A Lady's Pleasure
by Renee Bernard, historical (2006)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 1-4165-2420-7


I know Renee Bernard is a new author and therefore it is understandable if she comes off too much as if she's emulating Robin Schone or Cheryl Holt at times in her debut spicy historical romance A Lady's Pleasure. But can I request that she never ever uses "creme" as an euphemism for the hero's you-know-what ever again? I sometimes read while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and it's not the most edifying experience to come across a man's "creme" blasting all over the place.

The plot can get too circuitous at times so please bear with me. Merriam Everett is one of those "only in romance novels" creatures who is considered plain until she dons a hot costume one night and turns into a va-va-voom Miss Thang. She is dressed up to take revenge on a man that she has once heard slighting her to a friend years ago. I suppose it is possible that Merriam the Mouse is not popular because she's plain and not because she's a weird person. However, she ends up seducing not her target Julian Clay but Drake Sotherton. Personally I wonder how having sex with a guy and keeping that knowledge to herself is considered a form of revenge, especially since I doubt men would get mortally heartbroken when a hot one-night-stand vanishes on them, but by this point I've stopped expecting signs of intelligent life in this story.

Drake believes that Julian is responsible for the death of his wife. Poor Drake, he's not even in the country when his wife was murdered but everyone suspected that he's the murderer. Maybe he killed her using his amazing telepathic powers or something. The clearly alliteratively-handicapped Ton calls him the Deadly Duke ever since. After having discharged his deadly creme into Merriam, he decides that since he believes Merriam is a mistress to Julian or at least has some dealings with that man, he'll get her to be his mistress and lure Julian out. Or something. At this point I'll be really shocked if I do come across signs of intelligent life in this story.

The plot borders on ridiculous farce sometimes but unfortunately Ms Bernard doesn't seem to be aware of the sillier aspects of her plot. The plot relies too much on Drake jumping into wrong conclusions about Merriam and Julian. The writing needs some tightening up with the sillier aspects of it - the creme and some other cringe-inducing euphemisms in the love scenes, the really ridiculous "Deadly Duke" thing, for example - discarded with extreme prejudice. This is not the book to read if you are looking for a well-written plot.

However, I must say I find myself surprisingly charmed by the silly main characters. Yes, Merriam is such a daft cow at times but she nonetheless isn't that much of a daft cow. I know, it's hard to believe that considering how Merriam can end up sleeping with the wrong man in the first 100 pages of the story, but as the story progresses, Merriam doesn't turn out to be that bad after all. She wants an adventure of a lifetime but she's going into one with her eyes wide open, for one, and she has enough self-awareness to realize that ultimately she's not cut out to play the field. Drake is pretty daft too as he keeps making all these bizarre conclusions about things in this story but his treatment of Merriam is pretty fair and benign, all things considered. Plus, he also grovels so nicely at the end, heh. These two daft cows have some pretty scorching sexual chemistry going on despite the creme thing and all.

A Lady's Pleasure isn't the most well-written story around but I must say I am certainly not bored when I'm reading it. The weaknesses in the story are more campy than excruciating, I find, and the main characters are ultimately likable with their silliness amusing in a harmless way rather than toxic. I will be quite interested to see where the author will go from here.

Rating: 73


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