A Rogue's Pleasure

My Lord Jack by Hope Tarr
(Jove, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13339-6
My Lord Jack begins with a refreshingly original premise (sexually experienced courtesan falls for loner sworn to celibacy). Unfortunately the author then ransacks the Romance Handbook for clichés and tired conventions, and shovels them on until originality smothers to death.

Claudia Valemont has fled revolutionary France and the guillotine with little more than the clothes on her back. The bastard daughter of a French courtesan and a Scottish earl, Claudia followed in her mother’s footsteps but, after seeing her “protector” beheaded, headed for Scotland in the hope her father would be glad to see her.

The coach breaks down just hours from the earl’s hunting lodge and, unable to afford a room and a meal during the overnight delay, Claudia does what every cardboard romance heroine does when she’s homeless, friendless, penniless and in a strange country. She gets snotty with everyone who might help her.

Because she is a romance heroine, however, her reward is to be rescued from the drunken advances of Callum McBride by Callum’s illegitimate half brother, Jack. Jack pays for a room, orders her a bath and a meal and then, despite the fact that she has extremely attractive breasts, makes no demands but leaves her in the care of a friendly barmaid. It’s not an act - he really is a decent guy.

Although now safe and comfortable, Claudia decides she simply can’t manage the last few miles of her journey without a protector and sallies back out into the rainy night to offer Jack the honor. When he declines, rather than return to her warm room Claudia concludes that her only recourse is to steal a horse. Demonstrating a consistent level of intelligence, Claudia tries to steal a horse that’s wearing bells.

Naturally, she’s caught before she can even mount the jingling nag and sentenced to hang for theft. At her trial, however, the hangman (who turns out to be the handsome and now guilt-ridden Jack) speaks out on her behalf and the death sentence is commuted to six months of servitude - to Jack. The court decrees that he may beat her once a week whether she needs it or not, and if she tries to escape and is recaptured, it’s the noose for sure.

Naturally Claudia determines to escape at the first opportunity.

Jack is in turmoil. Not only does she have fabulous breasts, but within minutes of meeting her, this isolated, celibate virgin somehow knows that what he feels is “no simple lust…lurking beneath its surface was the drive to shelter and defend, to comfort and heal.” Maybe he read it on her chest. Anyway, he’s safe for the moment because when they get to Jack’s cottage the courtesan who recently offered herself to him on a platter regresses into an outraged virgin. (“Do not think to lay so much as a hand on me, for if you do I will scratch out your eyes!”) Not exactly “thanks for saving my life, big guy.”

An even bigger problem is that Jack and Claudia revert to stereotype just as soon as the author can arrange it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that after seven years as the sexual toy of a degenerate, she’s retained her inner innocence because she never experienced Pleasure with him. So, really, it’s like this is her first time.

For his part, Jack gives up a lifetime commitment to celibacy with scarcely a second thought to have sex with a woman he doesn’t trust but who has really amazing breasts. Yep, sounds like love to me. Not only that, but from the very first he is so “instinctively” adept a lover that in short order “he was engaging in love play with the finesse of an accomplished seducer.” Actually, I’m dying to know which “instinct” it was that directed him to her “hard little nubbin” the very first time - without so much as a hint from Claudia. Talk about fantasies.

Were a sexually experienced woman and a chaste man really so terrifying to deal with that they had to jump through all those hoops just to get back to the male superior position? I don’t have the answer and, unfortunately, neither does this book.

--Judi McKee

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