Passion Elizabeth Dare is the oldest of three daughters born to a vicar and his wife. She always knew she had a passionate side, but a loveless marriage filled with nothing but the most restrained sexual encounters caused her to suppress that side of herself. She's now been playing the dutiful widow for the past two years, contenting herself with caring for family obligations. However, her elderly aunt believes it's long past time that she start living a little again. They plan a week of visits to the Crystal Palace, where Passion is rescued by a handsome stranger from being clobbered by a falling palm tree knocked over by some rowdy children. The man's mere touch stirs a desirous side of her she thought long dead, and soon she finds herself succumbing to a passionate encounter with him behind a large screen right there at the museum. They make plans to meet up again, but when her visits to the Palace come to an end, Passion believes that their affair will as well. Fortunately her ardent lover isn't willing to give her up so easily, but when Passion begins to fall in love with him and later discovers that he's betrothed to her own cousin, it seems her heart is destined to be broken.
Mark Randolph Hawkmore, Earl of Langley, has little trust in females after growing up with a selfish mother who prolifically cheated on his father. He's indulged in many a meaningless affair, but has no real designs on marrying anyone even though it means that his title will pass to his brother. Then he meets Passion at the Crystal Palace and everything changes for him. For the first time in his life, he's found a woman he doesn't want to let go. However, he may have no choice in the matter when an old friend of his mother's resurfaces trying to blackmail him. She has evidence that his brother is the product of one of his mother's numerous affairs and is actually the son of their former gardener. In return for keeping quiet, she demands that Mark marry her daughter so that the girl will have a title. To protect his beloved brother from scandal, he goes along with the ruse of an engagement, while attempting to find and destroy the evidence. But when that seems fruitless and his two worlds converge, revealing that his betrothed and Passion are related, Passion refuses to continue their affair, leaving Mark to face a lifetime of misery without the only woman he's ever loved.
Passion is the first book in Lisa Valdez's Passion Quartet. Our heroine, Passion, is a commoner, the daughter of a vicar. She's also a widow who endured an unhappy marriage. While browsing the exhibits at the Crystal Palace one day, she's rescued from being clobbered by a falling potted palm by a man who awakens a side of herself she'd thought lost. His mere touch inflames her in such a way that she can't resist the pull of his allure, so when he draws her behind an ornate screen, she eagerly accepts all that he has to offer. They make love right there in the museum and make plans to do the same for the next few days. When Passion's visits to the Crystal Palace come to an end, Mark insists that they must continue to see each other and starts climbing the trellis to her bedroom window every night. Soon, their encounters deepen far beyond mere sex until they both know that they don't want to live without one another. But Mark is being blackmailed by a social-climbing commoner who has dirt on his mother. He doesn't care much about the woman who birthed him, but if the information gets out it would hurt his brother as well, something he's determined not to let happen. But the price that's being exacted from him is nothing short of marriage to the vile blackmailer's daughter. Mark plans to do what he must to protect his family, while hoping to keep Passion as his mistress. But when Passion discovers that his betrothed is none other than her own beloved cousin, she can't bring herself to continue their affair, leaving them both brokenhearted.
Passion had a loving upbringing, but she lost her mother at a young age and then helped raise her two younger sisters. She always knew that she had a passionate side, but her marriage left her unhappy and sexually unfulfilled. She learned to shut down that side of herself and in the two years since, she's been the dutiful widow, handling family and other obligations, but never allowing herself to think of having a man in her life again. When she meets Mark at the Crystal Palace, he reignites a flame she thought had burned out a long time ago, and she can't resist indulging in a little discreet pleasure. In doing so, he takes her to heights of ecstasy she thought never to reach. She understands that it's a temporary arrangement and thinks she'll be okay with that. But when Mark insists that their affair continue after her visits to the Crystal Palace end, it leads to her becoming more and more invested in their relationship until she knows she's fallen in love with him. Later she's devastated to discover that he's betrothed to her cousin. He trusts her completely with the entire sordid story of the blackmail scheme and doesn't believe that anything need change between them. However, Passion adores her cousin so much, she can't bring herself to do such a thing to her even though it breaks her own heart and Mark's to say good-bye. Passion is sweet, kind, and loving toward everyone. She adores her two sisters and her cousin and is very close to all of them, entrusting her sisters with all her deepest secrets. She's a woman who lives up to her name with an intensely passionate side that has had no outlet until Mark comes along. I love how she embraces that side of herself, reveling in their love affair and thoroughly enjoying their sexual encounters. But most of all, she's a woman who loves with her whole heart and isn't afraid to give that devotion to others, and Mark is someone who desperately needs the love she has to offer.
