by Loretta Chase, historical (2009)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-163266-2
Twelve years ago, Lord Lexham took his family on a trip to visit the Mediterranean region. Somewhere in Egypt, Zoe Octavia Lexham, used to running wild like a hoyden, disappeared. Since then, there had been impostors showing up at the Lexham doorstep in London on a regular basis, but when the story opens, in 1818, it seems that the real Zoe has finally come home.
Our hero, Lucien de Grey, is a bored nobleman with some obligatory angst. Bored with dealing with the bats in his belfry, he decides to amuse himself by exposing this latest Zoe as a fraud. As someone who was taken in by Zoe's father when he was a kid, he'd like to believe that he will know an impostor if he sees one. Still, it takes only one glance at her for him to believe that she's the real deal. To his dismay, not only is he attracted to Zoe, she also claims to be a former harem girl who can make him a very happy person. Don't worry, genteel readers - she's still a virgin where it counts, thanks to an impotent Pasha. On the other hand, she's been trained in other ways to give pleasure, so she's just a technical virgin, heh.
All he has to do to experience the delights of exotic Middle-Eastern love kung-fu is to marry her and stand by her so that she can integrate herself back into society. After all, Zoe is completely ruined given her experiences in Egypt, so she could use all the help she can get. Her own sisters would see her banished in some remote corner of the world if they have their way, so that their own standing in society would not be dragged into the gutter along with hers. Since she has waited this long for freedom, Zoe is not willing to be banished from society this soon, hence her proposal to Lucien, a Duke and therefore one of the highest-ranked folks in town.
Don't Tempt Me sees Lucien declining Zoe's offer (even after she's brought up her amazing skills at eunuch management), which is necessary or else the story would have ended there and then. He offers to use his influence and social cachet to help her regain her place in society, but you know things are when they start seeing more of each other.
Don't Tempt Me is a hoot to read. On paper, Zoe may seem like a very stereotypical "feisty virgin with experience" heroine, but in this story, Ms Chase makes what could have been a familiar character an adorable and admirable heroine instead. Seriously, I find Zoe a very likable heroine. I like her resilience and willpower. A part of me feels that she's probably too sanguine considering the fact that she had been kidnapped when she was twelve and spent the following years being held captive in a harem and the whole "I know exotic tricks from Middle-East, so me love you long, long time!" aspect of the heroine's shtick tends to cheapen her ordeals in that harem, but still, I'd take a smart heroine who will go after what she wants over a weepy martyr any time.
The hero is more familiar. His emotional baggage is very similar to some of the previous heroes of this author, so in a way it seems as if Ms Chase has done some recycling here. However, Lucien has great chemistry with Zoe. He's also a nice change from the over-the-top oversexed rakes that he borrowed his issues from. Lucien has his own strong sense of honor, and unlike those guys he borrowed his shtick from, he isn't a hypocrite with Madonna/Whore complex where women are concerned. He and Zoe bring out the best from each other and I have a great time laughing with them.
The story, however, tends to fizzle out slightly in its late third or so, as Ms Chase begins to utilize some really familiar plot devices to keep her characters from getting a happily ever after sooner. One particular plot twist that irks me is the one where Zoe starts making bizarre and very wrong assumptions about Lucien's qualification as a husband. This one may serve its purpose in stretching the story for another dozen or so pages, but it also makes me wonder how blind to the obvious Zoe can be and also, whether this romance will even last if she can spend so much time with him, sleep with him, and still think so poorly of him. I always feel frustrated when authors use plot devices that end up putting their main characters' relationship back instead of forward, sigh.
Don't Tempt Me is a fun and enjoyable romance from Loretta Chase, all things considered. Still, some elements of the story do feel a little too obviously recycled from previous efforts by this author, while there are also a few twists and turns in the plot that I feel are more like token concessions to the formula rather than natural progression in the plot. As a result, I'd say that this is a fun book, but it lacks the gut-punch "Wow! This is really something!" oomph factor of some of Ms Chase's greatest hits in the past.
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