Tempted By Your Touch
by Jen Holling, historical (2002)
Sonnet, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3802-7


Jen Holling's Pocket debut (she used to write for Harper) is also the start of a trilogy called Brides Of The Bloodstone. The whole trilogy revolves around a supposedly magical gem that is being chased by baddies and for some reason, just keeps dragging our poor hero and heroine into the mess. Tempted By Your Touch is the story of the eldest stepdaughter of this woman who supposedly the guardian of the Bloodstone.

The heroine's name is Caroline Graham. She is English. Naturally her brother/guardian Ridley is evil, nasty, and lecherous (he lusts after his stepmother, Mona). He has kidnapped a kinsman of Robert Maxwell, who is Scots, and demanded a ransom that the poor Robert cannot pay. In return for Patrick's return, Robert will marry a Graham daughter. Ridley sends Caroline, known as the Pious Graham Mare, to Robert.

Of course, Ridley has no plans to return Patrick, he wants the Bloodstone, and he plots Evil. The poor Scotsmen, who just indulge in harmless, innocent fun like reiving, looting, and killing their enemies, will have to find a way to thwart this Great Evil who just wants a silly gem - how dastardly! - so that their peaceful and virtuous lives will go on and on forever, screw the English buggers.

The Mare, of course, doesn't want to be married, so she makes an agreement with Robert. Something about hand-fastening, after a year they will annul the whole thing and she will enter a convent, et cetera. Naturally, the Mare will soon be changing her mind... oh, somewhere near the ending. See, that's why she's the Mare.

And that's the trouble with this story. The Mare. Of all the things going on here - feuds, danger, betrayals, and other jolly good stuff, she is preoccupied with one thing only: driving Robert away at arm's length and second guessing her man. What is exasperating is that Robert is nice to her. Unbelievably nice and understanding, some may say. So understanding that instead of pulling her ears off when she talks about her unsuitability and refusal to wed (because look, she is an impudent wench and so absolutely no men - none, uh uh - will want her) he agrees and tells her that okay, it's a deal... if she can resist his wooing, that is. A man's life is at stake, but the Mare here is so intent on believing that she is too good for any man that she loses focus on what is happening around her. Worse, this story has to focus on that. It's not interesting.

Why is the Mare so intent on believing that Robert doesn't want her when it's so obvious that he does? The author's attempt to explain this as part of poor Mare's sad, loveless upbringing doesn't gel. Robert is so patient and nice to her it's like watching a martyr being trampled by a silly mare. Because the Mare is so eager to expose her stupidity, the whole middle section of this story is vapid want-don't-want running around in circles. The hint of a romance between Patrick and Mona offer no respite.

The last third of this story is exciting though as betrayals and intrigue and danger start to galvanize into action. But all this excitement only highlights the fact that if the Mare has a clue, maybe this story could have been a less annoying read and the heroine a less childish person. Robert and Mona has little chemistry because he is too busy "understanding" her, and while this book is nothing less than pleasant and readable, it just doesn't rise above being just another okay book. Damn that Mare!

Rating: 70


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