I know there are many Christina Dodd fans who will probably want to flay me for only giving her latest three hearts. Well hereís something to keep in mind: Rules of Attraction would have remained a two-hearter if it wasnít for the authorís enviable way with erotic words. Boy can she write a love scene! Unfortunately, hot and steamy sex does not a great romance make.
The problem is that Rules of Attraction tries too hard to be too many things and succeeds at being not much of anything: itís got a hero and heroine constantly at odds with each other except when theyíre doing the nasty; itís got doddering old ladies who provide little comic relief; itís got a mystery involving dead aristocrats and a rather short list of suspects. Most annoying of all it has a brooding hero who is so self-centered and thick headed I wanted to clobber him. That in and of itself would not be so bad - but three quarters of the way through the book he undergoes a love-induced transformation that I never for one moment believed was possible given the sadistic comments and unrelentingly stubborn behavior he displayed throughout the earlier chapters. That sort of handy unevenness always makes me feel as though the author were trying to put one over on me.
But Christina Dodd is so adept at writing steamy love scenes that I can almost forgive her. She imbues the hero and heroine with such a lusty appetite for each other that not even hurt feelings, revenge, or a decade of separation can squelch their desire for one another. For a time sex becomes just another tool in the arsenal they use against each other. Because Hannah Setterington is livid at having been tricked into selling her share in the Distinguished Academy of Governesses to become a companion in the household of the Marquess of Raeburn only to discover that the Marquess is Dougald Pippard - her husband. He of course has spent nine years looking for the wayward wife who deserted him and now plans to exact a painful revenge.
But much has changed over the years; Hannah is no longer the starry-eyed girl Dougald married. She fled his bed because he refused to listen to her, give her any responsibility, or treat her as anything other than a possession. She eventually proved herself capable of surviving in a manís world. But once she returns to Dougaldís household, the old inadequacies, jealousies, anger, and passions return full force. Dougald is so convinced he can ďmasterĒ his wife that he refuses to even speak to her, let alone entertain the thought that he might have been in some way responsible for her abandonment of him.
Hannah takes her revenge by inviting Queen Victoria to visit the estate without first gaining Dougaldís assent. It seems that Dougaldís elderly aunt and her companions have been laboring for over 20 years on a tapestry illustrating the life of the young monarch (itís only 1843 and Victoria is in the early years of her seemingly endless reign.) This particular element of the plot, while amusing, is just one more element of the Mulligan Stew the author has created.
The fact is, I really wanted to like Rules of Attraction more than I did. The love scenes certainly made me sit up and take notice. I like the forward way in which Dodd depicts the charactersí carnal lust for each other - there is no embarrassment, no coyness, no heaving breasts, and no swollen members. The scenes are so nicely intimate, in fact, that it is only through these moments that we get an honest sense of who the hero and heroine really are. The characters put aside all pretension and just, well, exist. Dodd would do well to inject some of that same nonchalance into the rest of the proceedings.