by Connie Brockway, historical (1994)
Avon, $4.50, ISBN 0-380-77550-6
Promise Me Heaven is Connie Brockway's debut book that came out in 1994. It sets the tone of what is to come from this author: tortured heroes that don't do that pity party thing too much, heroines that don't seem to land on Earth from a distant and dim planet, and a relationship between the main characters that is as fun as much it sizzles.
Catherine "Cat" Montrose needs to find a wealthy husband to repair her family fortunes so she decides to drop by the infamous rake Thomas Montrose's house in the country in order to learn of a hint or two on how to snag the man she has her eyes on using her feminine charms. While she imagines that Thomas' house will be a den of debauchery, she is quite disappointed when she learns that the once infamous rake is now a sober and very well-mannered gentleman retired to the countryside to live quietly. Thomas is once a rake, yes, but events in his past have changed him. When Cat assumes that he's over the hill, Thomas is still proud enough to prove to her that he can still teach those young rakes in town a thing or two. The game is set for these two to fall in love even as Thomas shows Cat how to make fools out of those silly creatures called men. But Thomas, being an ex-spy, will have his past returning to haunt him in the form of Jack Seward, and eventually Cat and Thomas will find themselves in Paris, London, right in the middle of Napoleon's uprising.
Promise Me Heaven doesn't have a set tone or setting. In a way, the whole "tutor teaches the heroine the art of seduction only to be trounced at it by her student" storyline and the road trip are familiar plotlines in the romance genre, but the story manages to switch pace and mood from drama to more action-paced romantic adventure with ease. That is a problem as much as a strength with this story. On one hand, I enjoy reading this book and how it doesn't follow a predictable route to the happily ever after. On the other hand, the author seems to be ramping up the action even when the story is coming to an end. There is a separation between the main couple at the very end of the story, with Thomas and Cat reuniting only in the final page, of all things!
Yes, I understand that Thomas needs to undergo some soul-cleansing phase in his life where he needs to forgive himself and true to style, he does this by opening fire at French frogs as a soldier, but the rushed way the author presents her story towards the later portions makes me feel rather shortchanged. This book needs another hundred or so pages to make the love story between Thomas and Cat more complete and satisfying.
Cat is a little bit hard to warm up to as she's essentially a familiar heroine wanting to snag a hubby for the sake of her brother and she's probably the closest to a dingbat heroine from Connie Brockway, judging from some of her antics in Paris. On the other hand, Thomas is fabulous. He really is a rake in his past. He allowed the country to exploit his slutty nature to gain information from England's enemies, foolishly believing that it's all a game of pleasant carnal pursuits, until a tragedy proved him just how wrong he was. He is still trying to make peace with himself when he meets Cat. What I like about him is that he has a very valid reason to hate himself, but when he could have drowned himself in pity party while acting like a jerk, instead he tries to do penance by looking outwards and actively making reparations when the opportunity presents itself to him. Compared to him, Cat and her raison d'etre in this book come off as solely lacking and even trivial, but to Ms Brockway's credit, she succeeds in giving Cat enough depths and character to prevent Thomas from completely overwhelming Cat in this story. He comes close to doing so though, especially when the story moves to France where Promise Me Heaven arguably stops being their story and becomes Thomas' story instead.
Several secondary characters here move on to become characters in their own right in All Through The Night and eagle-eyed readers may catch the relationship between Catherine Montrose and Avery Thorne in My Dearest Enemy.
Compared to the author's later works, Promise Me Heaven feels like a diamond in the rough, which is what it is. For a debut novel, however, it is a very impressive show of promise as much as a very enjoyable story. If this author ever hits the big time so that Avon will one day reissue this book with a nicer cover, I'll be getting a copy to replace my well-read one. Until then, readers looking to see how Connie Brockway's writing was once upon a time ago may want to search the used book stores for this out-of-print book. I believe that it will be worth their time and effort to do so.
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