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Victoria Vane

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The Horse Whisperer
Nicholas Evans
Midnight in Your Arms
Morgan Kelly
Far in the Wilds (A Spear of Summer Grass 0.5)
Deanna Raybourn
Hot Under the Collar - Jackie Barbosa 3.5 stars

"The good Lord had a devilish sense of humor. That was the only possible explanation for the series of events that had led inexorably toward Walter Langston's current predicament. To be fair, there was nothing amusing in the accident that had brought an abrupt end to his nascent-albeit not very promising militray career. If he had been shot in the arse or even the foot, the story would at least have made good fodder for post-prandial gatherings, but when the errant bullet struck one's collarbone and left one with less than the full use of and adjoining arm, there wasn't a great deal to laugh about."

The author then explains that his accident left him with only one remotely acceptable option:
"The one to which he as third son of an aristocrat had purported been born, but which he had misspent the majority of his youth proving himself unfit for: Walter Langston, who had never in his life been a model of either piety or propriety, was now a vicar."

This could easily have been a four star (or higher)book for me if only for the huge risk the author took with the male protagonist!

I never could have imagined a clergyman as a hero of an non-inspirational romance, but Walter Langston, even as a vicar is no model of propriety. This, however, is very typical of the age in which the church was largely an institution based on politics and patronage, with relatively few entering the clergy as their "calling." The church was for many, as with Walter, simply one of few acceptable vocations for a gentlemen.

The interesting thing is although Walter is neither devout nor pious, he actually proves himself both a capable and compassionate leader of his small parish, which happens to include a beautiful former courtesan named Artemisia Finch— a woman for whom he quickly develops a most ungodly passion.

Artemisia, a gentlewoman by birth, was ruined ten years earlier when she was seduced by an earl's son who then accuses her of being the village strumpet. Shunned afterward by the villagers, she leaves for London to spend several years as a high level mistress, returning years later only to care for her ailing father.

Walter recognizes her as a woman he once coveted in his youth and can't help desiring her once more, especially since she is no longer beyond his reach.

A clergyman and a courtesan. This combination should have been wrong in innumerable ways, but somehow the author made it work. Walter is portrayed very sympathetically as a man with flaws, as one who is conflicted between doing what is right and his own carnal nature.

He cannot help asking questions about Artemisia. When he learns how shabbily she was treated, it only increases his interest in her. Given that he was a self-professed skirt-chaser in his former life, and being brand new to his profession, he does not shrug off his old nature like an overcoat.

He ultimately gives in to his fierce attraction to her and the attraction turns out to be more than mutual. They almost immediately engage in an illicit affair.

The affair itself really isn't all that sexually explicit, nor is it very romantic. It actually left me wanting in both respects. This is not only because I had qualms about the immoral nature of their relationship. Although I did struggled with this, given Walter's chosen profession, it was not as much as I would have thought.

While I wished he had acted with more circumspection and actually courted her,that's not how the story goes.

Yet, I still found that I forgave Walter for his misconduct because their relationship was a mutual decision, not a seduction, and he does fall in love with her in the end and acts honorably at that point.

What I found heartwarming in this story, however, is Walter's evolution, his discovering a sense of purpose to his life that was previously lacking, and how well he actually performs his role as a shepherd to his flock. He legitimately cares for the people, but being more pragmatic than pious, he seeks to help everyone with their problems in the most practical ways - and does a wonderful job of it.

Ms. Barbosa's writing is excellent in every way and had there been more romantic development before the sex,and more emotion in the act itself,this book could easily have been five stars for me.

Note: While I would describe the first book in this series The Lesson Plan as an erotic romance, I think this one was much tamer. I will definitely be reading the third book in this series.
A Matter of Indiscretion(Coming in November)