by Teresa Medeiros, historical (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-5789-3
Maybe The Pleasure Of Your Kiss is supposed to be a satire of romance novels and I am missing the point, but I have to say, this is the first book in a while where I actually feel sorry for the two Other Guys in this story. Yes, there are two other guys here. Something is wrong when I close this book thinking that I won't mind seeing the heroine and the hero boarding the Titanic into the sunset.
I've seen some people compare this book to Connie Brockway's As You Desire, but I personally feel that the similarities only go as far as the setting. This story is set in the Middle-East region, Morocco to be exact, some time in 1834. It's a very superficial similarity, in my opinion, especially since I don't enjoy this book even as much as I did the other book. Oh, there is a "he always wanted her but he tried to deny his feelings" angle to the romance here too, but Ashton Burke wishes he has even as much charm as Harry Braxton had in his little toe.
Once, neighbors Ashton and Clarinda Cardew were childhood enemies. Then they realized they were attracted to each other, but Ashton left her after one night of passion because... oh, he's the sad little second son who never had his father's love and I guess he believes that Clarinda deserves better. In short, it's all about him - come to the party and see him moan and gripe for two hours. It will be fun, honest. So, they meet again when Clarinda and her friend are kidnapped by Corsairs and ended up in the palace of the Sultan, Farouk. Farouk actually knows Ash from their boarding school days in England - and no, they weren't boarding school boinking boyfriends, in case you are wondering - so it makes Ash's life easier when he's hired by Clarinda's fiancé to rescue her. And oh yes, Clarinda's fiancé is Ash's brother. Both the fiancé Max and Farouk are attracted to Clarinda and are willing to marry her, but it is Ash whom she wants.
And I don't know why. Clarinda is a pretty good heroine in that she can take care of herself and she has a chins-up attitude when it comes to dealing with problems, so why she insists on being infatuated with the utterly self-absorbed Ash, I will never understand. That guy has his moments, yes, but I am never convinced that he is good for her. In fact, he brings out the worst in her. When she's not with him, Clarinda is a strong and determined woman. With him, she's reduced into a bickering twit who is secretly all hot and bothered over his, er, hotness.
Also, Ash demonstrates several times in this story that he will not hesitate to do shockingly callous and even cruel things to her in his self-absorption. A very chilling example is that scene where he, determined to get back at Clarinda for her crime of making him all randy and horny, makes her describe in detail her captivity and her subsequent time on the slave auction block. Even when he realizes what he has done, he still makes her continue. Why? He decides that it is time he suffers for the guilt for making her publicly tell her story to an audience. The fact that he has only extended her pain and humiliation by making her continue doesn't seem to register on him. Everything is about him, after all. In this story, Clarinda doesn't even trust him to come back to her after he's ditched her yet again in the name of big crybaby emo babies everywhere. Oh, Ash. Poor sad baby, everything makes him feel like walking away. Clarinda's "love" for him seems like leftover childhood infatuation to me. I'm convinced that it won't be long after the happy ending when he's really going to break her heart in a way that she will never recover. I may feel sorry for her if she didn't make her bed by choosing Ash.
Max and Farouk get the short straws here, I feel, because unlike Ash, these two men come off as decent men who has treated and will treat Clarinda far better than Ash would. Of course, Max will get his book next while Farouk gets a consolation prize in the form of Clarinda's friend, so it's not like they lost. In fact, I think they are better off without Clarinda, since that silly girl clearly prefers big crybaby boys.
Farouk, especially, is an interesting character because he is some ways a subversion of both Sultan and the romance hero stereotypes. Oh, he is muscular and hot now, but he is a former fatty, for a start. His back story also makes him a far more sympathetic character than Ash "Wah! My dad is an ass so I'm an ass and the world is ass! So Clarinda suffered, but I AM THE ONE WHO IS SUFFERING HERE!" Braxton the emo baby. Both he and Ash had terrible authority figures in their lives, but Farouk had it far worse. Remember, he was also a very fat Middle-Eastern kid in a boarding school full of white boys. Yet, he seems to have adjusted well compared to Ash who is... ugh. His relationship with Penelope "Poppy" Montmorency is actually very sweet. In fact, it feels far more real than the bickering-fondling marathon of Clarinda and Ash.
However, I have serious doubts about this particular happy ending. Putting aside the polygamy thing, there is enough political strife here to have me wondering how Poppy is even going to last a week without Clarinda's protection in a harem full of stereotypical jealous females who hate her. And then there will be folks who won't be happy that their Sultan is favoring a foreign woman, especially one from that country, so much. Something tells me this relationship will sink even faster than the main couple's.
It is one thing to have a story with a happily for now type of ending, but The Pleasure Of Your Kiss doesn't even have that kind of ending. This one ends on a forced high note, and no amount of contrived happy ending can persuade me to overlook the fact that one relationship is going to be a dysfunctional train wreck while the other one will quickly end on a bitter, if not tragic, note. For a romance novel, this one can be quite the downer.
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