Lisa Valdez
2005, European Historical Romance (1850s [Victorian] England)
Berkley Sensation, $6.99, 309 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425203972
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Burning

Whoa! Classified as European Historical Romance, Passion should come with a warning label reading “Explicit Sexual Scenes”. Until I checked the book’s sub-category, I was convinced I had mistakenly picked up a book of Erotica. The sexual scenes, which are well under way by page ten, are hard and heavy, with verbiage many would consider objectionable. But beneath all of those overtly sexual scenes lurks the beginning of an intense love story and by the second half of the book, I was totally immersed in Mark and Passion’s touching story outside of the bedroom.

Passion Elizabeth Dare, a widow of two years, finds comfort in her quiet, prescribed life in the country and believes strongly in duty and honor. Named for Passion Sunday by her vicar father, she sees her future as a solitary, respectable existence since her loveless marriage shattered her confidence with men and also left her with the belief that she is barren. Believing she needs to socialize more, her family encourages Passion to visit her aunt in London. Reluctantly, she agrees, though she sees her primary role as a companion for her aunt and support for her sixteen-year-old cousin Charlotte.

Mark Randolph Hawkmore, Earl of Langley, resides in London mainly to work, not socialize. An architect of some repute, he shuns society with its superior attitudes and considers himself an outsider since he sees no difference between the nobility and commoners. Determined never to marry, he doesn’t believe in love and, for once, this is a hero with good reasons for such convictions.

A former friend of Mark’s mother is intent on blackmailing him into marrying her daughter by threatening to expose the heretofore unknown illegitimacy of his younger brother Matt. Though Mark knows he must protect Matt, he will not be forced into marriage by anyone. Thus the stage is set for the battle between a blackmailing villainess; a protective older brother; and a conniving, heartless, witch of a mother, Lucinda Hawkmore.

While visiting the Crystal Palace, Mark first encounters Passion when he saves her from a falling tree. Both experience a powerful carnal attraction and within minutes are sharing their bodies behind a large screen in the Gothic furniture room. Mark and Passion are so taken with each other that they agree to meet again at the Crystal Palace the next day and the next and the next - always behind the screen. With each meeting their sexual play deepens, while, at the same time, their characters begin to emerge. Passion is amazed at the intense sensual side Mark brings out in her and he knows he has never experienced such complete satisfaction before. Both insist their affair is only temporary, but I easily detected the signs of gentle devotion developing early on.

Mark and Passion agree to keep their identities from one another. Being the respectable widow she is, Passion insists that the affair end when she returns to the country and Mark reluctantly agrees. As one might predict, however, their hidden identities are actually intertwined, as well as the beginning of major obstacles between them.

Valdez is able to combine a tender love story with numerous erotic scenes more successfully than any other author I have read. For comparison, Emma Holly’s Beyond Innocence is the closest I can offer, but Passion still exceeds that book’s eroticism and love story. Mark and Passion are well developed characters who fall in love at first sight although, as to be expected, it takes longer for the hero to figure that out. Mark is an extremely dominating hero sexually, but otherwise he is primarily a hardened, fair-minded man who treasures Passion. Passion is a sweet natured woman who must ultimately choose between obligation and love.

Mark’s brother Matt is a strong secondary character with future hero allure written all over him. Their mother, however, is the most despicable woman I can remember reading about this year – especially when it comes to her heartrending treatment of Mark as a child. I thought her blackmailing former friend was given too much power with her machinations in the beginning, but they ultimately fuel an unpredictable and very satisfying ending.

I’m sure there will be criticism concerning Passion’s name – I didn’t care for it myself. But wait – she has two sisters named Patience and Primrose who are both introduced in this book. Passion is the first of a trilogy Valdez has planned for the Dare sisters, Patience’s story follows.

This is not a book I will easily forget - although I was shocked by Passion’s opening pages, it is the convincing love story that rises out of such a torrid love affair that established it firmly in my mind. I don’t usually cry when reading a book, but this one had me in tears more than once. However, for my personal reading tastes, the level of eroticism ultimately kept Passion from earning an even higher grade.

-- Lea Hensley

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