Phantom's Touch
by Julie Leto, paranormal (2008)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22490-3


While you could attempt to read Phantom's Touch as a standalone story, I'd suggest that you read Pleasure Pleasures first because the plot of this story is tied closely to that in the previous story. In fact, this story contains spoilers for the previous story. If you want to read the previous book and haven't done so, please be a dear and press the back button on your browser.

Aiden Forsyth is the brother of the hero of the previous book, and in the mission to save their sister from a dastardly villain in the Gypsy settlement of Valoren back in 1747, Aiden happened to touch a sword during the chaos and, before he knew it, he was trapped in that thing. Bad guy 2, Forsyth brothers 0. Cut to today, where the sword falls into the hands of our heroine Lauren Cole.

Lauren has found success playing a Xena-like Athena, Warrior Goddess, in a few action-adventure movies. Those movies are a success - hey, this is fiction, so don't look at me like that - and catapults Lauren to fame overnight. Alas, when this story opens, Lauren has finally divorced her Tommy Mottola-like husband, Ross Marchand, and, in a show of defiance, has stolen this sword from her ex-husband. It's petty, so bear with me: Lauren has loved this sword since she saw it in some antique store in Germany, and her husband bought it for her, only to then changed his mind later and had the sword put in display in a glass case at their home. Lauren wanted to use that sword as a prop in her latest Athena movie and if she can tape herself doing some stab-you-to-death-bitch stunt with the sword and tape it, she's certain that she can convince Ross to let her use the sword.

Only, she ends up triggering the release of Aiden from the sword. And because it is every woman's secret fantasy to make love to a man who just popped out from a sword and told her a tale about magic, evil wizards, and what not, Lauren and Aiden are soon making a different kind of tape, one that would make Paris Hilton blush and avert her eyes. Hesitation? Any worry that Aiden may be crazy? Nah, as if there is any remote possibility that this fellow is delusional - haven't you read those Ellora's Cave stories about giant penises from outer space coming to make women in this world deliriously happy? Clearly, Lauren knows where the party is at, people.

As you can tell, I have a hard time getting myself into that right frame of mind to take this story seriously. The fact that Lauren is so willing to have sex with Aiden when the man shows up in a manner that is unorthodox, to say the least, has me thinking that this must be some kind of story where titillation comes first and everything else second. And yet, there is some sober plot progression here as well. Phantom's Touch, therefore, is half campy and riddled with sex under bizarre circumstances and half serious with genuine effort made to advance the storyline and develop the characters at least two-dimensionally. I have some difficulties reconciling these two halves.

Even more disappointing is the character of Lauren. She starts out as this tough woman who has survived the streets to make something out of herself, but she soon mutates into this neurotic and emotionally needy woman who is constantly whining about her past. When Lauren is not injured and has to be nursed back into health, she's acting like a neurotic twit paralyzed by her inability to move on from the past. And it's not like she's a tragic heroine. Her ex-husband helped her escape the streets, nurtured her career, and provided her with some luxuries that many people couldn't afford. Sure, Lauren says that she had lost her pride while living under the thumb of her manipulative Svengali of a husband, but since she now has a flourishing career, loyal friends, money, and security, excuse me if I roll up my eyes at her insistence that a runaway kid she met when she was 18 should have helped her run away from Ross all those years ago. Where would she be, then, if she had run away with that kid? Prostituting herself for crack money and overdosing to death like her mother?

No, call me a hard-hearted ogre, but I have little patience for Lauren's constant moping about how terrible her life is and how meeting Ross was apparently the worst thing that happened in her life. This is one heroine who is in need of a reality bitch slap because her whining attitude here is not appealing nor sympathetic at all. Some people have no idea how lucky they are, I tell you. Shut up, Lauren, and choke on those bling-bling, bitch.

Okay, so Lauren drives me nuts with her ridiculous melodramatic "My life is tragic!" whining and the sex scenes are something straight out of a more campy smutty story than anything else, but Phantom's Touch manages to remain a very readable story despite these two annoying problems. The story moves at a brisk pace and the mystery of what happened in Valoren back in 1747 has me intrigued. The romance is boring because Lauren is a crybaby wimp, but the plot revolving around Valoren and the cultists hoping to master the dark arts that led to Valoren's disappearance is definitely an interesting read.

An engaging and interesting story, but a boring romance - that sums up Phantom's Touch in a nutshell for me.

Rating: 79


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