Tempted by Monica Roberts
(Lovespell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52353-1
**
This one flunked the hero test big time. Never in all the hundreds of thousands of romance pages read have I encountered a character so undeserving of true love. Unrepentantly spoiled, irredeemably short-tempered, unfailingly belligerent, and unendingly whiney, Michael Mulgrew was hands-down the most annoying hero (and I use that term loosely) ever to cross my unfortunate path. What made his petty jealousies and blatant insecurities even harder to take? Michael is a man of the cloth. A minister. One of God’s anointed. Oy vey!

Preacher Perfect is what the gold miners in Coldbottom, California call Reverend Michael Mulgrew. The handsome young preacher has done so little to aid the struggling tent community that he has to dole out gold nuggets to get warm bodies in the seats come Sunday. Michael has been too busy crossing items off his “List of Things to do Before I Die.” Become a minister. Check. Build a church. Check. Build a house. Check. Get a wife.

That’s where No-Account Savage comes in.

A wild young woman with a brother named Slow, a penchant for the fiddle, and a mighty good shootin’ eye, No-Account arrives in Coldbottom after responding to Michael’s ad for a mail order bride. No-Account is certainly not what the good Reverend ordered. Straight out of the opening scenes of “Annie Get Your Gun,” No-Account wears pants, spits, whips out her pistol at any opportunity, and hasn’t taken a bath in a year. Preacher Perfect is stunned into silence by her appearance.

The good folk of Coldbottom think it’s a mighty good joke. No-Account takes one look at Michael’s house and decides she will do whatever it takes to stay. Having skedaddled from an abusive father and anxious to protect her aptly named brother Slow, No-Account decides to make herself useful around Michael’s place. She can’t cook and has never cleaned, but her spirit is willing. And for purely physical reasons, so is her flesh.

The truth is Reverend Michael is a hottie, so No-Account gives in -- repeatedly -- to his demands. Unsure of what to do with the “creature” who calls herself his fiancée, the first thing Michael does is insist she bathe. Then he changes her name to Hope. In between lustful glances, he constantly berates Hope for her speech, her behavior, her actions (okay, she does almost burn the house down trying to cook) and anything else that comes “nat’rul” to the uneducated young miss.

Hope takes it all in good natured stride, working purposefully on those traits that so annoy Michael…not that he ever notices. Instead of feeling pride in Hope’s ability to aid the people of Coldbottom with her healing talents, he feels raw jealousy and accuses her of carrying on. Any time a man looks sideways at the now much more ladylike Hope, he has a hissy fit and throws nasty comments around. Michael repeatedly reminds her that he has a reputation to protect, but takes his sweet time in marrying her despite the fact that the entire town calls Hope Mrs. Mike. He gets angry when she plays her fiddle in church, accusing her of trying to turn his service into a revival meeting. He questions each time she goes off on her own for some privacy, even going so far as to hide her precious pants in order to get Hope to obey his wishes. The list goes on an on. That the spirited Hope puts up with most of this miserable behavior with merely a shoulder shrug or a well-placed backwoods curse had a decidedly false ring to it.

Completely the opposite of Michael in temperament, Hope is a charming character who deserved much better than the borderline abuser the author foists upon her. The more I read the more I liked and respected her none-too-subtle but oh-so-genuine habits. She changes herself cosmetically to become Hope the Preacher’s woman, but inside she remains No-Account Savage. Even she eventually tires of Mike’s high-handed ways and draws a line in the sand. It’s a long time coming, but unfortunately, it’s not quite satisfying.

I referred to Mike as a borderline abuser because his character exhibits the rather obvious classic behaviors of a control freak and manipulator. The author may illustrate things in a lighter manner -- “Ho. Ho. (Jocular laugh) That Hope certainly isn’t the woman Preacher Perfect expected!” But I found his constant act-out now, apologize later behavior quite disturbing at times. That he never becomes the better man for his experiences left me quite bothered.

I kept hoping No-Account would shoot some sense into the jerk.

----Ann McGuire


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