by Lori Foster, contemporary (2004)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7513-8
Lori Foster's When Bruce Met Cyn... has a very interesting heroine. Cynthia Potter was a teenaged runaway who survived on the streets by selling herself. Ms Foster doesn't pull some contrived trick to whitewash the heroine's past too much in order to appease readers who will be right now moaning in pain because there are no virgins in their romance novels today. That's nice. Unfortunately, she then uses Cyn's past as an excuse for Cyn to pull off some stupid stunts.
The problem here is that the hero, Bruce Kelly, is a minister. And no, he doesn't behave at all like a minister. At least, not the kind of minister that we would all want to know - the nice, pious kind. While Ms Foster doesn't make too many concessions to romance novel formula where the heroine is concerned, she cops out where the hero is concerned. The result is a story that is unfortunately not too convincing on the whole.
Bruce Kelly, our hero, is doing the "being bad" thing where we last left off in the previous book starring his twin brother, The Secret Life Of Bryan. The problem is, I don't really have a firm grasp as to why he wants to do all this. God barely factors in his decisions. He stumbles upon Cyn fending off a horny trucker during a stopover at a trucker pit stop, helps her, and offers her a ride in his car. Their encounter stretches into an intimate relationship when Bruce learns of Cyn's past. He can't just leave her at her stop, Visitation in North Carolina, when it's apparent that Cyn's life may be in danger.
Cyn may have survived living on the streets but she develops a very thin skin, pulling the self-esteem card at the most inconvenient moments. A little of that is understandable, but Cyn allows herself to be a victim too much for my liking. Come to think of it, maybe Mary Balogh fans would appreciate her more. Bruce is a total enigma. He's a gentleman. He wants to marry Cyn but you know how romance heroines like Cyn could be. At the same time, he isn't above heavy petting and moving to second base with Cyn. While reading about Bruce's amazing wunderkind mouth doing amazing things to Cyn, I can't help wondering - apart from whether they teach these things to aspiring ministers in the seminary - what his God will be thinking when He looks down the clouds and sees his minister doing the Lewinsky with sweet little Cyn outside the sanctity of marriage. Maybe God is a Democrat?
I am reminded of a 1992 Loveswept by Olivia Rupprecht, Saints And Sinners, which features a man of cloth falling for a woman in distress. Unlike Bruce, I have a clear understanding of why the hero of Saints And Sinners behaves the way he does: he has a crisis of faith. While the book isn't preachy, at least there is a mention of how faith - or the lack of it - plays a role in Sam's decisions. On the other hand, Bruce, apart from the token mention of him being a minister, can easily be a cowboy, a plumber, or a trucker. It is possible to write about faith without alienating readers and I wish Ms Foster has done so. Bruce Kelly is just another interchangeable hero of hers.
I'd like to think that we haven't reached a stage where a non-virgin heroine who has done some unsavory things in her past is automatically considered a shocking and controversial anomaly. When Bruce Met Cyn... is actually a straightforward tale of redemption of a fallen woman story. But without the hero's character defined more strongly, this book loses a chance at becoming more interesting than it actually is. And with the heroine apologizing too much for her past, she definitely makes the story more conventional than it should be.
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