Since Lorraine Heath left westerns behind I’ve become a tremendous fan of hers. This double publishing event (Passions of a Wicked Earl is followed next month by Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman) looked like the best thing to happen to October since Halloween. Then I got scared. The basic set up for Passions is that Morgan finds Claire in the arms of Morgan’s brother (Stephen from Pleasures) and while threesomes may be popular in romance fiction right now, it’s not what Morgan had in mind for his wedding night. Morgan, understandably upset, banishes Claire to the proverbial country estate, never to be thought of again while he sets about sleeping with any woman who is not Claire. Here’s where the fear comes in. The advance ad copy reads “she… has returned to London with one goal in mind: the seduction of her notorious husband.”
Really? That’s her entire goal? I know from checking out the Amazon forums that I’m not the only reader who came to a full stop at that set up. There’s a high ewwww factor in tearing a man who has been ignoring you from another woman’s bed and begging Mr. Patriarch to condescend. Lorraine Heath has been delivering original reads packed full of emotional punch and deep character motivations. “He sleeps with everyone, everyone but her!” isn’t what I want. Cracking the cover, I find the hero in bed with another woman. Great. It’s not a treat, it’s a trick. Like Morgan, I jumped to conclusions. Unlike Morgan, I stuck around for more than five minutes to find out what was really going on. Turns out Claire’s goal is a wee bit more complicated than the cover let on. (I shouldn’t judge books by their covers. Look at this cover – I’d assume Morgan runs about naked all day. Plus, there seems to be an extra leg in there. Either Claire has a hidden friend or it’s a really long way to her knee.) Claire’s arrival turns everything upside down. What we have here is a complex story of two young kids who caused themselves a decade of pain by failing to communicate. (Sound familiar? That’s just me? Really? Um, ok.)
With a brief nod to the characters of her last series to let you know you’re in the same world, Heath sets up a man who has trouble expressing his emotions and therefore failed to court the woman he wants. Morgan expects her to fulfill his needs without giving her any indication that her own are important to him. (Ok, that has to ring some bells. Anyone?) Refreshingly, Claire is willing to call him out on what he’s done wrong without using it as an excuse for her own poor judgement. Morgan and Claire are at the end of their marriage, with Morgan considering Claire’s replacement. (Is it too late for them to repair the hurt of the past and learn to live in the future?) Passions of a Wicked Earl is a fantastic tale of a marriage on the brink of ending. Lorraine Heath folds in a brilliant subplot with a smaller triangle between Morgan’s mother, a painter several years her junior, and a lover lost to her forever.
(I did have a problem with the late appearance of a murderous figure. Did a memo go out that near death experiences bring the romance? Because I neither got that memo nor want it. Like Claire and Morgan, I can forgive. This is a super tasty book that more than makes up for a few pieces of licorice and a toothbrush in the candy bag.)
Passions of a Wicked Earl is a must buy for October. It’s not just a great read in it’s own right, it sets up Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman which is one of my top five books for 2010. It’s that good. Whether you look at Passions as a prequel, as a great read on it’s own, or as a challenge to the rest of the field to step up their romance game, Lorraine Heath is delivering a major treat.