Beyond Innocence

Beyond Seduction by Emma Holly
(Jove, $6.50, NC-17) ISBN 0-515-13308-6
Merry Vance is a young woman who has run out of patience. The daughter of duke, her mother has been endlessly pressuring her to marry Ernest Althorp. The thing is, while Merry is fond of her childhood friend, she knows without a doubt theirs is an ill-suited match. Sheís tried telling her mother this, until sheís blue in the face, but the woman wonít budge.

The woman wonít budge because Ernestís father is blackmailing her. Lavinia Vance has gone so far as to spread rumors about her daughter, scaring off what few suitors she had to begin with. When Merry turns down Ernest, again, Lavinia pulls out the big guns.

Merry is shocked by her motherís threats; so shocked in fact that she feels she has no choice. Sheíll just have to ruin herself - certainly then her mother will listen to reason. Telling her mother that she needs time to think, she supposedly packs her bags to visit a friend in Wales. What Merry really does is show up on Nicholas Cravenís doorstep.

Nic is renowned artist on the London scene, and a notorious rake. By accident he runs into Merry late one evening, and is immediately struck by her unconventional beauty. Not knowing who she is, he offers her a job as a model - a nude model. She had politely turned him down, so imagine his surprise when she arrives on his doorstep.

The two immediately get down to business - in more ways then one. While Merry tries to guard her heart, she canít help but fall all under Nicís spell. The man has charm to spare, and heís intrigued with Merry. So begins an affair that nearly sets the pages ablaze - but can their passion survive Merryís deception and Nicís emotional baggage?

Merry immediately scores points for being creative. Unlike most Victorian heroines who decide to ruin themselves, she doesnít go about it by seducing someone with the nickname of Lord Sin. Posing nude seems like a relatively safe option; she can keep her virginity intact if she so chooses, but still create a sizable scandal. Thing is, once sheís sharing quarters with Nic, she wants to share a whole lot more.

Nicís character is a bit more vague, but still intriguing. His past haunts him, closing himself off to almost all emotion. While Merry views herself as plain, Nic is struck by how fantastic her image would translate to the canvas. As they spend more time together, he is drawn to more than her beauty - but to her goodness as well.

The secondary characters are all interesting. Lavinia may be one of the villains in the story, but sheís hardly one-dimensional. I felt sorry for her more often than not. Merryís brothers are a likeable lot, as is their father. Nicís friends definitely add their own heat to the story - particularly the outrageous couple of Evangeline and Sebastian. The crew is rounded out by Nicís eccentric band of servants.

As for the sex? While it takes a good 100 pages for the couple to succumb, once they do, itís hot, hot, hot. Holly successfully avoids some of the kinkier pitfalls in the romance-erotica sub-genre by staying pretty conventional. No one is hanging from a chandelier, beaten, or taken against his or her will. Still, itís not for the faint at heart - itís still a book capable of giving my father a heart attack.

Steamy sex, interesting characters, and a story that offers a couple of twists make Beyond Seduction a page turning read. Curious readers who have been meaning to try romance-erotica should seriously consider Emma Holly. The author has a way of writing the hot stuff without sacrificing heartfelt emotion or plot in the process. And with Joveís friendly price tag, she is sure to pick up some new fans among curious newcomers - this reviewer included.

--Wendy Crutcher

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