Desert Warrior

Awaken to Pleasure by Nalini Singh
(Silh. Desire #1602, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76602-5
Awaken to Pleasure is a marrying-the-boss story with a double meaning in the title. The cover features a couple in bed, but it’s also the story of a woman discovering the joy of sensuality after a traumatized childhood.

Movie producer Jackson Santorini spots his former secretary, Taylor Reid, standing at a bus stop in a downpour one night and offers her a ride home. The young beauty had attracted him from the start of their temporary working arrangement, but he’d been married at the time, so Taylor had been off-limits. Now Jackson is a widower with a anguished secret: his drug addict ex-wife committed suicide, as the tabloids all knew, but she was carrying his child when she killed herself.

Taylor harbors her own demons. She fears men, with good reason, and is struggling to keep the guardianship of her beloved younger half-brother, whom she adores. The boy’s father is threatening to sue for custody, though he’s been out of the picture for years. Taylor isn’t sure what to do, and when she inadvertently ends up spending the night at Jackson’s apartment, the whole story comes out. Jackson, after some thought, has a plan. They should marry.

His plan is simple: Taylor can give him the child he so desperately longs for, and their marriage will give Taylor a solid legal ground to stand on, plus the protection of Jackson’s wealth and name. Taylor agrees, but leaves herself an escape clause. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll divorce.

So now these two, who are undeniably interested in each other, are living together. Taylor fantasizes about Jackson, as he does about Taylor. Soon their sexual attraction boils over, and Taylor loses her fear of intimacy, to Jackson’s delight.

And that’s about it for this very nice little romance. The problem is, the book is only half done, and there’s little to carry the other 100 or so pages. Jackson and Taylor deepen their relationship, and he’s delighted with the sex. The father rears his ugly head but is soon dispatched. The only thing left is the creaky “I’ll never love again after my cheating bitch of an ex-wife killed all my feelings”, but since Taylor is so patently not the evil Bonnie, it’s sheer stubbornness on Jackson’s part and not very interesting.

Taylor is competent and sensible; Jackson, other than his insistence that he can’t love again, is endearing in his protectiveness of Taylor. And Nalini Singh doesn’t hesitate to turn up the heat on their love scenes.

The story is set in Auckland, New Zealand, a nice change for American readers who are tired of U.S. settings. Awaken to Pleasure certainly fits the bill as a moderately steamy romance about two people who are interested in each other right from the start. Readers who enjoy stories where the focus is on a deepening love will find this a nice summer treat.

--Cathy Sova

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