Title: Don’t Tempt Me
Author: Loretta Chase
Genre: Historical Romance
Publishing Date: June 30, 2009
Paperback: 384 pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone (although part of a “series” of books about Fallen Women)
Summary: “Spunky English girl overcomes impossible odds and outsmarts heathen villains.”
That’s the headline when Zoe Lexham returns to England. After twelve years in the exotic east, she’s shockingly adept in the sensual arts. She knows everything a young lady shouldn’t and nothing she ought to know. She’s a walking scandal, with no hope of a future . . . unless someone can civilize her.
Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont, is no knight in shining armor. He’s cynical, easily bored, and dangerous to women. He charms, seduces, and leaves them—with parting gifts of expensive jewelry to dry their tears. But good looks, combined with money and rank, makes him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe’s risquÉ reputation . . .
Why did I read the book: It is a Loretta Chase book. I would read a book about the Working Pieces of Your Dishwasher if it was written by Loretta Chase
It is a truth accepted and confirmed by us, Book Smugglers, that if you are in search of a good romance novel you should look no further than the “C” in your local book store. It is there that you will find Loretta Chase’s books in all their splendid quality that comes from all The Loretachaseness in them: wonderful dialogue, the light and yet deeply emotional plots and wonderful heroes and heroines.
Don’t Tempt Me is yet another one to those books by the author in which every single thing works. And it is with great delight that I report that this is a story with two of my favourite tropes – the Reformed Rake and the Childhood Sweethearts.
Our heroine is Zoe, was twelve years old when visiting Egypt with her family when she is kidnapped and taken as a slave to a Harem. Her disappearance is never understood or explained to her family. But her father never stops hoping for her return – that happens 12 years later with not a small amount of scandal. Zoe is thoroughly changed by her experience. Her thought process is alien to English society and her sexual experience is not one that Ladies should have. She needs to find a place in Society, the place it was always meant to be hers and for that she needs the help of someone who can guide her in her launch and that person is Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont. Lucien is a rake, a bored Lord who spends his days without purpose and who respects only one person in the world: Lord Lexham , his father’s best friend and the man who guided him when all his family was lost when he was a child. It is because of this respect for Zoe’s father that he accepts to tutor Zoe. That, and the fact that 1) they used to know each other when children 2) the powerful pull he feels towards the woman.
They met when Lucien was ten and Zoe Octavia was five. She, the youngest of 8 siblings- he, the recently orphaned boy who needed help from her father to get over his sorrow. Lexham helped alright – but Zoe, Zoe was the antidote to his unhappiness. The cricket incident in the prologue shows all we need to know about Lucien and Zoe:
“She was eight years old. The boys were organising a cricket game. She stormed up to him.
“I want to play, Lucien. Tell them to let me”
“Girls don’t play cricket,” he said. “Go back to your dolls and your nursemaid, brat”
She snatched up a bat and swung it at him – or tried to. She swung as hard as she could, and kept on going. Round and round she went, like a whirligig, and down she went, on her arse.
And there she sat, her disorderly golden hair standing on end and her vivid blue eyes wide open and her mouth open too, so startled she was.
He laughed so hard, he fell down, too.
She was annoying, sometimes infuriating, generally impossible. And she was a bright, bright spot in his life.”
The girl who was a spitfire and very stubborn, who was always disappearing and the boy who would always find her and reign her in. The dynamics remain the same even after the years they were apart even if the two people have changed. The boy who laughed is somewhere underneath a pile of restrained emotion – unwelcome thoughts, unwanted memories, unused emotions are all stored in his Mental Cupboard. Plus, he can’t believe she is back. He won’t believe she is back. And yet, there she is. Different, but the same.
“I crossed the seas, and it was like crossing years”
He has given his word he will help her (and when Lucien gives his word, he won’t take it back) even if it kills him. It might as well do so. The words Zoe utters as soon as she is back , taunt and haunt him:
“I know all the arts of pleasing a man”
And this is a book filled with the most amazing sexual tension and innuendos. Every sex scene works to develop the plot – from the most unusual to the most funny: like when they can’t help but to fall in each other’s arms even there in the park. Where they laugh and are drunk in each other kisses, and they hardly even notice that they are in public until one of her sisters find them and proceeds to smack Lucien’s head with her parasol. “It is like separating dogs” she says. Then Zoe, this amazing heroine raises herself in her elbows and glares at her sister
“I am going to kill you”, she said. “Are you a crazy woman ,to interrupt at such a time? I do not care how pregnant you are. There is no excuse…”
This freedom that Zoe experiences for the first time in 12 years is all that she cares about , it is all that is important to her coupled to her need to exist in her own world. To be presented to the Queen is the answer to the latter (and when she does so, the scenes that follow with Lucien are wonderfully tender) and to be with Lucien is the answer to the first. Even if it is difficult at first.
