by Jennifer Haymore, historical (2010)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54028-5
Wait, is it Christmas already? Honestly, A Season Of Seduction has very little to do with Christmas. The story just happens to conclude by Christmas. But misleading titles, cover arts, and other elements of the packaging shouldn't come as a surprise to long-time readers of the romance genre, surely.
Lady Rebecca Fisk is now a widow. You don't have to read the previous two books by this author to figure out Becky's story, by the way. Her previous marriage was an unhappy one, but now that she had met Mr Jack Fulton and shared a passionate kiss with him, she decides at the start of this story to have an affair with him. It is pretty clear that she is incapable of having a simple affair because Becky is exactly the kind of woman who cannot disengage her heart from such activities, but of course, she doesn't realize that. Jack seems more than happy to oblige her in having an affair, but he deliberately sets her up so that her brother will discover them the morning after. Why does he do that? Well, he needs Becky's money. He is being blackmailed for a dire reason, so it's do or die that he gets his hands on the money he needs by Christmas. Becky doesn't know this, and for the first two-thirds of this book, she happily allows herself to believe that she is falling in love with the man of her dreams. You can imagine what happens when she discovers the truth.
Of course, Jack adores her. He is very reluctant to mislead her, and while I'm personally not sure that he has to do what he does to get his hands on the money, he comes off as a sympathetic guy whose hand is forced rather than some cold-hearted conniving liar. He actually treats her very well and it's pretty clear quickly that he's a complete goner where Becky is concerned. Jack is a good example of a sympathetic hero who is forced to play the villain when it's clear that his heart is never in it. I also like the fact that he doesn't resort to the tired old clichéd behavior of dumping the heroine for her own good. Once the dust has cleared, he is willing to fight for a fresh start at a happily ever after with Becky.
Becky, on the other hand, is a bit on the brown cow side. She falls for Jack way too easily, so in a way, she is asking for the heartbreak because she happily trips into Jack's trap without stepping back and wondering whether something is amiss. It doesn't help that she discovers Jack's motivation to marry her in a classic clichéd scene where she eavesdrop enough to conclude that he is a liar, a conclusion that she'd know is not entirely true if she had only stayed on to listen a little bit more. And even then, like the brown cow who seems incapable of thinking and analyzing a situation, she overreacts in exactly the wrong manner - running away instead of confronting the man. Poor Becky, not only is she a rather silly cow more visceral than intellectual, most of the more clichéd aspects of the story arise from her actions and motivations. As a result, while poor Jack comes off as a rather sympathetic hero, Becky comes off as another boring example of a stereotypical romance heroine who doesn't really know what she wants but she is happy to pull the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test on the man all the same.
The story isn't too surprising. I suspect that readers who are new to the series will quickly guess Jack's reasons for marrying Becky long before the grand revelation. The timing of the grand revelation is predictable, as is the heroine's reaction to the revelation. It is Jack's decision to fight for a chance at keeping Becky's love instead of running away that keeps the more dramatic last few chapters from being too predictable. These last few chapters also manage to pack an unexpected emotional punch where I am concerned, which is a pleasant surprise considering how unsurprising the story leading up to that point has been.
All things considered, A Season Of Seduction is a most readable story. The strong element of familiarity prevents me from becoming more emotionally engaged with the story, but the narrative, pacing, and the solid payoff come together nicely to make this a still entertaining read all the same.
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