Always A Temptress
by Eileen Dreyer, historical (2011)
Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54205-0


Compared to the brutally stupid heroes from the previous two books in the author's imaginatively named Drake's Rakes series, Sir Harry Lidge in this book is the catch of the century. Sure, he only spends half the book doing his worst to punish Kate Seaton for her sins, most of which exist only in his head, but at least he didn't cast her pregnant self out of the house and let her miscarry on her own, or openly betray her with a mistress and humiliate her in the name of doing his duty to the Crown. But ah, they have forever ahead of them - plenty of time for Harry to revert to his old self and make life hell for the wife because he believes that she is cheating on him with a milk bottle or something.

Years ago, Harry thought he was in love with Kate. Well, he was told by her father that she was carrying another man's child and decided to join the Army. Kate's father lied, of course, and Kate was even abused by the man that she eventually was forced to marry. But to Harry, Kate is a whore. She is responsible for making him fall in love with her, then being such a whore, and even making him join the Army. Everything, even decisions that he made on his own, is her fault. So, when this story opens, on a very flimsy pretext that she may be a French spy, Harry kidnaps her - hauls her, practically, into his "hospitality" and proceeds to try to make her life hell for, you know, being a whore. The thing is, all this "You are such a whore, you whore-y whore!" nonsense can be settled if he would just talk to Kate. In fact, he has so many evidences before his eyes that Kate is not the whore he made her up to be in his deepest fantasies, but Harry is too adamant at punishing her to see sense for almost the first half of the book.

Sure, later he realizes what is happening - the last to know, as always - and proceeds to save Kate, but that's just another way this story is so contrived. The initial Harry-hates-the-whore drama is contrived enough because it's a stupid conflict caused by the hero's idiocy that is wildly at odds with what he is supposed to be like, and the second half only adds to the artificial flavor of this story. Kate has a million problems that can only be solved by marrying Harry, so all these problems come off as a set of convenient plot device to make sure that Kate has no way of breaking free of Harry even if she wants to.

Poor Kate, therefore, is set up to be tortured by the hero in the first half, only to be then tortured by various other secondary characters in a manner that only the hero can save her. She never really has any choice in this story. The author may as well stamp "Property of Harry the Buffoon" on Kate's rear end because that's what she is created to be in such an obvious and transparent manner.

And my problem with this story, apart from Harry being an ass, is how the author happily designates Drake's Rakes as "some of the best minds available to pit against a band of traitors intent on toppling the government". Well, in one book, there is a hero who stupidly listens to a relative's advice and kicks his pregnant wife out of the house, letting her miscarry and live the next few years alone, in poverty, and in shame. Then we have another hero who doesn't even consider the wrongness of a plan where he's supposed to openly betray the wife, have sex with his old mistress, and generally drag the wife's reputation and dignity into the mud - he just jumps right ahead and sticks his pee-pee into his old mistress with suspiciously eager gusto. And then we have Harry, an overly emotional idiot who spends 10 years building up Kate to the biggest whore in the history of whoredom, when any "best mind" would have suspected from the beginning that things may not be what they appear to be at first. And in this story, first, there is a French spy that manages to crash into a wedding party attended by our supposedly capable Drake's Rakes, and it's all downhill from there as the villain shows no difficulty in getting past the defenses of these Drake's Rakes and get to the heroine.

Kate is generally a decent heroine, but she's on her own here since Harry is too mired in his own self-absorbed pity party for one, so perhaps I can excuse some of her more questionable antics that place her in the villain's clutches. Heaven knows, compared to Harry, supposedly one of the best minds in London, she seems to have an actual working brain in her head. She should have ditched these jokers and form her own group of hot spy boys, Kate's Dates or something.

Oh, and I almost forgot: this book is not a good place to start if you are new to the series. This book is full of pointless points of view from secondary characters that add nothing to the story other than "Buy my book!" messages, and there were moments when I thought I was reading a Kimani romance because of the way the story keeps going off to showcase secondary characters at the cost of the momentum of the main story line.

At any rate, the take home message of this tragic misfire of a book is this: Eileen Dreyer should seriously consider ditching this historical spy gig since she's doing everything wrong. How about a nice cozy historical romance featuring a more traditional rake and a bluestocking? It's really disconcerting to keep reading stories where the "smartest spies in the country" keep displaying barely functional brainpower, demonstrating that the only thing they are really good at is making life pure hell for the women they supposedly love.

Rating: 49


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