The Dark Duke

The Maiden & Her Knight

The Overlord's Bride

A Rogue's Embrace

A Scoundrel's Kiss

A Warrior's Bride

Tempt Me with Kisses
by Margaret Moore
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-82052-8
A good book has a hook that lures you into the story. An even better book has strong, likeable characters that keep you there. Tempt Me with Kisses succeeds in both.

The hook is a sort of reversed arranged marriage of convenience. The usual scenario is of a virginal heroine offered on a silver platter to the highest bidder to save her family's estate. In this book, we have Caradoc, lord of the impoverished Llanstephan Fawr in Wales. Everything worth a coin has been sold off to pay the king's taxes and Caradoc is in dire straits.

Along comes Fiona MacDougal, daughter of a wealthy wool merchant. Fiona makes Caradoc an offer he can't refuse. If he will marry her, she will give him her dowry of 3000 marks, more than enough to pay the taxes and restore Llanstephan's faded glory. Caradoc cannot deny the practicality of the arrangement, and also remembers that Fiona was once kind to him when they were younger. So, the deal is made.

There isn't anything very complicated about the plot. Fiona does have her secret reasons for needing to marry, but the majority of the book focuses on the two main characters and how they feel about each other and themselves.

Caradoc is something of a medieval nerd. Never as outgoing and charming as his younger siblings Connor and Cordelia, Caradoc spent much of his youth in his studies. He suffered their taunts, being nicknamed Troll for his introverted nature and his father never found anything he did good enough. One would expect this to turn Caradoc into a brooding, dark hero who is boorish to everyone he meets. Instead, Caradoc comes off as a good man, just unsure of himself because he's never really had any genuine affection. When he finally recognizes Fiona, the first thing he remembers is that she waved to him when she was a young girl and how that had made him feel special.

Fiona is also a bit of an outsider. Too rich to play with the peasants, but lacking the bloodline to be with the nobles, she never quite fit in either. When she was young, she was drawn to the quiet, serious boy, thinking him a kindred spirit. Her fertile imagination weaves a fantasy of being Fiona the Fair, rescuing the lonely, dark prince from his tower. That's why she chooses Caradoc, she knows his reputation for honor and fairness. Frankly, I loved her from the minute she made the offer to Caradoc. She never backed down, had all of her facts and arguments ready, delivered them in a concise, no-nonsense manner and not once did she stomp her pretty little foot.

She also has a wonderful attitude toward sex. She's not a virgin, part of the reason she needed to marry Caradoc, but despite the man turning out to be a louse, Fiona still enjoyed the physical part of the experience. She is all too happy to share that kind of enjoyment with her new husband. Her eagerness and healthy appetite make the love scenes sizzle.

Both Caradoc and Fiona do a lot of soul searching, learning to trust one another and realize that they are worth being cherished. Moore does a wonderful job making these developments realistic and keeping the characters believable. Though each of them has that sense of self-doubt, neither wallows in it and it doesn't get the to the point you'd wish they'd just get over it. I also enjoyed the fact that neither of these characters is perfect. Fiona isn't drop dead gorgeous, and while Caradoc is handsome, his shy nature keeps him from being the big, alpha hero. A reader has no trouble with identifying them. This was especially true when Fiona and Caradoc were discussing the tradition of nicknames and how they'd had their share of less than flattering ones. It's a scene that really puts the readers behind them, especially anyone who's ever felt remotely like an outsider.

There are a lot of fun secondary characters as well, such as Dafydd, another imperfect but completely loveable guy. He's Caradoc's opposite, not that attractive but smooth and charming with the ladies. It was fun watching them play off each other, and to see Caradoc trying to imitate Dafydd's flirting ways with Fiona, usually with some amusing results.

It took me about halfway through the book to realize Caradoc was the older brother of former Moore hero Connor from The Maiden and Her Knight. While it is not necessary to have read that title first, it was interesting to get the background of events hinted at in the previous book.

Tempt Me With Kisses was an absolute pleasure to read. I enjoyed meeting the characters, and felt a kinship with them even after the last page was turned.

--Anne Bulin

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