Mara Kincaid was left at a bordello in exchange for payment of her father's debt. The brothel owner planned to sell her virginity to the highest bidder, but wanting to teach the stubborn Mara a lesson, the madame instead sold her to the first man who could pay a goodly sum. That man came to Mara while she was in a drugged state and claimed her virtue, but Mara was eventually able to knock him out. At the mercy of the cruel madame and her lackey and still under the influence of the drugs in her system, a stranger comes to her aid, helping her to escape the Pleasure Emporium, but she never realizes that her rapist and her savior are one and the same. Once recovered from her ordeal, Mara vows to start living independently, but that proves to be easier said than done. Word of an escaped soiled dove has followed her to Cheyenne, where all the townspeople believe she is the loose woman in question. As a result, many men have tried to take advantage of her, and it soon becomes clear that Mara will need the protection of a man's name to keep her safe.
Local rancher, Cougar McKinnely, never intended to harm an innocent woman. Suffering from 'performance' issues ever since the death of his cruel fiancée a year ago, Cougar went to the Pleasure Emporium to prove to himself that he could still successfully enjoy a woman's charms. When he purchased time with Mara, he thought that she was a willing participant. She was certainly the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on, but little did he know it was only the drugs that made her act seductively. Even before he realized his mistake, he had vowed to take Mara with him when he left, but the machinations of the brothel's owner necessitated a quick getaway. Ever since, Mara has recalled little of her experience that night and only knows Cougar as the man who saved her. He insinuates himself into her life as her self-appointed protector, and when the men of the town won't leave her alone, he persuades her to accept his offer of marriage. Needless to say, Cougar's new bride is very skittish, but he makes it clear before she takes her vows that he wants all of her. Soon his passionate kisses leave her breathless and she can no longer resist his touches, but when she finally remembers all that happened that night months ago, will she be able to forgive him for his part in it?
Promises Linger, the first book of Sarah McCarty's Promises series, was so incredibly good, I was really looking forward to reading Promises Keep. While Promises Keep was a reasonably entertaining book in and of itself, by comparison to the previous book, it was something of a letdown. For me, Sarah McCarty is an author who vacillates between being totally spot-on fantastic or phoning it in. Promises Keep wasn't quite as frustrating as another of her books I read a while back, but it wasn't nearly up to the caliber of which I know she's capable either. Ms. McCarty has the ability to create erotic romances that are about so much more than just the sex, but unfortunately, this was not one of them. I really felt like the story and the sex could have and should have been more evenly integrated together. Instead, we get sex at the very beginning, followed by a little bit of story, followed by pages upon pages upon pages of sex, and finally at the end a little more story. However, the story she chose to tell in those final pages didn't quite make sense to me, which is something I'll address shortly. Still, though, as I said before, the book was fairly entertaining for what it was, which is why I didn't choose to mark it any lower than four stars.
When we meet Mara, she's in a brothel and presumed to be a new prostitute who has just been sold for the first time to one of the establishment's patrons. That customer happens to be Cougar, the hero of the story. He finds her to be the most beguiling creature he's ever laid eyes on, but what he doesn't realize is that she's been drugged and is there against her will. In her drugged state, she acts rather seductively, so he thinks it's all part of an act. Her reality, however, is that he's raping her and she's attempting to fight back, but the drugs are making her actions come out all wrong. Little does she know that Cougar made a vow that he would take her out of there when he left, and he does eventually make good on that promise, helping her to escape, but not before they kill the madame and her henchman in self-defense. Safely in Cougar's hometown of Cheyenne, Mara no longer remembers him. He's just the man she's been told rescued her from the brothel. Unfortunately, the rumors of a prostitute escaping the Pleasure Emporium in the next town follow Mara to her new home, leaving everyone speculating that she's an ex-whore. Mara was a very strong, courageous woman who held her head high amidst the scorn of nearly an entire town. Unfortunately, though, her pride doesn't stop the unscrupulous men in town from trying to take advantage of her, which is why she somewhat reluctantly accepts Cougar's offer of marriage. She knows that only her husband's name and his protection can truly keep her safe. While Mara may not remember who took her virtue that night at the brothel, she recalls enough of the experience to be very skittish around her new husband, but eventually, she warms to him and proves to be a woman whose passion matches his measure for measure.
Cougar was an honorable man who never would have taken Mara the night they met if he'd known the circumstances under which she was at the Pleasure Emporium. In spite of it essentially being a non-consensual act, at least from her perspective, he was very sweet and gentle with her. On some level, he fell for her the moment he saw her, which is why he made his vow, and once he finally realized what was going on, he felt so responsible for her, he became her self-appointed protector, looking out for her well-being even though she didn't want him to. When some ne'er-do-wells rough her up one day, he realizes she needs more protection than he can offer by simply following her around town and scowling at any man who dares to look cross-ways at her, so he uses the opportunity to press his suit more forcefully. The thing that disappointed me a bit about Cougar was that his characterization seemed a little uneven to me. During the early part of the story, he came off as a kind, gentle man. In the previous book of the series, I had gotten the same impression, that he was a little rough around the edges, but was a romantic at heart who was stuck with a fiancée who didn't fully appreciate him. Because of this, I thought he was going to be a hero similar to Asa (Promises Linger), an alpha with a sweet side. I guess he had his moments, but in general once he married Mara, it seemed like he changed into one of those clueless uber-alphas, which is not really my favorite kind of hero. What really made me want to slap him silly though, was when Mara found him in bed with another woman, not once, but twice, after they were married. Granted the first time he was out of his mind with a fever, and the second, nothing had apparently happened yet, but who knows if something might have if Mara hadn't shown up in time. I really felt that if Cougar truly loved Mara, he should have read the woman the riot act and sent her packing, but instead he acted pretty passively in both situations, which seemed out of character for an otherwise very forceful alpha male. However, as I said, he had his moments (I really liked the way he always called Mara "Angel") and he could be an intensely seductive lover, so in general, I liked him alright even though a man like him would never truly be my cup of tea.
