Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29849-5
Historical Romance, 2015
Fed up of having to deal with a lecherous stepfather who is also systematically selling off everything in the house to finance his wenching and gambling, as well as tired of facing a mother who is living in denial about her second husband. Fiona Chapman decides to strike out on her own and accepts a position as a governess in Dartmouth. Alas, along the way she gets kidnapped by some louts and has to be rescued by Major Luke Wolfson, whom she believes to be a lout just like those… well, louts. According to the synopsis on the back cover, she is considered too ruined by the family who wanted to employ her, so she has to nowhere to go. Luke asks her to be his mistress, but she will never submit because she’s an independent woman like that!
Well, the “You’re not hired, see you!” part happens on page 202. That’s right, the synopsis on the back cover gives away a plot development that happens in the late third of this book – that’s how not-happening this story is when it comes to plot developments that move the story along. The author spends the bulk of the story establishing a few unfortunate facts that will ultimately sink her story.
One, Fiona is out of her depths. She believes that she can take care of herself, but she’s far too naïve and gullible to hold her own, especially when the author sets her in this charming version of nineteenth-century England where any lady who steps out of the house on her own immediately attracts leering lust-crazed men to her side. Of course, Luke leers too, but he’s the hero, so he doesn’t count. Back to Fiona, her sheltered nature is made worse by the fact that she can be quite stubborn when it comes to insisting that she’s right. Sometimes she can be unusually astute, but on the whole, she’s like a goldfish in a sea of sharks. Worse, she is also often a victim of her emotions, getting all jealous over Luke showing any attention to other women, so she has no hope of ever standing up to Luke.
This is a problem because Luke comes with a very messy trail of a love life on his heels. He has a jealous mistress and a couple of women who set their cap on him – I have no idea why – so poor Fiona is always left reeling in jealousy when she’s not being pestered by him to put out and be his mistress. I don’t understand Luke, to be honest, because he seems to have no scruples when it comes to Fiona. He knows that she is basically alone in this world and she has no one to rely on, and yet he goes out of his way to be with her – just the two of them – in a bedroom and such, making it impossible for people not to talk and assume that she’s his mistress. He claims that he doesn’t believe in love – he’s only in lust with Fiona – so his continuous pursuit of her has a predatory feel to it.
Worse, I have no idea why they are in love. They know one another only in a short while, and they don’t interact in a truly meaningful manner. Fiona is a jumbled mess of confused emotions when it comes to him, and it doesn’t help that she’s also the type to refuse handouts and help despite the fact that she’s homeless and penniless (no charity, please!) so she’s dependent on Luke. Compared to Luke, she’s appears to be a confused little lamb, and the way the hero holds all the power in this relationship is disturbing. As Fiona points out in a rare moment of insight, he is swearing to her that he will never let her go if she agrees to be his mistress, when at the same time, he already has a mistress whom he’d happily ditch because he likes Fiona now. I never get the impression that Luke’s “love” for her is sincere or strong. As a result, the romance ends on a train wreck note.
The rest of the story is as messy as Fiona’s feelings. Maybe the whole thing is a spillover from a book that I haven’t read, but the mystery of the highwaymen and some suspense revolving around a murderous tyrant neighbor… or something, anyway, all these things end up just taking up space like clutter in an attic, with the author not doing much to flesh them out or make them coherent. The annoying constant hops from one character’s head to another also makes reading this story quite the chore.
Simply put, Tarnished, Tempted and Tamed is a messy story that showcases a romance that has heartbreak and unhappy endings written all over it. The heroine deserves someone closer to her emotional and intellectual maturity – or what little of it – rather than a man who seems more like a user and lecher than a lover.