Leonidas Vaughn is a member of the League of Second Sons, an organization of "spares" who have banded together to assist each other whenever a need may arise. Leo has discovered that an ancestor may have helped hide a fortune in Jacobite gold and currently finds himself in a race with an unscrupulous cousin to be the first to locate it. As the second son of a duke, his limited allowance is not sufficient for the running of the small estate left to him by his grandfather, as well as realizing his dream of starting a horse breeding business, but finding the treasure would completely change all of that. He isn't entirely certain the treasure still exists, but if it does, all the clues are pointing to the hiding place being the house of an infamous courtesan. As the woman currently has no protector, Leo comes up with an elaborate scheme to seduce the lady in order to gain entry to search her house, but what he didn't plan to do was fall in love.
Through a series of unfortunate events, Viola Whedon became a courtesan ten years ago. Now she is penning her scandalous memoirs, and finds that one of her former protectors is none too happy about being included in the book, so when thugs break into her house, she thinks it is his doing. Lord Leonidas' offer of his protection in exchange for her allowing him to seduce her makes Viola's body tingle with desire, and together they end up sharing passion-filled days and nights. The more time Viola spends with Leo, the more she finds herself falling for him. but little does she know the real reason for his presence in her life. When Viola is viciously attacked by Leo's cousin, Leo has no choice but to tell her the truth. But can she ever forgive his deception, and will Leo be able to keep her safe from a game that has now turned deadly?
When I requested an ARC of Ripe for Pleasure to review, I had high hopes that it would be a fun and different read. The idea of a new series centering around the second sons of nobility who've banded together to aid each other seemed like something new, and a courtesan heroine was rather intriguing as well. The plot certainly had potential, but in my opinion, the execution fell flat due to a lack of substance and detail. The book was much shorter than I had anticipated (less than 300 pages), and in this case, the abbreviated length was definitely a detriment. I'm not sure which, but the book felt like it was either over-edited or under-developed. I had a somewhat difficult time following the story, because things happened very quickly, without much explanation as to why the characters were doing certain things. There also wasn't enough expository narration for me to clearly imagine the settings and situations, leaving me sometimes having to re-read passages to try to figure out exactly what was going on. I felt that all of this lent itself to the overall narrative lacking a coherent flow. The dialog wasn't much better, as I often had trouble discerning who was speaking, especially in situations where there were more than two characters, and occasionally there were lines thrown in that didn't make much sense to me. I'm not sure if the author was trying to show off her familiarity with advanced vocabulary, art and classic literature or what, but she would often toss in obscure words (I think some of them may have been period vernacular) with which I wasn't familiar (even with my own extensive knowledge), and art or book references which I doubt would be particularly meaningful to the average romance reader.
As far as the hero and heroine, I didn't really dislike them at any point, but I can't say that there was much to recommend them either. Viola is a courtesan who is writing her memoirs and she begins the story apparently having tried to coerce some of her former protectors into paying their way out of her book. Her "blackmail" kind of falls by the wayside, and the author teases the reader with the possibility of sympathetic reasons for Viola having become a prostitute. All of this and the fact that she treats Leo pretty well prevented me from disliking her, but in my opinion, Ms. Carr still waited too long to reveal Viola's backstory. Leo, for his part, opens the book searching for a Jacobite treasure that he thinks is hidden somewhere in Viola's house. He is essentially in a race with an unscrupulous cousin to find it, and in order to gain access to the premises, he engineers a ruse to make her think that one of her former protectors is angry about her exposing him in her memoirs. Leo's plan involves seducing Viola while looking for the money, which didn't exactly put him in my good graces. However, he was fairly charming and sufficiently guilt-ridden when he realized that he had put Viola in even more danger than he would have imagined, so I was mostly able to forgive his initial deception. This was about as far as the characterizations of this couple went though, so in the end, I can't say that I really felt like I got to know them on any meaningful level.
As to Leo and Viola's relationship, I had a hard time connecting with them emotionally. Their romance ended up being one of those overused insta-lust plots which has them hot and bothered and all but falling into bed with one another in the first chapter, and then developing supposedly deeper feelings soon after. I've just always had a hard time buying into this scenario. Not to mention, their love had very little rhyme or reason to me, so I never felt a true romantic connection between them. I also was rather disappointed by Leo's so-called seduction. When he uttered the line, "I propose to seduce you in stages, my dear. To make you beg for each and every intimacy," I was expecting a long, drawn-out and scrumptious seduction. While most of the love scenes were fairly steamy, it just wasn't the slow, sensual experience that I was anticipating. Like everything else in the book, it all seemed to occur far to fast. I also have a more minor issue with the author making too-frequent use of teeth during intimate moments. If memory serves, there was even an instance when their teeth clashed together while kissing in a particularly intense moment of passion, which left me thinking "Ow!" I know some people are into biting, so to some extent, me not being able to get into it was just a personal preference. Still, I couldn't help thinking that it was a rather repetitive use of an intimate gesture, because it seemed like they nipped and bit at each other during nearly every love scene.
I know I've had a lot of criticisms of Ripe for Pleasure, and I certainly think that deeper character development would have been quite helpful in better understanding their motivations. However, in spite of its flaws, I wasn't entirely bored by the book. It did have its moments. Hopefully, I'm not over-anticipating when I say so, but I still think there is a great deal of untapped potential in the other League members, and I couldn't help but be a bit amused by Leo's unconventional, head-strong sister, Beau. She and Leo's best friend and fellow League member, Gareth, who seems to be a little more serious and buttoned-up, could make an interesting pairing as the hero and heroine of the next book in the League of Second Sons series. Ripe for Pleasure was my first read by Isobel Carr (and her first written under this pen name). She may not have wowed me this time around, but I think I might be sufficiently intrigued by Gareth and Beau's story potential to give Ms. Carr another shot when their book, Ripe for Scandal come out in August (2011).
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, Hachette Book Group, in exchange for my review.
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