Thank you for re-releasing your novella The Mad Earl’s Bride. I missed it when it was released in 2009 in the anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss. The Mad Earl’s Bride has the tone of my favorites of your books: witty, smart, and sweetly sexy. It even has Bertie Trent in it–as well as, briefly, Dain. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The book is set in the late 1820′s, a time when misdiagnoses and harmful treatment in medicine were the norm. Even more poorly understood and treated was mental illness. The hero of this story, Dorian Camoy, the Earl of Rawnsley, watched his mother succumb to madness, dying of what was diagnosed as genetic defect in her brain, one that could be neither detected nor cured. Her symptoms were these:
She heard voices, … and saw things that weren’t there, and screamed of ghosts and cruel talons ripping into her skull.
Several years later, when Dorian is 27, he begins to suffer from the same malady. The symptoms worsen and, within a year, he is sure he too will descend into insanity and perish.
He’d suspected, early on, that the illness, like his mother’s years earlier, had simply been the beginning of the end.
In January, when the headaches began, his suspicions were confirmed. As the weeks passed, the attacks grew increasingly vicious, as hers had done.
The night before last, he’d wanted to bash his head against the wall.
. . . pain . . . tearing at my skull . . . couldn’t see straight . . . couldn’t think.
He understood now, fully, what his mother had meant. Even so, he would have borne the pain, would not have sent for Kneebones yesterday morning, if not for the shimmering wraith he’d seen. Then Dorian had realized something must be done—before the faint visual illusions blossomed into full-blown phantasms, as they had for his mother, and drove him to violence, as they had done her.
I suspect many readers will quickly guess what afflicts the Camoys. In fact, that’s part of the fun of the story, turning the pages and wondering when will Dorian learn why he won’t die? We know he can’t die because he has to live happily ever after with Gwendolyn Adams, the young woman his family insists he marry so that he may beget an heir before his awful death.
Gwendolyn is fabulous.
Like Dorian, Gwendolyn was born in the wrong era of medicine. In her case, it’s because she desperately longs to be a physician. She’s learned everything society will allow her to; she’s even attended a cadaver dissection at a time when legal cadavers were very difficult to come by. Gwen’s uncle, the duc d’Abonville (the fiancé of Gwendolyn’s and Jessica’s grandmother, Genevieve) who is the nearest male kin to Dorian, has asked Gwen to be Dorian’s bride. She agrees to the deal because, as she explains to Dorian when the first meet,
“I do need the money, to build a hospital,” she said. “I have definite ideas about how it should be constructed as well as the principles according to which it must be run. In order to achieve my goals—without negotiation or compromise—I require not only substantial funds, but influence. As Countess of Rawnsley, I should have both. As your widow, I should be able to act independently. Since you are the last of the males of your family, I should have to answer to no one.”
After arguing against the match but finding himself outflanked by Gwendolyn and Dorian’s closest friend from school, Bertie Trent, Dorian marries Gwen. (The fact that he’s been celibate for the past year is also an inducement.)
Once Gwen is ensconced in Dorian’s home, she sets about first convincing him to talk to her about his illness and then researching its possible genesis. She also treats Dorian as a sane and smart man who just happens to make her swoon. Dorian, now that he has mental, emotional, and physical succor in his life, slowly falls for his wife. Their relationship is lovely.
Though this is a short piece, just 158 pages, Ms. Chase tells a complete story. Her characters have time to develop from total strangers to enamored spouses. The medical aspect of the plot is accurately and richly mined as well. It’s a rare novella that doesn’t feel too brief but The Mad Earl’s Bride does not. I recommend it highly. It gets an A.
I think your novel Hot Island Nights is splendid—I love the rapport between Elizabeth and Nathan—and I was happy to learn your new s...moreDear Ms. Mayberry—
I think your novel Hot Island Nights is splendid—I love the rapport between Elizabeth and Nathan—and I was happy to learn your new self-published novel Her Best Worst Mistake is a companion/sequel to that tale. Her Best Worst Mistake chronicles what happens between Elizabeth’s wild best friend Violet and Elizabeth’s stuffy ex-fiancé Martin when the latter is dumped by Elizabeth eight weeks before their wedding. Violet and Martin loathed each other in Hot Island Nights… or so they thought.
