St Martin’s Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97840-5
Historical Erotica, 2001
Hmm, I don’t know if Cheryl Holt is jumping onto the Robin Schone bandwagon, but Love Lessons has some passing familiarity with The Lady’s Tutor, mild ones, plot-wise. But Ms Holt does the Teach Me Sex thing with much more finesse than Ms Schone. There’s no national conspiracy of gay boogeyman out to rape your sons, and no ridiculous mental hysteria. I can even go as far as to say this one could have been a slightly better The Lady’s Tutor.
Abigail Weston is a spinster who wants to know about sex. She is finding it hard to learn anything from her fellow ladies of the Ton, and it is exasperating her. See, she wants to prepare her younger sister for marriage. She doesn’t want her sister to end up like that silly chit who was so terrified by the act of sex – whatever that is – that she is taken ill to the country for the whole Season. When Abby overhears the ladies of her circles discussing the amorous qualities of the notorious gambling den owner James Stevens – untitled, just illegitimate – she decides aha, she’ll ask him. Just chitchat, of course, no hands-on hanky-panky, no siree. Until she sees those nude pictures and oh, mama mia…
Abby starts out an intelligent heroine, if a remarkably far-thinking and progressive one. James starts out a wonderful potentially tortured hero. Then the author ruins everything by making these two succumb to their attraction so early. It’s like watching a film all about premature ejaculations. Not that I’m saying Love Lessons is all sex with no emotional investment. Ms Holt can give Ms Schone a run for her money when it comes to verbal intercourse – sexy, concise, and not that purple. Which is fine, but having these two tearing at each other’s clothes while going “Baby, baby, baby!” effectively removes what’s left of sexual tension in this story. There’s still a long way to go, so what can Ms Holt do but to pad things?
Here is where things go really wrong. James has baggage, but he stupidly repeats his mistake of falling for a titled lady. Then he screams when things go wrong, and causes Abby more hurt than he should have if he is thinking with his big head. And no, I don’t empathize with his mental blues (which is his anger at Abby not agreeing to marry him, bla bla bla), because Abby is treating him that way he treated and toyed with his late, unmourned wife. Karma’s an evil thing, James, enjoy the pain. James abandons Abby when she needs him the most, and I have a hard time forgiving him afterwards. The author doesn’t make it easier for me by making James assault Abby in anger and hatred just six pages before the last page. Yes, you read that right: the hatred/passion BS is going on even up to six pages before the last page. And the resolution, needless to say, is rushed and smells like something male cows produce after a heavy meal.
Love Lessons could use a few lessons of its own. One, don’t consummate the sexual attraction if you have no plot to write about, wait until page 200. Two, a heroine groveling when it’s the hero who needs one… something is so wrong with that picture. Still, not bad. Robin Schone may want to start looking over her shoulder.