Tempt Me With Kisses
by Margaret Moore, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82052-8

Here's a cute one: an arranged marriage where it is the heroine who brings in the money and does the proposing. Okay, there are too many of those scenarios in Regency romances (you know, heroines - alone - barging into the hero's house to propose some stupid plans?), but Tempt Me With Kisses is a medieval romance.

The hero is not actually a knight - he's actually rather socially awkward (if good looking) and he's trying his best to keep his impoverished holdings together. Caradoc of Llanstephen Fawr, Wales is not the king's best buddy, he doesn't call King Richard "Dicky", and he is not the most powerful knight in the world and no, Dicky doesn't call him the Black Dragon, Demon Knight, Devil Knight, or some other nonsense. He's just a man.

Fiona MacDougal isn't a virgin and while she may has given her virginity to Mr Wrong, she doesn't beat herself up over it or does the "I'm such a slut I'm unworthy of him, so I'm running away again and again and again and again!" routine. She proposes that Caradoc marries her for her money, and she, alone with too much money that she inherited and hence the wolves are sniffing around her too close for comfort, proposes that he, whom she knows almost all her life as a good man, marries her out of conviencence.

Ah, it is so nice. Intelligence in the main characters - romance authors should try that a bit more often.

Margaret Moore is an author who gets a bit too fond of making her characters whip themselves bloody over every smallest guilt, if her backlist is anything to go by. There are times in Tempt Me With Kisses when she comes close to making Caradoc and Fiona indulge in some sick sadistic contest to see who has the deepest, bloodiest larcerations across his or her back, but thankfully, Ms Moore restrains herself in time. As a result, while sometimes the main characters can be too fond of imposing guilt on themselves for some Joan of Arc complex of theirs, they never cross the line to being outright pain in the behind.

I like Caradoc. I like Fiona. Both characters soon embark on a relationship of mutual trust and affection that blossom into something deeper by the final page. The author is very trigger-happy with the evil women gun: Caradoc's sister and that stupid jingoistic old hag that rule the household before Fiona provide the usual Let's Make The Heroine (A Scotswoman in Wales - and worse, She's From Trade) Suffer games, but lo, Fiona takes no crap from them - she really doesn't. Watch her slip into the role of the lady of the manor - whoever doesn't like her as the boss can go kiss her sexy bum and find employment elsewhere. I am impressed. Likewise, Caradoc stands by her and together they make a fine team.

Of course, the ex, Fiona's Cherry-Poppin' Villain, causes trouble, and attempts to blackmail Fiona with her lack of hymen. This predictably brings out the Joan of Arc in Fiona, much to my dismay, but lo, it also brings out the Prince Valiant in Caradoc. He doesn't judge her, and he trusts her enough to fight for her honor and innocence. Wow. While Fiona doesn't hesitate to prick her finger to let her blood drip onto the bed after the wedding night, he can look beyond whether she comes to him with a useless piece of hymen or not. I like that - a lot. After all, he respects and loves her for her and not because she's "innocent", "pure", or something equally ridiculous. Isn't that nice?

And it's just icing on the cake that Fiona actually likes sex - she did it first with the wrong man, but hey, she likes the whole sex thing, and she wants to have it with her husband - and she is one lusty wench in bed. I also love how these two do tiny lil' things like sharing their awkward and sometimes horrible childhood moments. Small moments like that scene where they share their horrible childhood nicknames bestowed upon them make me believe that these two people have a strong bond forming between them.

In all honesty, Tempt Me With Kisses is a standard story of marriage of convenience. But the author at the same time has created two really sympathetic, lovable, and strong characters that overshadow the more trite elements of the story. Romantic, touching, and uplifting, there's more than kisses in this one to tempt me silly. The image of a geeky (but handsome, of course) Prince Valiant taking on the world for his beloved - no questions asked, no misdoubts or misgivings offered - lingers so long in my mind, making me feel like dancing on air, that Tempt Me With Kisses comes this close to being a keeper with me. (Why not? Well, did I mention the more trite plot elements and the martyr-happy complexes of the main characters...?)

Rating: 89

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