Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh
Then Comes Seduction is the second book in the Huxtable series and centers around Katherine Huxtable, the youngest of the Huxtable females, and Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, a notorious rake. Jasper takes a bet from his dissolute friends on his 25th birthday as he is feeling a touch off ennui, and he has two weeks to seduce the eminently respectable Katherine Huxtable. A mere four days later Jasper is seconds away from winning his bet when he literally pulls back, informs Katherine of the truth of the situation, and leaves; telling his friends that he was roundly shot down. Katherine is humiliated and leaves town, Jasper escapes briefly to his own estate where he discovers an interest in running his own property, and the two do not meet again for three years. When they do the two are drawn to each other and rumors quickly begin to circulate.
Exacerbating the problem is Jasper's cousin (through his stepfather) Clarence Forrester who is one of Charlotte, Jasper's half-sister, three guardians. He is determined to have Charlotte come under the protection of him and his mother so that he can marry her and gain her fortune. He spreads the truth about the three-year old wager and Jasper and Katherine have no choice but to marry- for the sake of their families of course. On their honeymoon the two engage in their own wager; no sex (her idea of course) for a month and only to resume if the two fall in love. Looming ahead of them is the house party they are throwing for Charlotte's 18th birthday. The ball had been an annual event until Jasper's step-father came and swung his godly club of righteousness and did away with all the un-Godly things. These ungodly things include Jasper's father and by proxy Jasper himself. Needless to say Jasper's childhood was far from happy and thus he has shut himself off from society. Like most romance novel heroes he wears a mask that only our heroine can see past and Katherine does so with her beautiful willowy body and her listening skills. By the end Jasper has managed to: defend Katherine's honor by getting one better on Clarence, maintain guardianship of Charlotte, fall in love with Katherine and earn her love in return.
Unlike most other Balogh books this one starts from the beginning with the attraction and seduction part of the relationship and then goes into the soft, comfortable, falling in love part. Also unlike most Balogh books is the prevalence of several sex scenes- some of which are downright steamy; but there is still far too few and less than found in most other romance novels. It was certainly an interesting read as I discovered that Balogh is just as good at writing immense attraction as she is at the other stuff, and I enjoyed it. What made it even better was that she did not disappoint on her staples either; we still got the enjoyable build up of real emotions and the slight angst as our protagonists learned how to live with each other and worried about what the other was feeling. Balogh is, as (almost) always (see Simply Love), very skillful at letting her readers know how characters from previous novels are doing, without hitting readers are over the head with it, and at setting up her next romance novel- I am certainly looking forward to At Last Comes Love featuring the spinster eldest Huxtable sister, Margaret.
Jasper's sister Charlotte is probably one of the most annoying characters I have come across. Literally everything to her is exciting and new and she views the world with the wide eyed wonder of a newborn who can talk. And talk she does, "Oh! All the flowers, Jasper. The ballroom looks like a garden. And it smells like one too. And look at how the mirrors multiply them all many times over." She is by far the most innocent (I really wanted to write "dumb") 18 year-old in history. Clarence is the epitome of foolish romance novel villian: he dresses like a dandy, he is portly (larger people are definitely not appreciated in romance novels), he wants to marry to gain a young girls fortune, he's the definition of a mama's boy, and he was apparently something of a bully as a young boy (which we don't learn until the last 25 pages of the book surprisingly enough). The talk of baby-making got to be a little too much for me as first Katherine, and then later on Jasper, talk (seemingly) constantly about how much fun it will be to have a baby. At first it was sweet and showed that they were developing real feelings, but then it just got to be too much.
Rating: Sweet and easy to swallow with a better than average plot with a great show of developing the romance, but the book was slow and dragged quite a bit- perhaps 50 pages too long at 419.