One doesn’t have to read Hot Island Nights to enjoy this book, but it was fun to read them back to back. In the beginning of Her Best Worst Mistake, Elizabeth who has always been a very good girl, abandons both her pressuring grandparents and their protégée, Martin, and runs off to find her birth father in Australia. There she hops right into bed with the super hunky Nathan and is on her way to hot sex and happy ever after. When she leaves England, she leaves Violet for whom Elizabeth functions not only as a best friend but as her family and Martin who, having pulled his way up from a poor North London estate sees Elizabeth as
… a million miles from the girls he’d grown up with. She always knew the right thing to say or do. She was beautiful, refined, elegant. Her love had been the final seal on his success.
Neither Martin nor Violet have ever approved of the other. Violet thinks Martin is an uptight, controlling, dullard whose ambitions have limited Elizabeth’s ability to have fun and discover what she—Elizabeth—really wants from life. Violet constantly criticizes Martin to Elizabeth and every time the three are together, Violet snipes at Martin. She knows she does it, but she just can’t stand the guy.
At the ripe old age of twenty-nine, she should probably have grown out of goading people for sport, but for some reason she never tired of poking Martin with a stick to see how long it would take before he growled and snapped.
For his part, Martin thinks Violet is excessively outrageous and loud. He thinks her wardrobe is right out of the “Playboy catalogue,” she does nothing but calls attention to herself, and is a brat to boot. Once he realizes Elizabeth has truly left him, he tells Violet,
“There are many things I will miss about sharing Elizabeth’s life, but spending time with you will not be one of them. I can honestly say that I have never been more...relieved to think that I need never lay eyes on a person again. Was that polite enough for you, Violet, or should I drop a few four letter words in there so you feel more at home?”
But Martin is wrong about Violet. She’s not a self-absorbed bitch and, in fact, when she thinks about how devastated he must be having been dumped by the woman he’s dated and loved for six years, she decides to check up on him and brings him a bottle of peach schnapps as a sympathy gift. Martin is nasty to her and refuses her offering, but she leaves it for him anyway. Later, at his very lonely house, he sips the drink and begins to wonder why the hell she brought him that particular present.
He didn’t usually have a sweet tooth, but when he’d tried schnapps for the first time at a West End bar last year he’d discovered that there was something about the sweetness of the peach and the heat of the alcohol that appealed to his palate.
He lifted the glass to his mouth again, then stilled as it occurred to him that Violet had been there that night, too, lolling against the bar in a purple sparkly dress that had been too short and too tight and too bright.
And when she’d gone looking for a pity gift for him, she’d bought him peach schnapps, out of all the options open to her at the off-license.
Which meant it was either a coincidence... or she’d remembered that night and how much he’d enjoyed the schnapps.
He downed the last of the drink.
It was probably a coincidence. There was no reason for her to remember such a small, insignificant detail about him. Certainly there hadn’t been anything special about that night to mark it in her memory—it had been a night like any other, one of many times he’d socialized with Violet for Elizabeth’s sake....
He reached for the bottle and poured himself another drink, almost filling the glass this time.
As though he’d opened a floodgate within himself, a storehouse of Violet-tinged memories fell out. The fact that she hated escargot but adored truffles. The fact that she’d once queued for days to buy tickets for a George Michael concert. The fact that she absolutely refused to learn the names of any players for any of the country’s football teams, even though it required a concerted effort to forget the headlines and news reports focusing on the country’s national obsession....
Martin, drunk on schnapps, shows up just as Violet is closing up her boutique, the wittily named Violet Femmes, and demands to know why she bought him peach schnapps. That question leads to explosive sex on Violet’s couch after which both Violet and Martin are appalled at their behavior. Martin does a fast walk of shame out the door while Violet hides in her bathroom. Martin tells himself it was a
… stupid, impetuous act, driven by ego and peach schnapps and undeniable curiosity.
Violet is consumed by guilt. She has broken a cardinal rule: never have sex with your best-friend’s ex. Elizabeth has been the most important person in Violet’s life ever since Violet's ghastly father and step-mother kicked her out of their house and lives when she was nineteen because of her “Jezebel” ways.
This is a partial review. Please go to DearAuthor.com to read the rest!