The main thing that I really felt was lacking in Promises Keep was the storytelling. Many times, I wished that the author had deepened the characterizations, particularly Cougar's and Mara's. There were several things about both of them that I thought could have made them so much more fascinating if they'd been explored more fully. In Promises Linger, it was obvious to me that for whatever reason Cougar had latched onto a woman who was a poor match for him and who treated him pretty badly. When Promises Keep opens, he's still struggling with something that happened between them right before she died and perhaps some guilt over the way in which she died as well. I thought these vulnerabilities were very intriguing, but after he meets Mara, it's like Cougar is a completely new man and all these old issues are completely swept under the rug. Also, Cougar is a half-breed, who very easily could have experienced some type of prejudice, but nothing of that nature ever came to light. If anything, it seemed he'd become fairly well-respected around town which was maybe a little hard to buy into. Mara was left at the brothel by her father as payment for gambling debts, which seems to indicate a pretty messed up home life and should have had a major emotional impact on her too, yet this part of her background was never explored at all. Madame Cecile definitely seemed to have it in for Mara, and I initially thought that she would make a very formidable and relentless villain if Mara were to escape her clutches, but alas, she was killed off far too quickly in my estimation, losing that promise of a major external conflict. Even though Mara didn't remember that Cougar was the man who raped her, she did still have to overcome her fear of men in general, which was pretty much the only conflict for quite a while, but when she finally finds out the truth, it was a revelation that basically fizzled. Toward the end, the author set up a brand new conflict centering around women's rights when a suffragette comes to town. This part of the story really came from out of nowhere, with no inkling up to that point that Mara had any interest in or concerns about women's rights at all. It felt like the author had found some interesting tidbit about the suffragist movement in her research and decided to just throw it in without really crafting the story around it. During these chapters we're also introduced to a new supporting character, Pearl, who also come from out of nowhere. No explanation is given as to who she is or how she relates to the other characters in the book except that she's obviously friends with several of them.
I wish that we could have seen a little more of some of the secondary characters. I really liked Cougar's adoptive parents, Doc and Dorothy. I thought it was very sweet that they were still so deeply in love after all the years they'd been together. Cougar's interactions with them were fun and easy-going. They were obviously a very loving family. We're introduced to Brad, the handsome town minister, who turns every lady's head. He seems like a really nice guy, and he becomes the hero of book #4, Promises Reveal. Then there's Cougar's cousin, Clint, who is also a half-breed. We were first introduced to him in Promises Linger, where he worked as a hand on Asa and Elizabeth's ranch. Now, it seems he's working for Cougar on his ranch, and this apparent ladies' man has a few words of wisdom for the errant Cougar. Clint becomes the hero of the next book, Promises Prevail. Last but not least, Asa and Elizabeth come to pay their friend a visit. It was really nice to see them again. I adored every minute Asa was on the canvas. He's still just too yummy for words.;-)
In addition to the story issues I had with Promises Keep, there were several nagging smaller problems I found. One is the author's use of the passive sentence structure "A had B occurring." (eg. The sight of her beautiful breasts had him growing hard.) I took to rewriting a lot of these in my head, because they were annoying me so much. She also has a tendency to place dialog in the middle of prose, which is again passively worded (eg. Her "yes" was softly murmured.) and generally annoying. I also found a number of continuity errors such as a character standing in one paragraph and sitting in the next with no mention of them sitting down or a character being bare-chested in one paragraph and wearing a shirt a few paragraphs later. There are also times when the way the author described certain actions it was difficult to envision them and other times when the way they were being described seemed almost anatomically impossible unless the character was a contortionist. All of these things should have been caught and corrected by a truly good editor.
On the upside, I can't deny that Sarah McCarty has a way with writing love scenes. Although a few of the ones in this book were a little too raw for my taste, she is good at varying them in such a way that each one is a little different from the last, which can be difficult to accomplish in an erotic romance where so much page time is taken up by sex. I liked Mara's gentle but spunky nature, and although Cougar could get on my nerves occasionally, he was mostly likable as well, or at the very least, I liked his passionate seductions. Maybe the sheer hotness of the love scenes melted my brain, but I did mostly enjoy the book in spite of its weaknesses. As I said before, for what it is Promises Keep is decent story, so I'll definitely be looking to continue with Clint's book soon, while hoping that he's not quite as pig-headed as Cougar, and that the story is a little better constructed.
Note: This story contains explicit language and sexual content, including biting, spanking, bondage, intimate shaving, non-consensual sex, rimming, and anal sex, all of which may offend some readers.
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