In contrast, Mark's father was a good man but Mark grew up with a selfish mother who hated him simply because she'd been forced into a marriage with his father and Mark was his father's son. As a little boy he begged for her love and never received it, which broke my heart. He's vowed never to beg for love again and doesn't really even believe in the concept. Instead, he's indulged in a string of meaningless affairs, never staying with a woman for more than a few months before tiring of her and moving on. When he meets Passion at the Crystal Palace, merely touching her to pull her out of the way of the falling palm tree is a visceral experience, so he can't resist seeing how far things can go between them. When she fully embraces his lusty overtures, he becomes more and more entangled in emotions he doesn't recognize. He simply knows that he doesn't want to live without her. But his wicked mother's former friend is in possession of a letter his mother wrote to her many years ago, in which she confessed to Mark's brother being the product of an affair with her gardener. Now the vile, social-climbing woman is using the letter to blackmail Mark into marrying her daughter, Charlotte, so that the girl will have a title. At first Mark is resistant, but when he realizes how much it will hurt his brother if the truth comes out, he temporarily capitulates, while hiring a young thief who he charges with finding the letter in hope of eventually getting out of the engagement. When it looks like there may be no out for him, he decides to marry Charlotte while keeping Passion as his mistress, but when it comes to light that the two women are related, Passion refuses to continue their affair.
Mark is a man who is starved for affection and who understandably doesn't trust women, but with Passion everything is different. She speaks to a part of himself that no other woman has, and he absorbs her love with his entire being. I love a man who is as undone by his encounters with his woman as she is, and that's exactly how it is for Mark. Even though he resists for a while, thinking that he'll eventually tire of her like all the other women who came before, it gradually becomes clear that he can't live without her. He's determined to keep her in his life in any way he can have her, while selflessly protecting his brother who he clearly loves more than anyone else except Passion. When he finally realizes just how much love he has for her, it was a deeply poignant scene with him laying his heart out in a completely vulnerable way. I adore Mark and he'll definitely be taking a place among my all-time favorite heroes. I just can't resist a tortured hero who find everything he needs and more with the woman of his dreams.
I recall when Passion was first published, it received a lot of buzz, though not all of it good. It seemed to be a very polarizing book with people either loving it and embracing it, or thoroughly hating it because they felt it was too erotic. However, I think it might have simply been a book a little ahead of its time. It was released in 2005, and admittedly it is very steamy and doesn't shy away from explicit language. I think if it was published just a few years later, it probably wouldn't have raised so many eyebrows. I personally went into reading it knowing that it was pretty erotic, as well as having heard the hype around it. I'm always nervous about reading popular books, but in this case it turned out to be an awesome read for me. I'm not typically a fan of relationships that start as sex-only, but in this case, it worked very well for me. Each encounter Mark and Passion share deepened their connection until it was beyond obvious that they were passionately in love with one another. The book also wrung a lot of emotion out of me. I knew it had to have a happy ending, but there were times that I almost despaired that it was ever going to happen. The blackmail scheme was very well done, seemingly hemming Mark into a place he'd never get out of, but in the end, good prevailed, leaving me rejoicing with our hero and heroine as they finally find their HEA. I also adored Mark and Passion as characters and felt they were tailor-made for one another. They'll definitely go down as one of my all-time favorite romance couples. Their love scenes are scorchingly hot, although if I had any criticism of the book, it would be that the language is maybe a teensy bit over the top. Still, I honestly didn't care, because the story is just that good and the deep, emotional connection I crave in a romance was there in spades. This book is fast turning me into a fan of Lisa Valdez and I very much look forward to reading the second book of the series, Patience, which features Passion's sister, Patience, and Mark's brother, Matt, as the hero and heroine.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual content, including love scenes in a semi-public place, that could be objectionable to sensitive readers.
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