Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29806-8
Historical Romance, 2014
Oh look, a romance story set in Renaissance Italy. How often do I come across something like this? I didn’t think too hard about grabbing Amanda McCabe’s Betrayed by His Kiss off the bookshelf – it is always nice to get a change of scenery, after all.
Orlando Landucci wants Matteo Strozzi destroyed. He blames that man for seducing his sister and then abandoning her, causing poor Maria Lorenza to give birth to an illegitimate child and then kill herself. Well, he may have a chance at revenge eventually, but complicating his plans is the arrival of Isabella Spinola, Matteo’s countrified cousin, who shows up to be the companion to Matteo’s sickly sister Caterina. She’s only a sweet young lady who wants to paint and love her Daddy, so can Orlando use her to further his plans for revenge?
The synopsis makes this story seem like a tale of a woman deceived by her lover, but in actuality, there is little conflict of loyalty on Isabella’s part even after she’s known of Orlando’s plan. The problem here is that every character is one-dimensional, and the romance is so simplistic that this simplicity creates a fascinating kind of contrast to the actually polished and readable narrative.
Orlando wants revenge. Okay, he can’t bring himself to hurt Isabella, but… revenge! Revenge! Revenge! You’ll be hearing that word from him a lot. I do admire single-mindedness in a determined fellow, but it soon reaches a point where I wish he’d sing a different tune, if at least for a while. He also waxes lyrical constantly about the innocence of both his sister and Isabella to the point that wide-eyed blank slate state of constant victimhood seems to be a big turn on for him. It’s creepy, actually. It’d be nice if he’d sing praises to Isabella’s brain power or something, but no, it’s always about her innocence.
Isabella starts out pretty intriguing. She seems like all about the sunny days and butterflies, but she has nightmares and there are hints that there may be some kind of damage lurking under Miss Golden Ray of Light here. Unfortunately, Isabella ends up being as one-dimensional as Orlando here. She wanders around the story wide-eyed and confused most of the time. Things happen around her, often without her knowledge, and if she’s dragged into the mess, it’s because she’s desperate to have sex with Orlando when he’s doing his best to keep it away from her while he hammers away at Matteo. The moment she arrives in town, she gets molested and is saved only by Orlando chancing to be in the vicinity. Later, she wanders around at night and, lo and behold, horny men threaten her precious maidenhood again! The only reason why she isn’t assaulted 24/7 as she muddles around like a dazed goldfish from one place to another is because Orlando has paid someone to watch over her – without telling her, of course.
Her affections for Orlando is single-minded, never tested in this story even when it should be. Her male cousin is obviously nasty, so she has no issues with any perceived betrayal on Orlando’s part. If she does have any issues, they are of the self-depreciating “How can I live without his love? Will he come back for me? Am I doomed to a life of sadness… forever?” sort.
Therefore, while Betrayed by His Kiss has a premise where the hero is supposedly conflicted by his plans for revenge and his attraction to the heroine, he never faces any genuine dilemma. After all, the woman is gagging for him that she makes it obvious that Orlando is her number one “I need it now!” priority over everything else in her life, so he gets his cake, eats it, and pays next to nothing for the experience. The heroine under other circumstances may be conflicted by her affections for a man out to ruin her family, but Isabella doesn’t give a damn for anyone other than Orlando. Her father, her sickly cousin… whatever, when is Orlando coming back?
Betrayed by His Kiss, therefore, isn’t a very interesting story. The hero has a creepy fetish for innocence and purity, the heroine is laughably obsessed with a man she barely knows to the point that she doesn’t care about anything else other than having him as her boyfriend, and the story poses these characters very little challenge. As a result, the characters don’t grow up or change or mellow in any way that would have made an interesting story arc. And, really, why offer a secret revenge plot when the author isn’t going to put her characters through the emotional grind for some pay-off?