Wow, do I like this book. Which surprises me because, prior to reading Take What You Want, your New Adult romance, I’d yet to encounter a NA that did much for me. I had thought I was either too old and cranky and/or too surrounded by actual New Adults to enjoy tales of their travails, but now, after reading Take What You Want, I realize I just hadn’t found the right one.
Ellen Price is a pre-med senior who keeps her head down in class, gets good grades, and pays for her apartment with a crappy waitressing job. She didn’t have the money to join her friends on a Spring Break trip to the Bahamas but, after dropping them off at the airport, she made a plan.
It had seemed simple, at the time. No, she couldn’t go to the Bahamas, or anywhere else for that matter. But she could still take a vacation of sorts—a vacation from herself.
She’d raided her petty cash jar and gone shopping at someplace other than Target for once. Standing in front of the dressing room mirror, dolled up in clothes she would never have been caught dead in normally, she’d seen a flash of fire in her own eyes. All the resentment and stress had boiled over, and with it, her resolve had been set in place.
For one week—one blessed week—she’d be someone else. With no one around to watch her flail or to remark on her strange behavior, she could do anything, be whoever she pleased. The confident woman who took what she wanted.
So Ellen walks into a bar, dressed in the sexiest outfit she’s ever donned, picks up a stranger, takes him home, and has the best sex of her life.
Except, he’s not a stranger. He’s a fellow pre-med student, Josh Markley, who not only knows who Ellen is, he’s had a crush on her for the past three years. When Ellen first comes on strong to Josh, he’s not sure what she’s up to. She’s got to recognize him, right? But, Ellen not only doesn’t seem to know who he is–she assumes he’s a student home for Spring Break–but, when he asks her what she does, she says she’s a waitress and mentions not a word about going to school there. Josh is a bit weirded out by sexy, seemingly untruthful Ellen but he’s wanted her since their freshman year and he’s not about to give up a chance to be with her.
Josh makes love to Ellen with every ounce of passion and skill he has the first night they meet. When he wakes up the next morning–he had to go home because he’d just started wearing contacts and was afraid to sleep in them–he’s determined to see her again.
The first time he’d seen Ellen, she’d been sitting on the edge of the fountain outside the lecture hall. It had been late spring, their freshman year. And she’d been so beautiful. So sexy and yet so removed from what was going on around her.
He’d hardly spoken a dozen words to her in the years since, but his first impressions had held true. She was serious and quiet, studious and demurring. Last night, though…last night she’d been a succubus in a short skirt, and with her brazenness, she’d brought out a side of him he barely recognized in himself. Just thinking about lifting her up onto her knees and taking her from behind like that…
….He found his contacts case exactly where he’d left it the night before, and with the same carefulness he’d used the first time, he got the clear circles into his eyes. He stared at himself again. His vision was sharper than it had ever been in glasses, but he still felt like he wasn’t really seeing himself—or the situation—clearly.
He still didn’t know what Ellen was doing.
All he knew was that he wanted to do it again. And again. And again.
Josh realizes he has less than a week to win Ellen and, at some point, tell her he knows her secret. He knows he makes her scream in bed but that’s not enough. He wants her to fall for him as he’s fallen for her, to trust him with her life, and to keep their relationship going when they are back in chem class together when Spring Break ends. Josh is smart, funny, sweet, sexy, and focused. Each hour he spends with Ellen, whether it’s in the shower, or on his Harley, or lying next to her on the roof staring at millions of stars, Josh listens to Ellen, trying to understand who she is. He’s not a manipulative guy, however. He also pushes her to give him what he needs.
Josh needs love and acceptance right now more than he ever has. He’s his physician father’s only child and, for as long as Josh can remember, his dad has pushed him hard to go to medical school. Josh though doesn’t want to be that kind of doctor. He wants to be the kind who has a PhD in chemistry. He’s been girding himself to tell his dad on their annual camping trip coming up this weekend and he’s dreading it. His marvelous mom tells him to have faith in his relationship with his dad, but it’s hard for Josh to feel as though he’s not going to crush his dad’s dreams.
Josh is a great hero. He’s that rare thing: a perfect guy who doesn’t seem fake, dull, or unbelievable. Here, after taking Ellen on a sexy ride on his motorcycle, he’s just turned down a third night of heating up the sheets with her and asked her out on an official date instead.
