurism. Thrice married, and widowed-albeit once by her own hand - she is being blackmailed into passing along secrets. It started innocently enough, observing an errant kiss here and there, but now she's being forced to embark upon errand after errand for a cruel, vicious man.

Gabriel quickly captures Ariana and vows to bring her to justice. But a midnight interlude at a secluded waterfall has Gabriel proposing instead of arresting.

Already having been the dutiful wife, Ariana wants no part of it. She knows her only choices are being a slave to marriage, a prisoner, or feeling in the dark of night. Fearing for the safety of her son, and those who work on her estate, Ariana must escape her captor/lover by any means - even if it means letting him pay for burning down the Abbey - which just happens to be a crime she committed.

Believing Gabriel dead, Ariana returns to her people, her child and her life of service. It is to her great surprise that a very vengeful and very much alive Gabriel shows up, demanding his revenge.

Master of Desire is one of those rare books that surprise you. From the cover it appears to be another bodice ripper, laden with the usual insurmountable obstacles facing the soon to be happy couple. But from the first page, Trapp does something a bit different. For example, when Ariana's eyes widen at the bulge under Gabriel's robe, it's because our heroine is savvy enough to recognize a concealed weapon when she stumbles upon one. Time after time, Ariana is given every chance to fall into the "too stupid to live" romance heroine category, but willfully resists. She's resourceful, intelligent and just stubborn enough to be a delightful character. Trapp does an excellent job of making the reader both sympathize with, and like, her heroine even when she is doing some very unlikable things.

As for Gabriel, he's a very complex character. He spends half the book tying Ariana to things, since she's always trying to escape. He's bossy, arrogant and a bit over-bearing, yet completely lovable. His exasperation with Ariana is understandable, since she's usually doing something if not illegal, at least a bit shady. And in the moments of peace between the couple, when he does expose his more vulnerable side, he's down right irresistible.

Speaking of irresistible, Trapp's love scenes practically are very well written. While incredibly hot, they are also incredibly realistic. Ariana's doubts, her insecurities and general inexperience with pleasure are all addressed in a scene that manages to be touching in its tenderness, yet sexy as can be. The main objection I have to the sexuality in the story is that Ariana's been married three times, yet never found sex pleasant? It seems a bit of a stretch. Despite the taint of Ariana being a virgin to pleasure, the sex scenes still manage to sizzle.

Despite not being a huge fan of recent historicals, I really enjoyed this one. Trapp's blending of sensuality, humor and a great plot make Master of Desire a fast, enjoyable read.

--Amanda Waters


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