Signet Eclipse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22567-2
Historical Romance, 2008
Wicked Intentions has a plot that is hard to describe without revealing spoilers because, simply put, this is one of those stories where details will slowly appear as you turn the pages until, finally, you get to see the whole picture late in the story. I find it a little harder to describe my feelings about this story. I don’t hate it, even if I don’t like these characters. The whole story leaves me feeling cold and unfulfilled.
Okay, the plot. Let’s just say that the woman who calls herself Esmeralda is a popular fad of the Season, as she allows herself to be hired as the resident party clairvoyant to amuse the guests. Some claim that she is genuinely psychic and can communicate with the dead. Our hero Thomas Hyde is far from amused when his mother joins the ranks of Esmeralda’s patrons. He becomes determined to discover her secrets at any cost even as it becomes clear to the reader that Esmeralda has her own agenda that may or may not be related to the mysterious death of Thomas’s brother.
Oh boy, the so-called romance. This one has an early love scene that causes me to raise an eyebrow, but perhaps it’s the influence of way too many raunchy erotic romances that causes me to be not too scandalized by that scene. Let me just say that the scene, as well as a few others, are of dubious consent on the heroine’s part. I’d say “dubious consent” because in those cases, the heroine doesn’t have any other option but to submit. Or, to put it crudely, she may as well lie down and try to enjoy it. Esmeralda isn’t a victim in this relationship, though. She’s pretty sadistic in the sense that she deliberately keeps her secrets from Thomas, so Thomas ends up believing the worst of her. This doesn’t excuse Thomas, of course. I’m just saying that these two characters are pretty whacked in the head.
Because Thomas is determined to think the worst of Esmeralda for two-thirds of this story and Esmeralda is determined to play the misunderstood martyr as she proceeds with her plans, I do not believe that these two characters can ever be in love, at least by the last page of this story. The mystery is interesting and the story is very well written, but Wicked Intentions is a better historical mystery story than a historical romance because the emotional component of the story is not present in believable quantity.
Still, I suspect that this story would have worked for me, believable romance or no, if the author had tacked on a more ambiguous happy ending that leaves some room for interpretation. One that allows me to believe that, say, maybe these two will start again under more favorable circumstances, for example. In this story, however, the characters are determined to get married and stay together by the last page. This is the fatal flaw of this story. I simply cannot believe this particular happy ending.
Wicked Intentions is an interesting story in that I don’t find stories like this anymore in the increasingly sanitized historical romance market. This one is, in fact, tailor-made for readers who have survived the worst of Anne Stuart‘s more sadistic romance novels and lived to tell the tale, craving for more melodramatic “I hate you! Now put out, bitch!” stories yet feeling hesitant to try reading an 1980s bodice-ripper.
Proceed with caution where this book is concerned, folks. It’s not a bad book, but it can be a pretty disquieting read all the same.