God, but she’d almost killed him, clinging to him the way she had. A hundred times on the way home, he’d cursed himself for not taking them to her apartment and carrying her upstairs, driving into her right there on her entryway floor. She’d cleaved to him so tightly, pressed those hot hands to his abdomen in a way that made his skin scream out for more, more, more.
But three times was a pattern, and he’d seen a future he didn’t like spread out before him. If he’d given in and just taken her again, without ceremony or discussion, it would have doomed them. And wanting more wasn’t just about wanting her body.
He wanted the seductress in the high heels and short skirts, all right, the one that oozed sex and confidence. But he wanted the girl in the plain sweaters with the loose waves that fell over her face, too. The one that hid in the last row of the lecture hall but who always knew the answers. The one that dissected a pig all by herself, looking kissable even in a rubber apron and goggles and gloves.
He wanted her to want more than a fuck from him. He wanted her to remember him. To know him.
And this was his chance—his chance to prove to her that he was worth more.
Ellen too is a wonderful character. As Jane points out, New Adult fiction showcases protagonists that are “on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others.” In Take What You Want, Ellen does just that in ways that are self-affirming and freeing. It’s a joy to watch her trust in her new-found sensuality and discover that her life can give her more, much more, than she’s previously demanded of it. As she spends time listening to Josh, she pushes him to take the same chances with his father that she is with him. By garnering strength from the care they show each other, Josh and Ellen both take what they want and the process is lovely to see. Josh and Ellen change in the lives they have outside of each other–Josh with his parents, Ellen at her waitressing job–in ways that compliment the relationship they build between themselves.
I also enjoyed the dialogue in this book. Each character has a strong separate voice and the discussions they have sound real.
He picked up his butter knife and seesawed it back and forth across his knuckles. “I majored in chemistry. It’s a good choice for pre-med anyway, and I just…like it. One of the professors kind of took me under his wing and stuff, and I’ve been working in his lab. It’s…nice. Less memorizing, more math. No patients or worrying about who you’re going to kill that day. More my speed, you know?”
“So why don’t you do that?”
And in that moment, he honestly didn’t know.
He forced the shutters back down, though, and gave a tight-lipped smile. “It’s complicated. Anyway.” Josh flipped the knife over to catch it in his palm. “That’s my what and my why. Why do you want to be a doctor?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve just always wanted to help people, and science always came easy for me. The money would be nice, too.”
The way her forehead crinkled, he guessed the money wasn’t a small part of the equation. Sticking to her story, he asked, “Is that why you’re at the diner? To save up for school?”
I could go on and on. The sex scenes are lovely and hot. The college town is spot on. Even the “we fell in love in a week” works here. The writing is crisp and clear. And, oh, the last scene in the book is flat-out fabulous. In it, Ms. Grey takes all the strands of her novel and all the hopes and dreams Josh and Ellen have and creates pretty much the sweetest ending I’ve read in a romance in a long time.
I hope you are having a lovely holiday season. This year, as in 2011, you enriched my December by releasing a stellar Christmas tale. A Kiss for Midwinter is not quite as brilliant as This Perfect Gift (mentioned here in my list of favorite holiday stories) but it’s still wonderful. Thank you.
The heroine of your novella, Miss Lydia Charingford, is the best friend of the heroine in your latest novel, The Duchess Wars. It was clear, when I read The Duchess Wars, there was a romance brewing between Lydia and the town’s young doctor, Jonas Grantham. Jonas was my favorite character in The Duchess Wars.I have a weakness for accurately written medicine men in romance and a loathing for those who are poorly rendered. In A Kiss for MidwinterJonas is my dream physician: he’s a superb, conscientious, thinking practitioner and a hell of a guy. You write in the addendum to your story that you “have always been fascinated by the history of medicine.” You’ve clearly researched early Victorian medicine and the facts behind your story give the tale a realistic resonance I loved.
