by Shannon Drake, historical (2004)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7547-2
Shannon Drake takes a breather from her usual medieval setting for the Victorian times in her latest historical When We Touch. Unfortunately, this book is a tedious "Hate you! Want you!" story weighted down by one of the most obnoxious cast of secondary characters I've ever come across. Factor in the too-stupid-to-live heroine and it's my face touching the top of the table in pain.
Lady Maggie Graham is our heroine. A widow of a - gasp - mere policeman, she claims that she doesn't care for what people think of her. Because it's easier to give the heroine a favorite charity cause than a personality, Maggie here is for the Betterment of the Lives of the Common People. This means that she will have plenty of chances to wander around the slums accompanied only by a foppish male buddy. When her brother Justin falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up gambling away everything, their uncle arranges for her to marry an aging but rich man. Justin is appalled but Maggie insists on marrying because (a) it is not Justin's fault that he gambles everything away (I don't understand her either), (b) she wants to make sure that she will provide an heir so that the money will never fall to this uncle (ooh-kay), and (c) she wants babies and a family (and I guess marrying a nice handsome man in between her husband's death to now is not the way to do this). I would be more sympathetic to this earnest little martyr if she hasn't insisted that the marriage to an old man to stand only to start weeping when she sees her husband-to-be because he's - you'll never guess this - old.
Our hero is Lord Jamie Langdon, the cousin of Charles, Maggie's hubby-to-be. He's here to make sure that Charles does not fall victim to this Scheming Mercenary Harlot Bitch Slut creature. Predictably, he also finds her so hot that he hates her more. And on Maggie's part, she hates him! Because he hates her! She will not dream of him naked! She will not! Ooh... naked. You get the idea, I hope. These two people are classic chemistry-free "Love! Hate!" bickering lovers. Along the way, instead of character development, the author instead chooses to put Maggie in a lot of stupid situations where Jamie will have to come to rescue her. I especially love that scene where Maggie is forced to attend her bachelorette party (because it's very hard to say no to friends) only to panic and start shrieking when she's abandoned by her so-called friends there. Her shrieking only makes things worse, but that's Maggie's way of doing things: do things she hates because she's a martyr, insists that she has the right to do her own things so all of you people that Don't Understand or Respect Women's Rights can bugger off, but when she's in trouble, she panics and makes things worse.
The far from inspiring romance between Jaime and Maggie isn't helped by a secondary cast that is quite odious. Justin, for all his lip service to guilt, is quite happy to sell his sister off to marriage. Charles' daughter Arianna is even more too-stupid-to-live, a Daddy's girl creature with Electra complex that ends up running straight into the villain's clutches. I think that Maggie's best buddy Mireau is supposed to the witty matchmaker type, but he's a leech that preys on Maggie's goodwill even as he spends his time working on his book. All these people bring out the worst in Maggie's martyr complex.
The names of the characters can be quite annoying too. I tend to confuse Jamie and Justin. And then there are Arianna and the villain Adrian. What is with all these names?
There's a decent mystery here, even if the villain is revealed early on, but this mystery is catalyzed by the stupidity of Maggie and Arianna combined. A tepid romance and too much emphasis on heroines behaving silly cause When We Touch to be a frustrating and lackluster read.
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