by Cathy Maxwell, historical (2008)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-135098-6
A Seduction At Christmas has a very, very, very horrible first half. There is so much rampant stupidity on the heroine's part and slimy behavior on the hero's part that I don't know where to look. The second half fortunately is much more readable, but getting there requires considerable patience and teeth-grinding on my part.
Genteel Scots lady Fiona Lachlan didn't follow her brother and his wife to America, choosing instead of settle in London. As you can expect when you leave a romance heroine to her own devices, Fiona is not faring well. Our former seamstress is currently without a job and she is having problems paying her landlady. Still, she has enough time to cut off her friend when this friend decides to work at the theater. Fiona is too high class to consort with fallen women, you see. This explains why when the story opens she decides to accept a job with a fallen woman on a friend's behalf. All Fiona has to do is to play the willing wench to that woman's ex-boyfriend in a rendezvous in an inn, slip a potion into that man's drink, and get twenty pounds for her effort. Alas, things go wrong when the wrong man shows up in the room.
While Fiona doesn't like to be touched because she was a rape victim and also because she thinks she is too high class for disgusting things like sex, Dominic "Nick" Lynsted merely has to paw at her chest and munch at her lips for her to come this close to giving away her whole dairy mill for free. Alas, then men start showing up with guns and all, causing Nick and Fiona to be on the run.
Confused by the synopsis? I haven't yet mentioned the paranormal elements involving Greek hags, a missing ring that Nick spends his life chasing after, and Nick's family drama. Basically, Nick is chasing after a lost ring and somehow Fiona manages to be dragged into his mess by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the way, Fiona realizes that Nick is hot and therefore is worthy of her love while Nick realizes that Fiona is the only person who believes in him and therefore he would love to marry her. After all, she's like the mother he has always wanted and the easy woman who puts out without requiring payment all rolled into one. What more can a man ask for?
The first half is, as I've said, an excruciating read. Fiona behaves like a complete hypocrite, judging other women for their supposedly low morals even as she is too weak-willed to prevent herself from responding to Nick's crude pawing and slobbering. She is also a twit. My favorite scene is the one where she tells the coach driver not to leave, warning him that she will not pay him with the money she has left on the seat of the coach if she comes back and the coachman isn't waiting for her. As you can predict, the coachman can't leave fast enough the moment Fiona is out of his sight. Nick, meanwhile, is a slobbering Neanderthal who thinks with the small head in his pants. Everything about him seems dirty, skanky, and disagreeable. It says a lot about Fiona's intelligence that she always comes close to putting out to him when he treats her like a piece of meat.
The second half, once these two have finally consummated their trashy attraction to each other, sees these two characters magically morphing into completely different people. Fiona becomes much more intelligent and self aware, becoming the perfect comforting mother figure and sex object to Nick, while Nick morphs into an unexpectedly sympathetic woobie who is just looking for someone to understand him and believe in him. While I am generally not a fan of abrupt switches in personalities, here I am all for UFOs kidnapping these two characters and replacing them with these two new and improved characters because they make the second half of the story much more bearable to read.
Still, as satisfying as the emotional resonance in this relationship can be, I am rather confused by the message Ms Maxwell is trying to tell me. Yes, I agree that poor Nick feels let down by the fact that people tend to believe that he is an irresponsible good-for-nothing wastrel... but the thing is, Nick is an irresponsible good-for-nothing wastrel in the first few chapters of this story. So it is not as if the other characters' lack of faith in Nick is not justified. Fiona is different - she blindly believes in Nick because she's an idiot who puts out to the first hot guy that catches her fancy. There is a dissonance between Nick's angst and what I am shown in the story. I'm more inclined to side with Nick's enemies - Nick didn't get the respect he feels he deserves because he hasn't done anything to earn it. The fact that he wasted his life gambling to make a living and spending his free time chasing after a ring instead of doing anything productive as befitting his title of the Duke of Holburn only reinforces my low opinion of him.
A Seduction At Christmas at the end of the day is a very problematic story. The pay-off is not worth the headache that is the first half of the story. All things considered, I'd suggest giving this one a miss and hoping that the author will be back in form in her next book.
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