As the novella begins, it’s 1862 and Jonas is newly returned to Leicester. He grew up there, the brilliant only child of a scrap metal man; Jonas’s mother died when he was five. Jonas has been gone from Leicester for many years, first away at school, then studying medical instruction in London for three years. The last time he was home, he’d had a horrific experience in which he watched the town’s then doctor, Parwine, treat a fifteen year old pregnant girl with verbal malice and heinous medical malpractice. Jonas couldn’t stop Parwine, but the experience shaped him significantly. Now back home, he’s taken over Parwine’s medical practice and is ready to find a wife and settle down. He’s made a list of the ten prettiest single young ladies in Leicester and he plans to speak to each of them in hopes that one will suit. The young ladies are, in general, quite interested in Jonas. He’s handsome, tall, and makes a good living. Jonas knows he’s not perfect. As he explains to a friend,
“I’d rather cast my net broadly than miss altogether. And, as it happens, I have a few defects in my character.”
For instance, he was fairly certain that his list of local beauties, arranged by degree of physical attractiveness, was not something that members of the opposite sex would find particularly compelling. Also, he had decided it would be best not to mention his main reason for wanting to marry—that he thought it expedient to procure a regular source of sexual intercourse without risking syphilis.
There is a young lady Jonas sees at church who is not on his top ten list–she’d be eleven–who he decides he should at least talk to in case she improves upon closer inspection. He manages to get her on his arm for a walk in a park a few days later and finds that not only is she definitely number eleven, she’s also unpleasant to talk to. She won’t look him in the eye and returns all his conversational sallies with monotone answers. Jonas finally loses his temper with her and is shocked at her response.
Her terse responses brought out the devil in him. He’d not been lying when he said he had a few defects in his personality. He turned to her and spoke with no effort at politeness. “Did you know that before I spoke this sentence, you had uttered twenty percent of the words in the conversation? Now we are much closer to ten percent. It won’t do, Miss Charingford. It won’t do.”
Beside him, she tilted her head. “Won’t it?”
He clenched a fist, annoyed beyond measure. He’d used up his rather limited store of polite conversation already, and she wasn’t even trying. In fact, she was looking up at him resentfully.
“I think it will do,” she said. “I think it will do very well. I know what you are thinking, Doctor Grantham. You’re thinking that I’m easy prey.”
“I’m thinking that?” He wrinkled his nose.
She looked about, as if to verify that nobody was nearby. “That because you know of my faults, of what has happened to me, that I’ll be susceptible to your blackmail and flattery.”
“Blackmail!” he repeated in surprise.
“I don’t care what you think of my moral decay,” she hissed. “I am still alive, and I intend to remain so. I refuse to be ruined. If you try anything, you’ll be sorry.”
It was the look on her face that sparked his recognition—that defiant, accusing glare directed at him once more. It made him catch his breath, remembering the girl from five years ago. He’d worried about her after he left. Every time he’d seen an unwed mother or a prostitute in those intervening years, he’d wondered what horror his silence had brought to her.
And in that moment, as Jonas stares at Lydia, seeing the girl he’d thought destroyed, so alive and so vibrant, Jonas’s list shrinks to one.
Sadly for Jonas, Lydia can’t stand to be near him. Every time she sees him, she remembers the horror of what happened to her five years ago. She’s sure Jonas judges her–he’s the only one living in town other than her parents who know her secret–and when she sees him, all she can see is someone who sees her as so much less than she’s determined to be. Sixteen months pass from their walk in the park, and now, it is two weeks before Christmas. Jonas’s life is breaking his heart. His father, Lucas, is dying and losing his mind in ways that put both Lucas and Henry, the young boy who cares for him, at risk. His love for Lydia has prevented him from marrying any other young woman and Lydia makes it clear every time he talks to her that she dislikes him profoundly. And, no matter how hard he works, he can’t save his indigent patients from the horrors of 19th century poverty.
So, in one last attempt to show Lydia the man he is rather than the man she insists on seeing, he makes her a bet. One of the things he loves best about her is her unflagging joyousness in the face of all the sadness life contains.
“I wager,” he said, “that I could show you a situation before Christmas that would be beyond even your capacity for good cheer.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I see the worst of Leicester. In five minutes, I’ll leave for my next appointment. You smile and you wish and you see an entire world set forth in the most optimistic terms. I wager that I can find you a situation that lacks a bright side.”
He didn’t have fastenings, but he did have his version of it—house calls.
She mulled this over for a few moments. “What do you get if you win?”
