by Tessa Dare, historical (2010)
Ballantine, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51887-3
I've made no secret in the past that I don't approve of Ballantine's practice of making their romance authors push out three consecutive books in three months every year just like some sweatshop in China. Very few authors, especially newly published authors, can work at such a gruelling pace to meet the production deadline, and I think Tessa Dare is buckling under the pressure. Twice Tempted By A Rogue is the second book in a trilogy - this one is less all over the place compared to One Dance With A Duke, but it is missing much of the magic present in her first trilogy for Ballantine.
Rhys St Maur wants you all to know that he had experienced some terrible things in the Great Hunt for Frogs in the Continent, and he didn't get killed no matter how many things he tried to off himself. He will keep repeating and rehashing this in the story to the point that I begin to suspect that he just wants the attention from people. Rhys had been abused in the past and therefore, he loathes to return to his ancestral home in Devonshire. Now that he's the newly-minted Lord Ashworth, however, he finally makes his way home. Did you know that he didn't die in the Battle of Nivelle and he is so blue about this as a result?
He is soon reunited with Meredith Maddox, now a widowed innkeeper, and he decides that he wants to marry her. You see, he didn't die during the war so he must be fated to marry her. Never mind that he comes to this decision on the spot, he soon steamrollers her objections, manipulate her into attending a church where he has them married without her knowing his plans in advance, and... say, did you know that he is so blue because he was a soldier who went to war and came home alive?
Meredith has been in love with him since she was a teenage girl, and this is the reason why she still loves him after he has run roughshod over her, ignored her wishes, manipulated her into all kinds of situation against her will, and, once she has told him her secrets, fled from her because all of a sudden, Mr I Want To Marry You Forever And Take Care Of You discovers a slight blemish on his fantasy of being married to the perfect lover-cum-mother. Therefore, he can't take it anymore! He runs away! He beats people up and accuses Meredith of making him angry! Everything is about Rhys - his feelings, his desires, his wants, and his wishes - that he ends up doing all the taking in the relationship. What the wife wants never seems to factor in his grand schemes for Rhys the Magnificent, the prodigal son who would rebuild the lands he neglected for so long because the whim to do so struck him while he was ogling at Meredith's hot body. And yet, Meredith is so kind and understanding because... you know, his wartime experiences justify his silly behavior in this story.
But it's hard to feel sorry for Meredith because she is an inconsistent character who often contradicts herself in this story. She changes her mind often, she keeps secrets from Rhys rather unnecessarily (although judging from his reaction when she tells him her secret, perhaps she is justified in keeping mum for so long), and her devoted affection for Rhys seems more foolish and enabling than noble.
It's a pity things turn out this way, because Meredith has the makings of an interesting heroine. A widow, she has taken a few lovers before Rhys reenters her life, and she manages to keep the whole village together during years of neglect from Rhys's father and later Rhys. Therefore, it's quite heartbreaking to see this potentially interesting heroine run roughshod by Rhys and forced to play the unrealistically understanding and sympathetic enabler of the hero's selfish whims.
The author knows that Rhys moves too fast. She also has the heroine entertaining fears that Rhys's current whims may be just that - whims, and he would leave her behind and move on when another whim strikes him. Therefore, Ms Dare is aware of the problems in her story. But somehow, the awareness never did translate into creating a believable romance that overcomes these issues. Rhys remains a self-absorbed twit who only cares about what he wants, Meredith enables him, and I'm left feeling most unsatisfied indeed.
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