As Tara O'Dell:

My Gallant Knight

The Saxon's Daughter

No Surrender by Nikki Donovan
(Zebra, $5.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-8217-7398-4
Lady Nicola was married to Sir Mortimer, a cruel, abusive man who preferred boys to women. When he is unable to bed her, he sends Fawkes de Cressy, one of his stable squires, to do it so that he will have an heir. To Nicola’s and Fawkes’s amazement, a cruel charge forced upon on them becomes a memorable night of passion.

Fawkes is awarded the honor of Mordeaux by King Richard for his service on the Crusade in the Holy Land. Returning to England, Fawkes defeats Mortimer in one-on-one combat. To solidify his right to the holdings, he marries Nicola, whom he has recalled with deep devotion for three years.

Nicola has one driving motivation: she must protect Simon, her son, whose birth was hidden from Mortimer by telling him the child was stillborn. Nicola had informed Mortimer that Fawkes was coming to claim his holding in order to prevent any battle that might harm her child. Fawkes is soon informed of rumors about Nicola, that she poisoned or cursed Mortimer so that he sickened in the last years, that she killed her child. Fawkes has passionately hoped to wed his lady, but it appears she is not the innocent victim he’d believed.

That’s All, Folks! Over and over. The sex was great; she wants it again. She has to protect her son. The sex was great; he wants it again. He can’t trust her. For 347 pages. She gets aroused whenever she sees Fawkes, thinks of Fawkes, remembers their first encounter. He gets aroused whenever he sees Nicola, thinks of Nicola, remembers their first encounter. Nicola may suspect that Fawkes isn’t the vicious bully Mortimer was, but she has to protect Simon. Fawkes may suspect that Nicola’s been falsely accused, but he can’t trust her. Do you see a repetitive pattern here?

As a mother; I know how strong the motivation to protect a child can be. I did not know it entailed a brain disconnect. Nicola seems incapable of understanding the basic concept of cause and effect. In the cause of protecting her child, Nicola repeatedly does incredibly stupid things, some of which could endanger Simon rather than protecting him.

I found myself sympathizing with Fawkes. I wouldn’t trust Nicola either. His reasons for distrusting her are not mine - he can’t ignore the rumors she killed his child, he suspects her of cuckolding him - but if there was ever a character who should be locked up and the key thrown away, Nicola’s that character. Sure, they’d shared some great sex three years earlier, but what has she done for him lately other than betraying him and nearly getting him killed? Usually a character who acts like Nicola is the villainess and gets her just desserts at the end not a happily ever after.

The medieval setting is little more than wallpaper behind Nicola’s and Fawkes’s passion. There are occasional mentions of the political situation of the time as well as Celtic customs that have survived into 12th century Britain, but there’s an anachronistic amount of bathing and changing clothes, and the characters sometimes show hints of modern-day attitudes. “I don’t want to do this either. I’m a Christian; I don’t believe in these old pagan ways.”

Author Mary Gillgannon (who also writes as Tara O’Dell and Molly Marcort) has adopted the Nikki Donovan pseudonym for her more erotic works. She first used this pen name in the erotic anthology, Delighted, which featured stories by other authors including Bertrice Small. No Surrender is not a book for those readers who prefer intimate encounters to be couched in gentle euphemisms and romance to be signified by sighs and shy glances. Fawkes and Nicola have three celibate years to make up for, and they do, they do. The book fully deserves its NC-17 rating. It is graphically descriptive with words that rarely make an appearance on the pages of romance novels. Ms. Donovan is the rare romance author who uses the real words.

I can take my romances in any flavor: sweet and gentle, hot and spicy, and in between, but if the hero and heroine aren’t right for each other, it’s not right for me. The one-note plot and the really annoying heroine leave No Surrender lacking. It’s got the hot and spicy down, but the overall effect is unappetizing.

--Lesley Dunlap

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