“We’ll get to that in a moment, if you please. The more salient question is, what would you wish if you win? You could ask me for any favor. You could make me stand on my head in the market square for twenty minutes, if you wanted. Think, Miss Charingford, of all the ways you might humiliate me. Surely that would be worth something to you.”
She frowned and tapped her fingers against her lips. She didn’t look at him as she thought; she just tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. Finally, she gave a nod. “What if I said I wanted you never to talk to me again?”
His lungs stopped working. “That’s…that’s what you’d want?”
…“And what humiliation will you heap on me if you should prevail?” Miss Charingford asked.
“I want a kiss.”
Thus begins the true courtship between Jonas and Lydia. He takes her to visit his poorest patients, saving the most tragic for last. And she, rather than see only the tragedy, shows Jonas hope and joy in every home. Furthermore, as she spends time with Jonas, she begins to question her convictions about him and her past.
Just about everything about this novella is perfect. If I made a list of my top ten favorite romance heroes, Jonas would be on that list. (Hey, there’s a blog post for the New Year!) Jonas is a great doctor and man–his compassion for humanity extends to everyone but himself and his belief that he can always do and be better makes him so appealing. His wit is sly and lovely and he’s breathtakingly open about how he sees himself and the world. At one point, in order to avoid having an honest conversation with him, Lydia sings all of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Jonas tolerates this almost to the end and then interrupts.
“Who wants lords a-leaping?” he asked. “If my true love brings me any number of lords shambling about in their cups on Christmas, I’ll have words for her. Someone’s going to break a bottle and cut his hand, leaping about like that, and then guess who’s going to be roused from his warm home on the holidays to stitch him up? ‘Oh, Doctor Grantham, you’d best come quickly!’” He made a rude noise.
Lydia is a marvelous match for Jonas. She’s lived all her life in Leicester and is, a twenty-one, determinedly unmarried. She knows there is pain, cruelty, betrayal, and sorrow all around her–and starkly in her past–and she responds by seeing more than that. She seeks out the best in the world, determined every day to prove to her and to those around her that life’s joys outnumber its woes. And, though her behavior is, in part defensive–it enables her suppress her emotions about what happened to her five Christmases ago–it’s still beautiful and kind. She, like Jonas, every day makes the world a better place for those around her. My only complaint about her–and really, my only complaint about the novella–is that she holds on to fear for longer than seems necessary.
A Kiss for Midwinteris so well done–Ms. Milan would do the romance world a great favor if she’d share her secrets for how to write an ideal novella. In the 131 pages of this e-book, Ms. Milan offers readers a wholly rendered love story complete with history, fully realized characters (primary and secondary), and a genuinely joyful happy ending. (The very last scene of the novella is one of the best I’ve encountered in some time. I think first-rate endings are rare–Ms. Milan has given readers one in this charming holiday story.) I give A Kiss for Midwinteran A-.
Happy holidays to all and good wishes for the New Year!
this review was originally published at DearAuthor.com
Dear Ms. Calhoun:
Uncommon Passion is easily the best book you've written. The novel takes the st...morethis review was originally published at DearAuthor.com
Dear Ms. Calhoun:
Uncommon Passion is easily the best book you've written. The novel takes the strengths of your earlier works--strong characters, sensual sex scenes, believable redemption--and expands on them. Everything works: the lovers, their back-stories, the setting, the passage of time, the secondary characters, the plot, and the deft insights you offer into human behavior. I've read Uncommon Passion three times now and, each time, I am more taken with its worth.
Rachel Hill is, at twenty-five, new to the world as we know it. Seven months before Uncommon Passion begins, she ran away from the Elysian Fields Community of God, an isolated religious community in rural Texas where she’d lived her entire life. Since then, she's begun to build a new life for herself. She's gotten a job and a place to stay at an organic farm, bought a car and a cellphone, and filled out an application for veterinary technician school.
Rachel left Elysian Fields because, as she says,
They needed me to be someone I am not. They expected me to surrender all choice and control in my life to God, and if God’s direction wasn’t clear, my pastor or my father would explain it to me.
