Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23306-1
Historical Romance, 2010
Kate Moore was one of the collateral damages during the Great Publisher Merge only a few years ago, when Avon was swallowed up by HarperCollins and many authors from both publishing houses found themselves without a contract as a result. I am so pleased to see her back in the saddle that I accidentally ordered this book from Book Depository twice. Sigh.
To Tempt a Saint is the first book in a trilogy revolving around the “Sons of Sin” – three sons of a now retired courtesan. This is the story of Alexander Jones, the middle son. It’s a long story, so let me just keep things simple by saying that the youngest kid, Kit, went missing three years ago during a jaunt into the seediest parts of London. Alex wasn’t sure what happened despite the fact that he was accompanying Kit until the world went black, while Will, the eldest kid, refuses to be upstaged by Alex so he also blames himself for Kit’s disappearance.
When the story opens, Kit is probably the unwilling pincushion of randy sailors in some Asian port but the two brothers have not given up hope. Xander’s scheme is to get enough money to become a partner in the Metropolitan Works Group and launch an ambitious plan to bring electric lamps into the streets of the worst parts of London. He believes that he will unearth Kit along the way – because with the lights on, there will be no more dark and scary places to hide Kit in, that kind of thing. I don’t know, while all this works in poetry when such melodrama involving various heavy-handed imagery is normal, the whole plan seems unnecessarily complicated to me. Still, it’s Xander’s plan and he needs £30,000 ASAP. While he has been knighted for saving the Prince Regent’s life in the past, very few women, even among those in trade, seem willing to let him marry them and gain access to their money.
Until he meets Cleopatra Spencer. Cleo has £75,000 to her name and her brother Charlie, being the heir to their late father’s title, has an even bigger amount of money, but all that money is kept in trust, the chains held by their guardian Lord March and the local banker who defers to Lord Archibald March. As Lord March makes merry in London, Cleo and her brother find themselves living like Cinderella forgotten by her fairy godmother. A very practical woman, Cleo realizes that she needs to marry, as per the condition of her inheritance, if she wants to give herself and Charlie a better life than the one they are stuck in.
Conveniently enough, Lord March is Xander’s enemy. This man will also not sit by and let Cleo and Xander get their hands on money so easily. The resulting court case to render the marriage null and void will force Cleo and Xander to evaluate their initial plans to have purely a marriage of convenience. Of course, there is plenty of danger abound by the last scene, because what’s love without the hero coming to the heroine’s rescue, after all.
I love Cleo. She is, hands down, one of the best romance heroines I have come across this year. She may be on paper another helpless poverty-crippled maiden who only wants the best for her brother, but wait until you see her in action. This woman is sharp and she takes no nonsense. So Xander wants to marry her for her money? Well, let’s have proper papers drawn up to protect herself as well as her brother. So Xander is hiding something from her? She’ll just tell the staff that, as Lord Jones’s wife, she has the right to the house keys, and with those keys, she proceeds to enter her husband’s room and start searching for any clue to whatever secrets he is hiding from her. Cleo is an excellent example of a heroine who shows intelligence and survival instincts without coming off like a too-modern American woman playing dress-up games.
But oh, dear, Xander. I guess I can’t have everything after all, because this story is as long as it is because Xander and his brother have taken it upon themselves to play obstinate mules in some misguided belief that this helps make them sparkle in the sunlight. In the past, Xander didn’t mind porking women if they have the money to fund his plans, but when he marries Cleo, all of a sudden he has this vow of not shagging noble women to adhere to, even if, as Cleo repeatedly tells him, consummating the marriage and giving her a child will ensure a surefire triumph over Lord March in the courtroom. Xander will insist on sticking to his vow as he comes up with all kinds of nonsense to avoid sleeping with Cleo. He comes off as thick as lead as a result.
Not only that, for some reason he treats his whole plan to save Kit as this amazing big secret that he ends up withholding so much information unnecessarily from Cleo. I’d think he’d be a little more charitable since her money is going to help him recover his long missing brother if all goes well, but no. He keeps plotting to betray her (and eventually, he does) and planning to end their marriage (even if this means leaving her ruined, because, I don’t know, he deems himself the most important person in the whole universe), even hurting her feelings now and then along the way. I know, his brother is probably right now high on opium while being ravished by leering sailors on shore leave, and it’s such a tragedy, but there’s no reason for him to be so pointlessly melodramatic and obstinate, is there? They have both agreed to a marriage of convenience, so… I mean, come on! Is there really a need to end it when they both agree amicably to terms of the marriage? And if there is, maybe it will be nice to let her know in advance, don’t you agree? It’s her money, after all.
I don’t see any good reason why Xander has to behave the way he does, other than to generate contrived conflicts to keep the story going. Cleo, naturally, understands him, but that’s why she’s the romance heroine while I’m the hag who thinks that Xander should just drown himself in a tub of glitter.
About To Tempt a Saint, I’d say this in conclusion. This is a well-written book with a very adorable heroine after my heart. However, I find the hero’s antics and motivations contrived and pointless aside from prolonging the agony between him and Cleo. If you are more sympathetic toward the hero, I’d dare say you will enjoy this book much more than me.