An Indecent Proposition
by Emma Wildes, historical (2009)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22708-9


I wasn't impressed by the two Western historical romances by Emma Wildes that I had read, but An Indecent Proposition impresses me because there is some good soul searching and self discovery in the heroine's part here. It is rare to find a historical romance with a heroine who experiences character growth, and this is one of those rare books, and the author has presented this aspect of the heroine's growth pretty well too.

It all begins with Nicholas Manning, the Duke of Rothay, and his best friend Derek Draek, the Earl of Mandeville, making a bet on which man is the better lover. Our widowed heroine, Caroline Wynn, discreetly writes to these men, offering to be the judge of the competition - with her as the lady in question testing the two men's sexual prowess, of course - and offers them a challenge. Her marriage to her late husband had her confused and hurt by his accusations of her frigid nature. Caroline realizes that she has to know - she has to find out for herself whether she can actually find pleasure in the sex act, and she can't think of a better way to find out than to put herself forward as the lover of two of the most celebrated rakes in the Ton. God help her, if they can't show her pleasure, then perhaps her dearly unlamented late husband is right after all...

And so to seal the deal, the three participants agree on an arrangement. Caroline will spend a week in a discreet getaway with each man - one at a time, of course - and by the end of the two weeks, she will anonymously publish in the local paper which man she favors as the better lover. Nicholas gets his turn with her first, which is a good thing as Derek isn't interested in Caroline: he's pining after a long-time acquaintance who, spurned his jaded reaction to her teenage infatuation, has finally decided to marry another man. Only now does Derek realize that he's in love with Annabel Reid and he has four months to change her mind from marrying that other guy.

This is a book published by Signet, so despite the promised raunch and sauciness in this story, there is no ménage à trois arrangement and no, Derek and Nicholas are not sleeping with each other. I know Ms Wildes had written for Siren Bookstrand, but this is not that kind of story.

But oh my, the love scenes are so hot, hot, hot! I wish this book has come with a fan that I can use to cool myself down. I especially feel my toes curling at Caroline's first love scene with Nicholas. Ms Wildes describes Caroline's sexual awakening most exquisitely that I feel almost like a dirty voyeur, blushing and reminding myself to keep breathing as I read about Caroline's amazement, joy, and wonderment when she experiences her first orgasm under Nicholas' ministrations.

Up to that point, Ms Wildes has let me into Caroline's head so well that Caroline is a very sympathetic kind of intelligent heroine whose ignorance was caused by the restrictions on her lifestyle imposed by the culture of her time. She knows that she is missing out on something. She wants to know that she is a woman capable of feeling and giving back physical affection. The author has done a very good job in making me feel poor Caroline's pain and isolation so when Caroline actually experiences sexual release for the first time, I don't know whether I want to cheer her on or feel guilty about reading that scene and feeling so much like an intrusive voyeur. The subsequent love scenes lack the magic of the wondrous first rapture, but they are still steamy enough to make me wonder whether I should go for confession because surely such intimate erotic love scenes can't be legal.

It's not the detailed descriptions that make these love scenes hot, although they are quite detailed, it's how the author has established a connection between me and the heroine that causes the love scenes to be so much more erotic. They are... dare I say it, almost cathartic in nature. God, I hope nobody I know is reading this.

The guys aren't too bad, but unlike the refreshing heroine, they are quite familiar as rakes who do not realize how empty their lives are until they admit to themselves that they are in love. This story takes place within a short period of time, but because the author has the characters addressing the relevant issues between them in both the romances in this story, I find the romance aspect of this story to be pretty sound.

One issue I have with this story is the fundamental premise of this story. Caroline knows that she has to be discreet about her arrangements with Nicholas and Derek because she would be ruined if word gets out. The thing is, I have to wonder: if she wants discretion, she shouldn't be going after two men who made a public bet of such a scandalous nature in the first place. The fact that these two men are known as unrepentant rakes by all in the Ton means that the two men are anything but discreet. Therefore, while I don't mind at all the events that develop arising from this premise, I find the premise in itself to be pretty illogical.

Another problem is more technical in nature: Ms Wildes is very fond of repeating herself here. For example, in the first few chapters, the fact that the two men are unrepentant rakes who made the bet under the influence of alcohol are brought up so often that I wonder whether I will be sitting for a test by the end of the book. First, the heroine and a friend discuss this. Then, the men discuss it among themselves. Then, each man takes turn dwelling on and thinking about it. Repeat and rinse. Ms Wildes is very fond of doing this to the key points in her plot. Characters will repeatedly talk about it, discuss it, dissect it, and then psychoanalyze and dwell on it when they are alone before meeting up again later to rehash the same things again. I don't mind if each dredging up of the key points in the plot is accompanied by new details that I can chew on, but Ms Wildes instead just keeps repeating herself. As a result, there are many moments in this story when I feel that the author is bogging things down by being unnecessarily circular and repetitive about things.

Those two problems seem like minor one, but believe me, they actually bug me considerably as I turn the pages, so much so that I wish Ms Wildes' editor had been more ruthless and exacting while cobbling this book in order. Still, all things considered, this book has me thinking that Ms Wildes may very well be an author to keep an eye on after all. The sensual elements of this book really impress me, and the romance isn't half bad either. It is the technical aspects of the storytelling that mostly bother me, and I suspect that most readers may not find those aspects problematic to their enjoyment of this tale. Well then, welcome aboard, Ms Wildes, to big time publishing.

Rating: 80


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