One of the choices Rachel's never been able to make is to touch or be touched by a man. In Elysian Fields, all sexual contact is saved for marriage and Rachel, who stayed stubbornly unwed, is a virgin in every sense of the word. One night, while working at a charity bachelor auction, Rachel decides she's ready to get rid of her virginity with Ben Harris, a sexy SWAT officer up for auction. She wins him with a two thousand dollar bid.
Ben looks to Rachel like the perfect man for the job.
Perfect, because she’d just bet two thousand dollars that he had no interest in a relationship, no sense that sex was something special reserved for the marriage bed, no inclination to call again.
She doubts he'll even notice. And she's right.
They agree to go out one night the next week. It's Rachel's first ever date. Ben picks her up and takes her out to dinner. After they're done eating, though he's already sure of her answer, he asks what she'd like to do next.
She bit her full lower lip, but met his gaze head-on. “I’d like to go back to your place.”
Her tone, low and clear, set his radar pinging because the words sounded almost rehearsed, but really, he didn’t give a fuck. This was who he was, what he did, because he could do this.
Ben doesn't give a fuck. Not about anything but his job and his brother. He sure as shit doesn't give a damn about the women he has sex with. But when he wakes up the morning after fucking Rachel, he's first shocked and then furious to see blood on his cock. He tracks Rachel down and asks her what the hell she thought she was doing. She tells him her virginity was hers to lose and, anyway, she didn't think he would know or care. Ben, angry and intrigued, tells her he wants another shot, that he's got what she needs.
“You don’t know what I need,” she said as she glanced toward the barn....
“I remember,” he said without lowering his voice, “how you were shaking under me at the end. Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t need more.”
She went still again, stiller than he thought possible....
“I want an explanation. You want to do it again. Longer. Slower. Hotter. This time we’ll both get what we want.”
Rachel and Ben begin meeting each Sunday for sex. And though they both believe sex is all they're there for, as the weeks go by, sex turns into passion which turns into something more, something with a gravitas that surprises them both.
Ben's and Rachel's affair is the opposite of a closed door romance. The majority of their interactions are sexual and intrinsic to understanding the relationship they build.
Ben, who has slept with so many women he can't remember their faces let alone their names, finds making love with Rachel to be outside the realm of his prodigious experience. Ben uses sex to escape from feeling. It's a tool, like the risks he takes in his job, designed to keep emotion at bay.
Rachel uses sex to feel. She makes each encounter an implement for self-discovery. As Ben watches Rachel push herself to experience all she was denied at Elysian Fields, Ben begins, almost against his will, to see himself differently. Rachel's inherent strength and the sheer rightness of what she wants make Ben question the confines of his life in ways that challenge and unsettle him.
Ben and Rachel are as engrossing apart as they are together.
It's satisfying to watch Rachel create a life for herself. The book is written in third person but there's no distance between the narration and the feelings and thoughts of the characters. Every experience Rachel has, whether it's watching the way the Texas A&M boys working at the farm for the summer play poker or taking in the expressions of amateur poets at open-mike night at her favorite bookstore in Galveston, Rachel processes it profoundly, using it to build on what she's previously seen and felt. She's in control of her life and every step she takes towards her future is authentic and heartfelt.
Ben is equally compelling. His insouciant bravado is the top layer of a complex, angry man. He's estranged from his family--with the exception of his gay twin Sam--and has spent years punishing himself and his father for actions Ben believes are unforgivable. The man he is in the beginning of the novel is sexy to Rachel--and to the reader--because of his confident diffidence. But the Ben that's leisurely exposed, the man Ben holds himself back from being, that man, a Ben who can love and be loved, is breathtaking.
Whatever flaws there are in this book--and there are flaws in every work--are subsumed by the overall calibre of Ms. Calhoun's writing. Every scene feels necessary to the storytelling; her descriptions broaden the novel's emotional scope. The sex scenes are lush, erotic, and singular. The pacing layers the narrative; the ending holds a sense of sweet inevitability. The love story is, well, lovely.
Uncommon Passion gets an A from me. It's uncommonly good. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)
I've been going through all my books as part of our move and found my first edition copy of Postmortem. It had an incredible sense of place--I know Ri...moreI've been going through all my books as part of our move and found my first edition copy of Postmortem. It had an incredible sense of place--I know Richmond well and Postmortem made me nervous to walk around the Fan for a while. None of her other books ever wowed me quite as much. (less)