The Passionate One
by Connie Brockway, historical (1999)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-22629-5

Spoilers are present in this review

I've often enjoyed Connie Brockway's romance novels because her heroes are adorable men, whether they are tortured beyond anything or not, while her heroines are always admirable, courageous, and worthy matches for their men. Unfortunately, in this, her latest, The Passionate One, the hero Ash Merrick is a big disappointment.

This book is the first book in a series called McClairen's Isle. The story opens with a dramatic prologue describing villainous Ronald Merrick who betrayed his wife Janet's clan, the McClairens and drove her to suicide. Ronald took over the McClairen's stronghold, an impregnable fortress called Wanton's Blush and lived there in exile. He callously neglected his sons Ash and Raine while molding daughter Fia to his image. The story starts with Raine languishing in a French prison and Ash obeying his father's orders to bring Rhiannon Russell back to him in order to secure the ransom needed to free Raine. Rhiannon is an orphan who barely - but does - remembers her family's massacre in Wanton's Blush. Engaged to be married to a nice young man, she nonetheless finds Ash intriguing. Their attraction culminates in a night of passion on Beltain's Eve and results in disaster.

Up until now I am totally caught up in the story. Rhiannon is a quiet woman who keeps all her opinions to herself out of gratitude to the people who sheltered her after she found herself orphaned. Only Ash sees her inner fire. And Ash, oh, that poor man, he is so full of self-loathing and hatred for his father than I just wanted to pat his head and croon a lullaby. Poor man, you've hurt so much. The attraction between Rhiannon and Ash is well-done, and the side characters like Aunt Edith are wonderful to read, spiced with witty banters and wonderful descriptions of Beltaine so vivid I now want to be Queen of May, no matter what.

Unfortunately, after a wonderful night of passion, things go horribly, horribly, horribly wrong! I don't know what happened! Ash kidnaps Rhiannon, drives her hard to Wanton's Blush until she faints from fear and exhaustion, and then throw her to the wolves. I am left with my mouth hanging open. Okay, I told myself, Ash needs money to free Raine after all, I'm sure he'll take care of Rhiannon. No. I'm sorry to say this, but Ash is an idiot. He is often cruel to Rhiannon, yet he justifies to himself that he is bringing her to safety (someone is trying to kill Rhiannon). Safety... in Wanton's Blush, among a crowd of a most malicious, brutal, uncaring, debauched people you'll find this side of Villains 'R' Us? Fine, Ash then promises to take care of her. Instead it was Rhiannon who ends up taking care of him. Ash gets drunk a lot. He turns up unkempt, a boor, a lout. All his caring seems to consists of throwing I'll have you on your back whenever I want to the poor woman. Never have I seen such a pathetic hero since Margaret Moore's A Scoundrel's Kiss (don't get me started on that one!).

But Rhiannon, oh, she actually blooms in the face of the wolves around her. She may be naive, but she learns quickly. She is never a victim, and never a pawn to Roland Merrick. Indeed, it is she who devises her own escape, and it is she who eventually returns to Ash, codependent, helpless Ash.

Ash, I know, is a man suffering from low self-esteem. I understand he is still recovering from his battered soul by the end of the book. But, I don't know, I still don't like reading this sort of story without seeing the man fully healed, or at least, given a promise of healing. Even towards the epilogue, Ash is still weak. I can't help feeling Rhiannon is a little bit of a martyr, more a mother than wife to Ash in all but the bedroom.

Oh, the writing is brilliant. I never hate Ash's cruelty to Rhiannon because the author describes so well his pain at having to pretend all this to her. He does care for her. And some scenes of tenderness almost move me to tears. Almost. There is always this sword hanging over Rhiannon and Ash, waiting to fall and sever them apart, I can't help feeling.

Rating: 68

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