I loved so much about this book. I loved the writing, the fact that Dare doesn’t waste a word or rely on cliches or even every-so-skimmable words when writing even a kissing scene. It reminded me of Deirdre Knight’s Butterfly Tattoo, or Meredith Duran’s novels. These are books so carefully, intricately constructed that if I caught myself jumping ahead, I made myself go back and re-read because each word was careful and precious. I want to admire the tapestry, but I have to pay attention to the delicacy and confidence of every tiny stitch. Such is the writing in this book.
He bent his head by slow degrees, until his brow rested against hers. They traded the same breath back and forth. And when his lips finally bridged the last bit of distance between them, it felt like the end of a kiss rather than the beginning.
Don’t stop now, there’s more:
And then there had been that terrifying moment in the orchard. Not the yawning black minute when he’d been convinced she was dead. The true panic had started when he found her alive, and this need had roared to life as well.
The need to snare her, trap her, pin her to a tree, anchor her with his body, and above all keep her still. Keep her from bolting off breakneck and dragging him along by that blasted satin ribbon now cinched around his gut.
This wasn’t a blind, mindless craving for anything woman and willing. This was needing with a name. It was a force beyond lust. It was Lucy.
He wanted Lucy.
Lucy wanted Toby.
And Jeremy didn’t want to talk about it.
I loved the simplity of the storyline: house party! With hunting! And a cast of characters somewhat isolated in their annual month of hunting in the country, with long-familiar relationships evolving and new individuals changing everything for everyone.
Harry Waltham is holding his annual hunting party with his friends Toby and Jeremy, Earl of Kendall. Harry’s sister, Lucy, who is more than a lot of a tomboy, is also there, as she always is, along with assorted wives and a new creature of perfection named Sophia.
Sophia is the object of horny intentions and the subject of potential matrimony from Toby, who is something of a player. Unfortunately, Lucy has harbored a hella crush on Toby, believing that he is the only person who sees her and likes her for who she is. When Lucy notices that Toby is mentally sketching some very serious and long-term designs on Sophia, she decides it’s now or never: she has to intervene and declare her neverending adoration for him so he will notice her not as pesky sister but as She Who Is Perfect for Him, and forget about that even-more pesky Sophia, who is of course China-doll perfect.
After determining that the best way to attack Toby is to entice him with her finest and most perfect self, Lucy decides to practice her seductive arts, which are about as subtle as the color scheme of this here website, on Jeremy.
You can see where that’s going, right? Right.
Within the simplicity of the setting is a twist I normally enjoy puzzling out. Dare has taken the mentality that is so often set upon the hero in a pretend engagement plot, and instead set it on the heroine. Lucy is the one who is so sure that her initial impression, Toby, is the right one. This lusty distraction in the form of Jeremy is a passing fancy that illustrates her own weakness in being enticed away from her goal, and threatens to ruin her carefully laid plans.
In Dare’s novella, The Werestag Who Is Not Paranormal, the hero was determined to resist his attraction to the heroine because she did not deserve in his mind to be saddled with someone as damaged as he is. In this case, Lucy is determined to resist Jeremy, and does a sparklingly bad job of it anyway, because she’s convinced that he is not the right one for her. Only instead of that male insistence on miserable solitude, for Lucy, it’s insistence on some other guy who isn’t interested.
Jeremy, on the other hand, is trying to the finest edge of his control to keep from revealing the depth of his own raging case of hellabig interest in Lucy, as she rejects him again and again thinking that maybe, maybe finally, Toby would notice her.
Many of the reviews I’ve read and reviewers I’ve spoken with talk about the effervescence” of the heroine, how flawed and funny she was. Yes, she was funny. And, yup, she was certainly flawed. And she was such a goddamed idiot at times I wanted to throttle her. She was effervescent to the point where she was a bubbling distraction and a detraction from the other characters. She seemed smart to the point of being manipulative in some moments, and willfully clueless to the point of outright wall-walking-into a few moments later. I adored just about everyone, especially the hero, Jeremy. Lucy, I wanted to kill. Repeatedly.
My dislike of Lucy doesn’t bleed onto Dare, however. I think it’s an indication of some pretty sharpened skills on the part of the writer that a character so stubborn and insistently bothersome was so well-crafted she was real enough to drive me absolutely batshit.
From the first word, Lucy dug herself deeper into a complete lack of credibility with me. She resisted and plotted and insisted that Toby was the man for her, even to Jeremy’s face moments after he totally got to second base with her. It is excruciating for me when clearly intelligent people stubbornly resist getting a damn clue already. I didn’t believe she’d wake up and yank her head out of her ass any time soon, and was more than a little sure that she’d shove her head back up there at the first opportunity. If she’s that skilled at deluding herself despite so much evidence as to whom she is truly drawn and attracted, well, clearly she is destined to become her own Aunt Matilda. Like the geriatric wandermaven whom the group chases through the woods on a regular basis, Lucy herself will one day wander away from her life because gosh darnit, she knows there’s gold under that rainbow. Or maybe Toby’s finally come to his senses and sent the rainbow to court her. At age 86.
She deluded herself and convinced herself she was wrong about Jeremy, and that she was right about Toby. She was innocent and clueless, then calculating and shrewd. She was so inconsistent and mercurial I didn’t trust her. And I certainly didn’t trust her with Jeremy, who I loved reading about. He was driven mad with wanting, and I wanted him to snap out of it.
I’m spoiled by my repeated role as The Reader of the romance novel: I already know who the hero and heroine are and understand that often I must wait until they recognize one another, even though I knew who they were from the back cover copy. I’m used to watching the discovery, and the recognition, and having to wait for it can be delicious. Watching Lucy was far from delicious. Waiting for her was an excercise in repeatedly snarling, “COME ON ALREADY YOU IDIOT WOMAN AND I MEAN IT.” The degree to which I was annoyed by the heroine made me angry at the book, and my irritation with her colored my impression of the novel. Cut her out, and while it wouldn’t be a romance, it would be a lot more tolerable to me.
There were so many, many other things I enjoyed about this book. I loved Sophia, and Lucy’s reluctant admiration of Sophia’s quiet and sneaky humor. I loved the guys talking with one another, and the way they’d mock and tease each other. I wanted more of the guys together giving each other shit, Regency style, and more of just about every other part of the book.
I loved everything except the heroine, Lucy. And despite my joy at discovering such elegant and delicious writing, and a collection of characters I eagerly pursued through the pages of the novel, Lucy’s complete idiocy, stubbornness, and determination to ruin herself in the eyes of society and in the eyes of the reader made it impossible for me to truly enjoy the book as much as I wanted. Because of her, the grade dropped bit by bit until the skill of the writing and the joy of the other characters were at outright war with my snarls at Lucy.
Yet it is a pile of skill to create a character who is that irritating that I think of her and grit my teeth. Because I loved the plot, the setting, the powerful language, the careful construction, and just about every word of the writing, I will look for Dare’s next book, especially because it follows Sophia, and I cannot wait to read more of her.