Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-57275-0
Historical Romance, 2011
Ripe for Pleasure is an interesting and somewhat low-key story about the love affair between Leonidas Vaughn, the second son of the Duke of Lochmaben, and Viola Whedon, one of the most sought after courtesans in London. Of course, things don’t start out swimmingly or else there will be no drama. In this story, someone is trying to break into Viola’s house and perhaps kill her. Viola assumes that the person behind this has to be one of her ex-paramours who are unhappy over the fact that she is publishing her memoirs, which contain details about her time with them.
Leo, however, knows better – together with his cousin Charles, these two men are seeking a big stash of money hidden somewhere in the house. Charles wants the money for himself, however, so he’s sending thugs and worse to get Viola out of the way. Leo’s plan is more simple: he’d seduce Viola, get her out of the house under some pretense, locate the dough, and then break things off with Viola and go on his own merry way without the woman realizing that she’s been had. When he comes to Viola’s rescue after he sees his cousin’s thugs at work (he is watching the house himself), he takes the opportunity to convince her that she needs him to protect her from her angry ex-boyfriend. As he falls for her, his conscience begins working overtime to complicate his plans.
Well, I like how Viola is portrayed as a courtesan who harbors no shame or regret for having done what she did to survive. It’s not that Viola is that different from the usual courtesan heroine, at least on the surface: she is another young lady who eloped, lost her husband, and had nowhere to go so she eventually found herself in the business. She’s from a decently respectable background – no street child from the Seven Dials here – so yes, she’s another “good person” whose only sin is to fall in love and was cut off as a result. Still, the fact that Viola recognizes that she only did what she had to do to survive and feels no shame over what she does for a living makes her an interesting cut from the rest of her ilk. Also very nicely done is how Viola knows her way around the bedroom. Having come across way too many imbeciles who claim to be fallen women only to act like a wide-eyed virgin over basic sex acts (“Oh my god, despite being a courtesan for ten years, never in my life would I imagine that he’d put his pee-pee into my hoo-hoo!”), I can only find Viola a wonderful heroine. She’s smart, can put two and two together to come up with four, and she doesn’t run around acting like a hysterical dingbat wanting to be crowned the martyr of the year. Okay, so she does feel that she is not a suitable wife material for Leo, but that’s to be expected, given that he’s the second son of a Duke while she’s… you know.
Leo starts out a greedy cad who wants to get his hands on plenty of money without putting much effort to get his hands dirty, but he isn’t a heartless fellow. His conscience tortures him pretty mercilessly here, and I actually have fun watching him stew in the hot soup he’s created all on his own. His relationship with Viola is playful yet intense. I’m not sure how much I can believe that he’s actually in love with her, but given how he’s willing to go all the way to marry her and keep her safe, I think they’ll be fine. However, I find Leo’s ability to overlook Charles’s actions – which resulted in some disposable secondary characters getting hurt or even killed, mind you – most bewildering, and his letting Charles go only results in a most predictable chain of events leading to a denouement that I can see coming from a mile away.
While I find the pacing of the story well done, as it steadily climbs to its denouement, however predictable that denouement may be, the last few chapters of this story are the epitome of momentum killer. Barring aside the confrontation with the bad guy, the story meanders around slowly, driving home again and again that the Mad Vaughns are eccentric enough to accept the marriage of Leo and Viola. The last few chapter and the epilogue are, if you ask me, unnecessary as they only drag me through a wedding ceremony and a scene of nuptial bliss a year down the road. Of course they get married and live happily ever after – this is a romance novel, after all. Why kill all the momentum by adding in unnecessary padding?
Having said that, I actually have a good time reading Ripe for Pleasure. The characters may not always be wise, but they are smart, self aware and have good chemistry. Also, the plot is pretty well woven into the story to complement the romance. Okay, so the momentum of the story winds down in its last third or so, but it is good while it lasts.