Because Loretta Chase’s books may be light in tone but that does not preclude emotional depth. Like for example, the guilt that Zoe feels – it was not her fault that she was taken but because she had a reputation for disappearing acts, it isn’t a surprise that she would wonder if that wasn’t expected . In a way , it reminded me of the Boy Who Cried Wolf fable.
Similarly, her heroes usually go through a lot before the book ends and Don’t Tempt Me is no different. Lucien only holds his position in life because of the horrible losses of people he loved – and yes, that includes Zoe as well. That causes not only emotional detachment but also avoidance of his responsibilities as a Duke. Once he is able to open the emotional side of his heart and he is freed from his own restraints, it is time to confront what his (in)actions have caused . Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a big fan of secondary suspense plots but in Don’t Tempt Me, the secondary is necessary and important – it is has not only verisimilitude (it was bound to happen given how Lucien lived his life) but it is also important for him to face the result of his way of living. He too, is guilt-ridden. And it is painful.
One last word about a detail I am sure some readers may not like. This is not really a spoiler as it is disclosed in the first pages. I was surprised to learn that even though Zoe lived in the harem as a second wife she was still a virgin. I really wanted her to a True Fallen Woman. But Loretta Chase plays the virgin card with aplomb – because Zoe is well and truly experienced and this virginity is only but a detail that is put aside so very easily – and you will know what I mean when you read the carriage scene. Plus, and this is really good: there is a perfectly reasonable explanation why she is still a virgin that it’s even part of the reason why she was taken in first place.
Basically: anything Loretta Chase throws at me, I will bite, chew and swallow with gusto as everything will inevitably taste as chocolate covered strawberries. This is the case with Don’t Tempt Me and I finished it with the satisfied feeling that I just read a good Romance, a good book, a good story.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: This excerpt shows when Lucien sees Zoe for the first time in years.
As he usually did upon entering a room, the Duke of Marchmont paused to size up the situation. Even now, after the bottle or two or three, his gaze was not as sleepy as it appeared to be.
1. Lexham standing in front of the fire, looking ready to tear his hair out.
2. Lady Lexham fluttering upon the chaise longue, in her best dying moth imitation.
3. At the large central table, the four married Lexham daughters, all in black, a color particularly depressing in women of their complexion. As usual, the two eldest appeared to suffer from an obstruction of the bowels. As usual, the two younger ones suffered the consequences of a lively conjugal life. They looked ready to drop brats any minute now–twins or ponies, judging by their circumference.
4. and at the window…
…a girl with a book in her lap.
A girl with golden hair and startled blue eyes, the bluest eyes in all the world, set in a heart-shaped face, all creamy white and pink…
That was as far as Marchmont got. He was aware of his own eyes widening and of a curious galloping sensation in his chest and a feeling of being set on fire then thrown into a deep pool of water. He was equally aware of the way the pink in her cheeks deepened and the way her shoulders went back while he stared and the way the movement drew his attention downward to a figure with the elegant curves of a statue of Venus he’d seen somewhere or other.
All of this happened so quickly that it disrupted the already uncertain connection between his tongue and his brain. Even at the best of times, he might speak first and think later. At present, thanks to the bottle or two or three, his mind was in a thickish haze.
He said, “Ye gods, it’s true. That dreadful girl is back.”
The masculine voice uttering his name in a familiar patient tone made him blink. He climbed out of the very deep pool and into the present. He tore his gaze from the girl and aimed it at his former guardian.
Lexham’s expression had changed to one all too recognizable: a mixture of exasperation and affection and something else the Duke of Marchmont chose not to put a name to.
“Thank you, sir, I should indeed like a glass–or ten–of something,” he said, though he knew perfectly well that Lexham was not offering a drink. Marchmont recognized all of his former guardian’s tones of voice. When he said “Marchmont” in that way, it meant, “Recollect your manners, sir.”
Nonetheless, his grace persisted, as he often did, in willfully misunderstanding. “Something strong, I think,” he went on. “I find myself in need of a bracer.”
Zoe. Here. Alive. It wasn’t possible. Yet it must be, because there she was.
He looked at her again.
She looked right back at him, up and down, down and up.
The back of his neck prickled. He was used to women eyeing him. This sort of survey usually occurred, however, in gatherings of the demimonde or in a private corner of an ostensibly respectable social event. It did not happen in the open in an unquestionably respectable domestic setting.
He was not disconcerted. Nothing disconcerted him. Disoriented was more like it. Perhaps he should have had a little less to drink before he came. Or perhaps he hadn’t had enough.
“But of course you want something to steady your nerves, dear,” said Lady Lexham. “I fainted dead away when I saw our Zoe.”
