by Shelley Bradley, historical (2000)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-6467-5
I hate putting down an author's debut effort. Everyone fumbles through his or her first time, and I guess it's no different when it comes to writing first-times. When One Wicked Night finally reveals its secret agenda by Chapter Four - a Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery preachfest never seen since Marie Corelli's writing career rightfully tanked big time, all delivered by one of the whiniest, wimpiest, and most uncharismatic windbag of a romance heroine ever, I can't muster a fake smile and say I have a great time either.
Serena Boyce, like so many Virtuous Buffoons in Regency romances, is married to a Much Older Coot who can't get it up. "Is it my fault? Have I done something to displease you?" however is Serena's theme song as she tries her best to arouse her husband. (Of course, she never tries anything remotely dirty like using her mouth or hands - remember, he's eeeuuuuuwwww-old, and she's a heroine - no skanky non-missionary pumpies please, we're Regency Anglophiles.) Her husband, who must have read Jo Beverley's Secrets Of The Night (he married a ninny just as lachrymosal, for one), asks her to find a muscular stud who can get his bazooka up and whose manly seed is much more potent than his to make babies with.
Serena is aghast. She's to... like, have fun sex? Adultery? But she doesn't want to be like her skanky momma! But oh, the thought of sweet plump babies in her arms brings tears to her eyes! And besides, if she doesn't pop some babies out, her husband's monies will all go to a scumbag nephew. Aha - the last reason gives Serena an excuse to have sex for the sake of mankind, so she goes looking for a stud.
"No! I can't do it! It's so wrong! I don't wanna be like my mommy! - Boy, that guy there looks hot... No! I'm turning into my mommy! I hate this! I'm a skank! God, nice breeches... NOOO!!! I'm lusting after him! I'm an evil woman! Noooo!... Nice package, wowee..."
The nice package belongs to Lucien, some bigwig Marquess who comes with the usual Bad Wifey baggages. They do the pumpies, she all but slashes her wrists in guilt ("I'm a SLUT!!!! I HAD AN ORGASM!!! I'm A BAD BAD BAD WOMAN! OOOOH WAAAA!"), and ta-da, the nasty nephew murders her husband. She and Lucien marry, but can Lucien forgive her deception? (After all, we all know when a man gets an erection, it's always the skanky ho's fault.) Can Serena forgive herself for enjoying her orgasm?
Frankly, whatever historical accuracy about Puritanical heroines aside, Serena is ridiculously overwrought. She is at the brink of mental hysteria all the time, misreading every action of Lucien's as some horrible slight from her on him, imagining all the silly reasons she has done to displease her man, and whipping herself bloody for Not Pleasing Her Man. Oh, and for enjoying her sex. The hand-wringing, hen-like clucking, and addlepated things she do in the name of Martyrhood and Pleasing Her Man more often than not make me want to bash my head against the wall - anything to stop Serena's keening wails in my head - oh God, make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!
Oh, and the nasty killer? Talk about Scumbag Viagra - he keeps coming and coming and coming and coming - and I'm not talking about his sex prowess, unfortunately.
If the story has concentrated on Lucien and Serena sitting down and talk and try to compromise a decent marriage, and if the story has had Serena opening up to Lucien and they both unite and crush that scumbag villain together, One Wicked Night might have been a decent read. But no, it has to have all these annoying, painful little silent treatments, annoying misunderstandings, silly people blaming everybody for their problems, and other irritating problems that stretch on and on. If only Lucien has stuffed a pillow into Serena's babble mouth, really.
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