by Wendy Lindstrom, historical (2005)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5506-6
Poor Wendy Lindstrom finally finds a home for the third book of her Grayson brothers series in Leisure after St Martin's and who knows how many other houses had told her, no doubt, that Westerns and Americanas don't sell according to their infinite wisdom. The title of this book, Lips That Touch Mine, has a very nice ring to it, and it's an apt title seeing that the author makes the Temperance Movement of Fredonia a main part of the backdrop for this story.
Boyd Grayson seems from all appearances a veritable happy-go-lucky man. He runs the popular watering hole, the Pemberton Inn, where men gather at evenings to gamble, drink, and arm-wrestle. Claire Ashier, however, is not pleased. The noise and the frequent brawls in that watering hole drive away the clients of her own boardinghouse across the street and as a result, she is truly at the bottom of the barrel where her finances are concerned.
A widow, she came to Fredonia with an invented past while hoping to start life anew. In truth, she has escaped a nasty husband that she married against her parents' wishes - the same old drill, really. Claire decides to bring Dr Dio Lewis, one of the premier speakers against the evils of alcoholism, to town and hopefully get people to band together and cut down on alcohol consumption in Fredonia. She's not purely selfish in her motivations though - she truly believes that alcohol is evil as her late husband is an alcoholic among his many myriad stereotypical sins. Her actions cause someone to send her threatening letters and Boyd finds himself watching over this beautiful woman that kindles gallant intentions in him. There are other familiar subplots such as a woman on the run from her violent husband as well.
Lips That Touch Mine is a readable story with many familiar aspects in the story to readers familiar with the Americana subgenre. Boyd is an appealing hero although when the reason of his angst is revealed, it's quite anticlimatic and even mundane after all that build-up the author has done in the story. I like the fact that while Boyd may be the typical "experienced" hero with a sexual history that can fill up at least two little black books, he views his past lovers with fondness. He's not some too-tortured loser having sex with skanky women because he's So Tortured That Way, he's just a guy who enjoys his dalliances and views the women of his past as human beings and not notches on his bedpost. His gallantry and protectiveness of Claire are very nicely done indeed, as is his willingness to humor the heroine without mocking her or worse, taking advantage of her gullibility.
Claire is the biggest source of my discontentment of this story. She starts out a classic nincompoop, waving a gun left and right like she's some bloody princess but when she is faced with a villain, she insists that she just cannot shoot anyone, no matter how evil that someone is. If Boyd doesn't perform that timely rescue romance heroes tend to do around idiot heroines, she would be dead. She undergoes a credible metamorphosis into a more emotionally mature heroine during the progress of the story, but contrary to Ms Lindstrom's insisting that Claire is on her way to becoming an independent woman, Boyd is actually the one who catalyzes all the changes in Claire's personality. Claire is passive and even helpless in this story and without the hero supporting and protecting her every way to the end, she may not even survive the story. Claire is really that weak a heroine.
Several aspects of the plot stand out as too-obvious contrivances, such as how Boyd and his brothers have this amazing blind spot where the villain is concerned, or Claire's discovering the always-handy Journal From A Dead Granny where Granny chronicles her adulterous stint and Claire realizes that it is very important to Love Your True Love. The irony of Claire who goes from hating her late husband for his adulterous ways to cheering her grandmother on as she cheated on her husband with this True Love of hers (with some token "I feel sad for the wife of Granny's Lover But... Go, Granny!" feelings, naturally) seems to go unnoticed by the author.
Despite plot issues and my feelings of dissatisfaction at Claire owing too much of her character growth to the hero, Lips That Touch Mine is a pleasant read featuring a very nicely-written hero and a heroine who, while weak, brings out the best from him. This could have been a better book, but at the same time, it's good enough as it is to provide an entertaining few hours of drama and romance.
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