This didn’t surprise him. The calamity of twelve years ago had sent Lady Lexham into a dangerous decline. When she did recover physically, she did not recover the steadiness and strength of mind she’d once possessed, though he was not sure she’d ever possessed great stores of either quality. These days her ladyship spent much of her time agitated, swooning, or trembling–sometimes, all three at once.
At the moment, he himself felt oddly lightheaded. “Zoe, indeed,” he said. “So it is.”
He made himself meet the assessing blue gaze again.
The girl smiled.
It was and it wasn’t Zoe’s smile, and for some reason the image of a crocodile came into his mind.
“And now I’ve lost a thousand pounds,” he went on, “for I made sure I’d find another Princess Caraboo in your drawing room.”
“Good grief!” cried one of the sisters.
“Is that what they’re saying?” said another.
“What would you expect?”
“I daresay it isn’t the worst of the rumors.”
Marchmont’s gaze swung toward the Four Harridans of the Apocalypse.
“You ought to see the satirical prints,” he said. “Most…inventive.”
“You needn’t rub it in.”
“You find it all hilarious, I don’t doubt.”
“If you’d been harried from pillar to post, as we have been–”
“Don’t waste your breath. He–”
“You are a duke,” came a feminine voice that didn’t belong to any of them. It was like theirs but different.
Marchmont turned away from the Matrons of Doom and toward the girl at the window: the girl who was and wasn’t the Zoe he’d known so long ago.
She had risen from the chair. Her deep red cashmere shawl set off handsomely the pale green frock and was draped in a way that perfectly framed her figure. The high-necked frock’s narrow bodice outlined an agreeably rounded bosom. The fall of the skirt told him her waist was smallish and her hips full. She seemed taller than her sisters, though it was hard to be sure, given that two of them had expanded so much horizontally, and all four of them were seated.
In any event, she was not a pocket Venus by any means, but a full-sized model.
Her potently blue eyes held a speculative glint. Or was he imagining that? His vision was in good order. He had no trouble focusing. His brain, on the other hand, was unusually sluggish.
“You speak English,” he said. “More or less.”
“It was much less at first,” she said. “Lord Winterton hired a companion and a maid for me. They couldn’t speak Arabic. No one else but he could, and he would not. For all the journey home, I had to speak English. And it came back.” She tipped her head to one side, studying his face as though it, too, were a forgotten language. “I remember you.”
In the voice that was like and unlike her sisters’ he detected no trace of anything one might call a foreign accent. Yet she spoke with a lilt that made the sound exotic. It was a voice with shadows and soft edges.
“I should hope so,” he said. “You tried to kill me with a cricket bat once.”
She nodded. “I went round and round, then I fell on my bottom. You laughed so hard you fell down.”
“Did I?” He remembered all too clearly. The mental cupboard would not stay closed.
“I remembered that while I was away,” she continued. “I often pictured you falling down laughing, and the recollection cheered me.” She paused. “But you are…different.”
“So are you.”
“And you are a duke.”
“Have been for some time,” he said. “Since before you went away.” Forever. She’d gone away forever. But she was back. He knew her, yet she was a stranger. The world was not altogether in balance.
She nodded, her smile fading. “I recall. Your brother. It was very sad.”
Sad. Was that the word?
It was in the way she said it. He heard a world of sorrow in that word. He remembered how she’d wept and how shocked he’d been, because Zoe Octavia never wept. And that had somehow made his own grief all the more unbearable.
“It was a long time ago,” he said.
“Not to me,” she said. “I crossed seas, and it was like crossing years. To everyone it must seem as though I have come back from the dead. If only I had done so in truth, I might have brought your brother with me.”
One devastating moment of shock, a sting within as of a wound opening–but then:
“Good heavens, Zoe!” a sister cried.
“Pay her no heed, Marchmont,” said another. “She has acquired the oddest notions in that heathenish place.”
“What does he care? Blasphemy is nothing to him.”
“That doesn’t mean one ought to encourage her.”
“One oughtn’t to encourage him, either.”
“But I must speak to him,” the girl said. “He is a duke. It is a very high rank. You spoke of dukes and marquesses. Will he not do?”
A collective gasp from the harridans.
“Do for what?” he said. The wound, if wound it had been, vanished from his awareness. He glanced from sister to sister. They all looked as though someone had shouted, “Fire!”
Also, Harper Collins has the first three chapters available online:
Additional Thoughts: We will post a Chat with Loretta Chase tomorrow where we talk about the book, the series, harems and more. We will also be giving away a copy of the book.
Verdict: Loretta Chase has yet to disappoint. Don’t Tempt Me is another fresh, witty, full of the wonderful, typical lorettachaseness that I have come to admire and love. Romance novels don’t get much better than this.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Bound By Your Touch by Meredith Duran