What a Woman Needs, by Caroline Linden

>> Monday, January 16, 2006

What a Woman Needs, by debut author Caroline Linden really slipped past me this year. I usually take at least a look at the reviews posted at AAR, especially the positive ones of books in subgenres I enjoy. And yet, when Arielle sent me her guest review of WAWN, it didn't sound at all familiar. I did a search and found it had indeed been reviewed at AAR, and that the review should have made me quite eager to get it, so for once, I must have missed it! It's fortunate Arielle chose this one to review, otherwise I would have missed on a lovely book!

How hard can it be to marry an heiress?

Not terribly, Stuart Drake thinks, if you're good-looking, charming, and in line for a viscount title, which, fortunately, he is. To end his penniless existence, he simply has to convince his intended bride's shrewish, wizened old guardian that he isn't a fortune hunter... which, unfortunately, he is in the extreme. Still, once he meets the old witch, how difficult could it prove to charm her?

Quite, actually. Especially when the lady in question is temptation made flesh- a gorgeous widow with a reputation for knowing a rake when she sees one, having bedded many herself. She'd rather die than let Stuart win. And with his plans thwarted, Stuart has only one option: to take revenge on his tormentor through seduction. But learning what this woman needs might only leave him hungry for more...
Zebra have published WAWN under their debut author program, which means it has a "special value" price of $3.99. I hope this lower price made more people give this very fresh, different and yet smooth book a chance. A B+.

Stuart Drake needs to marry for money. His father has cut him off and the mortage on his dream estate, which he's just bought, will be due soon, and he won't be able to pay it. He's put so much hard work in it already that it would really irk him to lose it, so he philosophically decides he might as well marry... after all, it's just a matter of time before he's forced to settle down.

He chooses a young woman he thinks will be suitable and quickly courts her, not expecting much trouble, even though he would prefer it if she wasn't so obviously and demonstratively besotted by him. But trouble arrives when he finally meets his would-be fiancée's guardian, who is very definitely not the old dragon he expected, but a widow of his own age, and one he's immediately very attracted to.

Charlotte, the Countess Griffolino, has had a very bad experience with a fortune hunter, so she's determined her niece will be married for herself, not for her fortune. A quick investigation is enough for her to realize Stuart has a bit of a reputation and does need to marry for money, and her initial meeting with him (in which he very much welcomes her advances) is enough for her to make sure he's not in love with Susan anyway.

It's very clear to her what kind of man Stuart must be, so she proceeds to use what she has learned to make completely sure she squashes that courtship and to run Stuart out of town. When she founds Susan gone, having only left a note that she was running off with her beloved, she immediately wrongly assumes she's referring to Stuart, and goes to accuse him. And there begins a new part of their relationship, in which Charlotte and Stuart slowly become better acquainted and come to care more and more about each other.

What's most different about this book, even more than Charlotte's past (more about that later), is that Stuart isn't a larger-than-life, all-powerful figure. He's in quite precarious circumstances, both in social and economic terms, and Charlotte really hasn't much trouble routing him when she wants to put a stop to his courtship of Susan. He does briefly get the upper hand when he surprises her in his rooms, but once he sets her free, there's just not much he can do (plus, he doesn't really have the cold-bloodedness to take real revenge on her).

Linden takes quite a risk with him, because -I've said it before- many romance readers seem to view a hero who's not in complete control of his circumstances at all times as a bit effeminate. I don't share that opinion at all, and I really enjoyed Stuart. He's a kind, charming man, and I loved the way he was so fascinated with Charlotte and the way he didn't judge her at all when she told him all her secrets.

Charlotte is just as interesting and likeable a character. As I hinted above, she has definitely got quite a past, and what a past it is! Quite a bit more lurid than I've read lately, even though she's a very respectable countess now. Still, even though this has marked her, and her experiences weren't really her choice, she hasn't allowed herself to become a victim to them. She's a mature woman, and one who is very sensual.

As Arielle said in her review, these two have great chemistry together, and their love scenes go beyond the norm, especially because the two people in them are equals in experience and knowledge and because these scenes really show the increasing intimacy between them.

I also coincide with Arielle in her assessment of the book's negative aspects. The main secondary characters were quite irritating, and also, I felt the external plot was a bit undercooked, even though I enjoyed the closeness it forced on Stuart and Charlotte. Still, this wasn't something that bothered me all that much, and on the whole, I had a great time reading this book.

The latest ATBF column at AAR is about buried treasures of 2005, and readers are invited to share theirs. I think this one would definitely qualify!


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