Dark Desires
by JoAnn Ross, contemporary (1992)
Harlequin Temptation, $2.95, ISBN 0-373-25482-2

Not a single cowboy or undercover Texan hero in sight. This story is not called One... Frigid Virgin Spinster... Two... Texan Sheriff Undercover Navy SEAL millionaire... Three... Baby! Wedding! Coochie-coo! or part of a gimmicky series called Ooh, Bachelors And Amnesiac Babies - coochie coo!. Most telling, this story actually throws me off-balance with the maelstrom of turbulent emotions that practically singe the pages - this Harlequin Temptation must be published before 1998. It's a 1992 category by the way.

Savannah Starr is a former movie star who has retired following an accident that scarred her face. She is now trying to carve a career making music scores for movies, and what do you know, apart from being a talented actress, she's a musical prodigy to boot! She has issues: her mother committed suicide when the latter's beauty fades alongside her movie career, and her father is the usual don't-care-never-there sort of man. Her ex is another useless scum, too controlling and too demanding. Of course, he never loves her.

Our hero Blake Winters also has issues. He is a talented movie director that makes cutting edge statements about his art, but boy, he has a lot of angst. His wife, as usual, is a promiscuous, treacherous woman who not only has the shocking gaffe to love Hollywood, she actually never loved Blake and married him only for fame and money! Good thing she has the grace to expire before the story even started. And now Blake is a seething pit of misogynistic moods and he refuses to Trust Any Woman and Use Them For Only One Reason Only. Oh, and he lives in a house and acts all gloomy and dark, as if he's a vampire.

So what happens when Blake manages to sequester Savannah in his Gothic manor to score his latest movie - a misogynist, woman-hating, and autobiographical movie about his marriage? Of course they fall in love! But not before a lot of angst getting thrown in my face.

The characters are pretty much poster models for the Romance Genre Recycling Campaign. The Good Woman/Evil Woman polarization is overwhelming - Savannah is a good woman worthy of love because she doesn't give out and doesn't love the crassness of Hollywood (honey, if only life is this simple!) - to the point of almost dumbing down the entire story into a juvenile version of some chauvinistic bigot's treatise about the sins of womankind.

And most damningly chilling is the fact that Blake is a manipulative, control freak. Just like Savannah's ex. But since he's the hero, I guess it's okay.

Yet Dark Desires is a great read. Not a pretty one, but boy, this story just sucks me in. The whole scenario is wonderful, like a Gothic, fog-shrouded mansion where everything just fascinates. Is Blake really a vampire? Who's trying to kill Savannah? What's the secret of Blake's past? And the dynamics of the relationship between Blake and Savannah is explosive. The sexual tension is top-notch, and the emotional outbursts really make me feel drained at the end of the day.

This book may tells the story of two neurotic people falling in love, and I'm not too certain of the longevity of their bliss, but it is a powerfully emotional one. I feel the author's skilled prose, and sometimes I feel as if I'm right there in Blake's dark, gloomy mansion. It's all a thrilling experience.

Rating: 83

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