The Lady Is Tempted
by Cathy Maxwell, historical (2002)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81833-7


Meet Deborah Percival. She married a much older man because her fellow countryside neighbors insist that it was her duty. After years of wifely duty, she is free when he died. But the same old busybody bitches are insisting that she marry another boring doofus. They never accepted her mother for being French and marrying Deborah's father, so Deborah feels obligated to do double-duty to make everyone love her.

But she snaps. She has her limits too. But she chooses a dang inconvenient time to discover the bones along her back. It is during a bad thunderstorm, and she jostles her way from a bad inn to a more respectable one where she seeks shelter for the night. She meets a handsome man, Anthony Aldercy, who is the only handsome man in her entire pathetic existence. He makes the move on her, and she lets him play, only to be shocked when he tells her he wants to have sex with her. Yeah, she's a widow, and she has let him go to second, maybe third base (my baseball trivia is rusty), but ohmigod, he wants to have sex? Who would've thunk?

So she lets him. But she is a proper and dutiful woman, you know, so the morning after is like watching a dying old woman spewing out her bile and guts. It is not pretty. Somehow, in our heroine's hysterical duty-duty-duty way of thinking, having sex = marriage = sin outside wedding, so she deludes herself into believing that she is in love with him. Like that, yes, in love after just one night. If you ask me, this dumb woman wants to have fun, and after she has had it, she twists her motivation into something more familiar to her doormat personality.

Minutes after the Old Faithful show, so to speak, she panics. What if she has a baby? What if she is pregnant? Way to go, I sigh. She's a widow, for goodness sake. A freaking widow, surely she knows about biology?

Sigh.

He offers her carte blanche. He's engaged to another woman, after all. She is devastated. It's her fault! She is now ruined, and she is such a bad woman. Flee, Debbie, flee. Please, God, let a truck run her down and end her misery.

Cut to London, later. Debbie runs to London to cater to her sister, who is married to a now jobless man. She learns that her brother-in-law insists on keeping up appearances even as the wife and the baby starve (hubby is eating beef with his friends at the club), and vows to scold the brother-in-law. But bro-in-law comes back, hugs wife, and Debbie turns on the waterworks. How she envy her sister! She too wants love like that!

I want to smack myself. I can't believe I'm really reading this. I must be in a nightmare.

It gets worse. Bro-in-law steals her money, discovers Anthony's card in her purse - or whatever you call those ugly pouches those women carry at those times - and calls Anthony. Anthony, always dreaming of this woman even as he waffles regarding his wifey-to-be, has to come to see her. He's obsessed. He's besotted.

All this sets into a motion of events where I can best describe as a wailing heroine in tears being chased by our horny hero and they run and run around in a neverending circle. The grand finale is our heroine running away - she has to, because she is a fallen woman now and she is never worthy of happiness, et cetera - and our hero pursuing her.

I admit, at this point I lost it. I started laughing uncontrollably, just like how those crazy villains always laugh when they know the whole building is gonna explode with them in it. I laughed until my ribs ached and until I fell off the seat. I laughed and laughed and laughed until the neighbors three apartments down called in concern. It's the best laugh I've had in a long, long time, and after some recent personal crisis in my life, this is just what I need.

So thank you, Ms Maxwell, and I mean it, even if my reaction is probably not what you wished for.

And yes, I like the hero a lot, despite he being a rotten fickle hustler, and I am very aware of some signs that the author knows how, well, retarded her heroine is being. Some sentences here, a cynical statement there, all convince me that Ms Maxwell is probably trying to create a more complicated, maybe even darker romance involving a really neurotic heroine. But she tries to salvage Deborah too late - by the time Deborah sticks it bad to all the people who have walked all over her, it's Chapter 19 and we have only three more chapters to go. By then, it's really too late. I've laughed too hard for all the wrong reasons.

Still, I have to admit that Chapter 19 and Deborah's amazing turnaround is almost worth the price of the buffoonery I have to endure. When she rests her head on him and says with what I imagine to be newfound sauciness, "We have become a new scandal" to which he replies, "No, love, we've become a legend", well, there's something about that scene that I find really poignant and defiantly romantic at the same time.

But like I said, it's all too late. This book gets high points from me only because (a) current circumstances in my life have made this book more personal to me than it would have been in other situations, (b) the hero's not-too-admirable personality appeals to me despite my better judgment, and (c) there is always an underlying promise of The Lady Is Tempted being something tantalizingly more appealing than it actually is, and (d) the writing is fine and engaging.

Oh what the heck, a good train wreck is still a good train wreck.

Rating: 85


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