Goodness Had Nothing to
Do With It

 
Tempt Me by Lucy Monroe
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20922-9
***
Am I imagining this, or do story elements come in waves? A few months ago, I read three historicals within as many weeks where, essentially, “the butler did it.” Now I’m on to Earl’s daughters who can’t hope to marry well because their parents weren’t actually married at the time of their births.

In Tempt Me, that daughter is Lady Irisa, born to the Earl and Countess of Langley before they were, technically, married. Or rather, before the first Countess had technically died, which made Irisa not only illegitimate, but also the child of a bigamist. Not that anyone in the fashionable world knows this, but Irisa does, and she uses the information to great advantage. At age 17 she informed her parents that they had best not accept any marriage offer for her of which she did not approve, lest she be forced to share the unpleasant information with erstwhile groom in order to dissuade him.

That maneuver kept her options open for several years, through a reported seven spurned offers. Now Lucas, Lord Ashton, appears to be considering an offer, and she is quite pleased. Although “The Saint,” as he is nicknamed, doesn’t seem to take an interest in her in the more “earthy” way she would like to see and experience, he is handsome, kind, amusing and presentable, and she is inclined to accept. Her father, determined to pawn her off on the unsuspecting Earl, arranges the engagement in such a way that Irisa thinks that Lucas has been told her secret and he has accepted her in spite of it. Her father hopes this will keep Irisa from telling anyone the truth, thus ensuring that the marriage goes forward and no one has to find out the unfortunate facts that are likely to cause more social damage to him and Irisa’s mother than to her.

“The Saint” has spent his life polishing his image to compensate for his fun-loving, scandal ridden mother and brother, both of whom had died young after conducting themselves with such a blatant disregard for their reputations that Lucas was forced to fight more than one duel for her honor. He views Irisa as a patterncard for appropriate behavior, and is well pleased. He finds her incredibly appealing, if a bit unconventional. Actually, Lucas is discovering just how unconventional with every passing day. And finding her more appealing every day. Irisa’s attempts to goad him into showing some physical desire or interest are about to push him over the edge into inappropriate behavior, and he is intent on resisting. The wedding can’t come soon enough to suit him.

Unfortunately, as the betrothal drags on and the wedding approaches, someone decides to make a buck off Irisa, someone who knows her secret and is threatening to let the cat out of the bag unless she pays up. There are plenty of suspects, including the seven men who previously offered for her and were rejected, and some old friends of his and hers who seem unduly interested or unhappy.

Tempt Me is full of rich and complex characters that are well drawn and quite interesting. They were developed nicely – he was trying to get her to stay neatly within a conventional mold, and she was pushing the boundaries and his buttons while trying to protect her heart. She was adventurous and independent and clearly taking a leaf from her sister’s book – or rather her half-sister, the child of the Earl and the first Countess, who was raised in the West Indies and doesn’t come close to following the strict rules of the ton.

Unfortunately, the character strength couldn’t pull the book above three stars because, while the plot was interesting, it just took for-evvvvv-er to get from there to here. I simply lost interest somewhere in the middle; this could have been a significantly shorter book. Honestly, how could it take so long to figure out that Lucas had not been told the truth by Irisa’s father? Come on, already! And once the blackmail mystery heated up, there were too many suspects with similar names and motives to keep them straight. When the guilty party was finally unmasked, I had to flip back through the previous chapters to figure out who they were and what their story was.

This could have been a four star offering with just a little tighter editing and some trimming of the list of suspects. It was at least sufficiently interesting to entice me into going back to read the older sister’s story in Touch Me and to looking forward to the phantom older brother’s tale in Take Me, due out next.

--Laura Scott


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