by Pamela Britton, historical (2004)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61130-1

After I reviewed the author's previous book Seduced and received so much negative feedback about my giving it a keeper grade (some even question my sanity, heh heh, and no, people, I am definitely not Ms Britton's doting mother), I must confess that there's a small part of me that would be relieved should I dislike Tempted. There can only be so much unanimous negative feedback before I begin to question a little about my sanity, to be honest.

But to my delight, Tempted only reaffirms my beliefs that Pamela Britton is one of those rare authors that can drag me along to the finishing line through even the most severe flaws in their story. It's her unapologetically cheerful and infectious sense of humor. Her characters are so happy, I can't resist. And with Tempted being an even better Pamela Britton book than the last, I really can't resist. So excuse me if I sound like a doddering fangirl in this review. We all have our off-days from curmudgeonliness, although this is one off-day I'm truly glad for.

Tempted is Ms Britton's wacky take on the Mary Poppins storyline, only this Mary Poppins is a lower-class woman taking some time off from her career as Artemis the popular stunt rider and horse trainer in the Royal Circus to wreck havoc in the hero's life. Mary Callahan reluctantly agrees to help her smuggler father by applying for the post of nanny to hero Alexander Drummond's illegitimate daughter Gabriella. She hopes that she will flunk the interview with Alex and be tossed out of the house, but to her surprise, her showing her tongue at the monster daughter and telling off that Miss Thing persuade Alex to give her a chance instead. And since the money is good, Mary decides that she really has nothing to lose by staying and playing nanny for the next few weeks. So while her father can take a hike for all she cares, she could use the money. How tough can a mere monster girl be anyway for someone like Mary who has been dealing with children (and this includes her father) all her life?

It's pretty tough, as it turns out, but it's even tougher for Mary when the stiff-lipped Alex and she start experiencing a most inconvenient attraction to each other. Later, her father will try to kidnap Alex and Mary will have to come to Alex's rescue, and this event only causes these two people to confront their feelings for each other. But how can the Marquis of Warrick and a genuine - note, I said genuine, so no surprise Aristocratic Secret Daddy here - lower-class heroine find a happily ever after together?

I really have to chuckle after reading the author's foreword where she happily lists down three actual historical incidents where a nobleman marries his mistress, so yes, people, Ms Britton is telling you that it can happen. But seriously, those people that find Seduced or any of this author's previous books not to their liking will not likely enjoy Tempted as it is still filled with wallpaper history, noticeably modern speech patterns, and some decidedly contemporary views on social issues - problems that see the author coming under heavy fire if the feedback I get is anything to go by. For me, though, I am more than, er, tempted to overlook these problems because I am having the time of my life with this story.

Mary is a wonderful heroine. She starts off a little too wacky, perhaps, but there's plenty to love about her. She is not stupid, and while she's not the type of woman that go around the block, she is not oblivious to desire. She can think, she can plan, and she acts after thinking about her choices in reasonable manner. And best of all, while she is aware that she and Alex are from different classes in life and realistically, they probably aren't meant to be, she doesn't let this awareness stop her from having confidence and a spunky outlook at life. She wins me over when she's complimented on being beautiful and her answer is, "I know." With her salty language and her never-say-die attitude despite having a realistic view of her chances with Alex, Mary is one of the most memorable heroines I've come across in a romance novel for a long while. It is very easy to see why Alex will thaw in her company.

Alex is one of those stiff-lipped oh-so-proper heroes. The dukes of Wainridge are infamous for being dissolute and debauched, and Alex is determined to buckle the legacy by being as proper, pompous, and sanctimonious as possible. But how can he resist a woman that saves him, makes him laugh, and causes him to wonder what it was like to cast off his priggish attitude and do something stupid for once, right? Part Two of the book, where Mary saves Alex from a kidnap attempt only to encounter some wacky adventures that lead them to his cousin Rein's place, is arguably contrived, but Part Two also shows very clearly why Alex will fall in love with Mary without actually realizing it. I especially love that scene where Mary takes a graceful leap over a muddy pothole while Alex falls flat on his face into the mud. It's like a classic case of a boy getting bested by the girl in the playground and secretly nursing a crush on her thereafter, and that's the charm of this story. Alex and Mary's relationship is a mix of gleeful and exuberant moments of shared mischief, some hormonal lusting on everyone's part, and some moments of mature and lucid clarity about the workings of the heart.

This is why I enjoy Tempted so much. It's funny, it's romantic at times, and some scenes make me feel like a giddy kid again giggling at a particularly cute boy. Falling in love can be fun but also pretty ridiculous when one reflects on it, and I feel that Ms Britton succeeds very well in capturing this in her story.

Of course, this book has its share of problems. I have the same problems with Part Three here as I had with that of Seduced: the author wraps up her story too conveniently, and more annoyingly, in a too saccharine manner. Also, Rein really comes off like the author's placeholder in Part Three that he's a very obvious Mary Sue character for Ms Britton. There are probably more subtle alternative plot methods to Rein, a rake, nagging at Alex non-stop in a rather out-of-character way to make Alex see the light, I'm sure. If Alex reacts in a less predictable manner in Part Three, maybe Rein doesn't have to come off like Ms Britton's alter-ego trying to control the direction of her story.

I also wish that the author will be more graceful in her characters' expression of their feelings. Ms Britton can create some scenes that are fun yet romantic, but her characters' verbal and mental expressions of their thoughts and feelings are quite... disappointing. There are more elegant ways, I'm sure, for the main characters to conclude that they want each other after a charming scene instead of repeating ad nausem that "he wanted her" or "she wanted him" or how hard he is for her. After a well-done scene, it is like cold water splashed on my face when apparently all Alex can think of is the humongous hummer throbbing in his pants. I mean, come on, praise her hair, think of what a wonderful person she is, or something!

Despite some rough edges to the plotting, Tempted remains an eminently enjoyable story. With a wonderful couple and a giddy sense of joie d'vivre permeating each page of the story, this book works like a charm, capturing the sillier side of love in a singularly, unapologetically insouciant manner. After reading Tempted, I am not going to entertain any more doubts about my enjoying books by this author. If people want to send me another hundred email messages about why I must be under the influence to like anything by this author, by all means they are welcome to do so. But after reading and enjoying Tempted so thoroughly, all I can say is: if Ms Britton keeps this up, I - and my money - am firmly on her side. Sometimes I need to remember that emotions like love can be silly and fun. Pamela Britton's Tempted may not be best plotted book around and it may not be the most authentic Regency historical either, but it manages to capture the lighter side of love to remind me that falling in love can indeed be the best experience one can have. Aside from winning a tax-exempted ten million dollar jackpot, of course.

Rating: 94

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