Pandora's Box

Surrender To a Wicked Spy

Celeste Bradley
2005, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
St. Martin's, $6.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312931271
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

When Olivia Cheltenham's ambitious mother shoves her into the Thames, Dane Calwell leaps to her rescue. Only one problem: this Viking God-lookalike gets stuck in the mud and has to be rescued by Olivia!

Dane is so taken by Olivia that he immediately offers for her, but insists on a quick wedding with no courtship. Dane is a member of the Royal Four, a group of men whose job is to guard the King and protect England. Each man is given an animal's name and Dane takes his duty as the Lion very seriously. Because of his duties he is determined to keep his bride at arm's length. Due to a "physical problem," Dane is also sure it will take him a long time to bed his wife. Olivia turns out to be a complete surprise to him as she is not the quiet biddable miss he thought he married. In fact, Olivia is not afraid to go toe to toe with Dane and never fails to let him know what she is thinking.

Dane battles his feelings for Olivia because he saw his father brought low by a woman, a French spy who induced the man to betray his King and Country. After his father's suicide, Dane is convinced that love is a destructive emotion that will cause him to be as weak as his father.

For her part, Olivia is determined to win her husband's love and is also mighty curious about his day-time activities with his friend and fellow spy Marcus. As this couple struggles to adjust to each other, they are unknowingly pawns in another's spy games. Dane who trusts no one, will have to learn to love and trust Olivia...or lose all that he holds dear.

Linda:   Blythe, when I picked up this book with it's gorgeous cover and read the back blurb I thought : "Oh goodie, this sounds like my kind of book". By the end of the prologue I was grinning from ear to ear and totally hooked. While not a perfect read this was a fun read with really likable characters. I adored Olivia - a very refreshing heroine - no namby pamby miss here. In fact, she reminded me a bit of Jamie in Garwood's The Bride - not afraid to stand up to her husband and give him a piece of her mind. How did you like it?

Blythe:   I liked Olivia - and that was more or less all I liked. I hated the plot and thought Dane was a big jerk. And worst of all, it had one of my pet peeves - the hero and friends with their little club. While not quite as dumb as Rebecca Lee Hagan's Freefellows, this came close. The hero is part of a group of four secret and trusted advisors to the king (or in this case, the Prince Regent) called The Royal Four. Each one is named after some kind of animal, which struck me as incredibly lame. They are apparently afiliated with a group of spies called the Liar's Club, which is another one of Bradley's series. Anyway, Dane is "the lion," and he spends a lot of time worrying about his leonine duties. When he's not treating the heroine like crap, that is.

Linda:   LOL, I liked him quite a lot. I thought you would like Dane as I know how much you like blond heroes. <VBG>I did find all the animal names a bit silly and confusing. I guess I cut Dane a little slack as his heart was always in the right place. He was so traumatized and disgraced by his Father's treachery that he was over-compensating by being totally devoted to the Royal Four's duty. I also loved his "physical problem" - I have only read one other book with, as Laurie calls it, the manaconda, and that was Diana Palmer's Evan (part of her Long, Tall Texans series). The solution here was so inventive; Olivia hauls home some antique ivory members to "stretch" her. And what a good time she had while getting stretched.

I also liked the plot, even though Bradley used a couple of my least favorite devices ( the Big Misunderstanding and the H/H Separation), but they were short lived and didn't irritate me - probably because the separation was less then a day.

Blythe:  I'm always up for a blond hero, and I liked Dane's looks - just not his personality. The whole idea of Dane's huge, monstrous size just struck me as funny and a little hard to believe, especially when he told Olivia they would be needing the size five dildo that was four fingers wide. I kept looking at my hand and thinking, "No freaking way!" But I will grant that I've never read a romance with precisely this angle before. Usually it's just the wide-eyed heroine seeing the hero and thinking he's huge. Apparently, this guy really was. But it still struck me as more funny than sexy, and I think the resulting sex scenes were somewhat disappointing for that reason. They don't consummate their marriage until the book is more than half-over. It might have provided some tension at first, but then it just got old. Part of the problem may have been that I just read something else that had a similar plot, a werewolf/shapshifter romance with a hero who was afraid to sleep with the heroine in truth for fear of passing on his deformity. He spent the bulk of the book resisting the urge to sleep with the heroine, which is what Dane does too. This read like more of the same, though sex was withheld for a different reason.

I also think another love scene at the end of the book would have wrapped things up a little more nicely, especially since Bradley is considered a "hot" writer. I was expecting them to come together in every way after their separation and the subsequent drama, but then...nothing.

Linda:   Yes, the book did end a little abruptly and I would have liked to see perhaps an epilogue or something with perhaps a love scene in it. But, I have a feeling that we will see Olivia and Dane again in the next book in the series. I definitely want to see more of Marcus and since he will be one of the new animals (I gave up trying to keep track of who was who...or should I say what?), I assume he will get his own book.

I saw humor in the size problem, but also saw his genuine fear of hurting Olivia. I also found the truth about his past experience to be refreshing and fun. I think what kept Dane from being a complete jerk and turning me off, was the fact that Olivia never let Dane get away with his imperious behavior and challenged him on every level. I especially loved the scene on their wedding night when he was going to leave her untouched with no explanation and she told him to hold it right there and made him tell her what was up. Throughout the book Olivia stood up to Dane when he became too secretive or overbearing. Dane is shocked at the beginning as grown men have run from his scowls, but Olivia actually steps forward instead of running away.

I guess Olivia was so lovable that I found other faults with the book easy to overlook. In addition to Garwood's "sainted" Jamie, Olivia reminded me of favorite Jayne Ann Krentz heroines - particularly a couple of her Regency gals. Emily in Scandal and Harriet (the dinosaur lover) from Ravished would have liked Olivia a lot and it is amusing to think of the formidable heroes these gals brought to heel.

Blythe:   I just looked at the front of the book. The animals are the lion, the cobra, the fox, and the falcon. Apparently their duties are all slightly different, but I really didn't see how. Maybe this is illuminated in the first book? It is certainly true that Olivia didn't take much crap, and I admired that about her. Every time Dane misbehaved, she called him on it. But he misbehaved often. I found the way Dane treated her to be beyond the pale. Not once, and not twice...most of the time. Instead of getting better as the book progresses, it got worse. When she explains to him (after a disastrous ball) that someone is trying to sabotage her, he tells her not to make excuses. He gets irate when things go wrong and is outright rude to her. And he invited forty guests to a party (including the Prince Regent) and didn't bother to tell her who will be coming. Why can't he tell her who's going to be there? I didn't even understand that. It felt like an artificial plot point.

Linda:   Yes, that was a bit jerkish - but I put it down to "zealous spy" behavior. I think if I was a spy I would be a bit paranoid and secretive too LOL. I saw Dane as a classic "Beast," tortured, hurt and paranoid - but I never thought he was cruel. True he was not always understanding of Olivia, but he demanded absolute perfection from himself. We touched on his motivation earlier: his father (whom Dane idolized) was a government Minister who fell in love with a French spy and betrayed home and country. When Dane discovered the treachery, he cursed his father and drove him to suicide. The guilt both for his actions and the actions of his father are the primary factors motivating all of Dane's actions. He is terrified of falling in love and being destroyed by the wrong woman and poor Olivia is being set up to look like a spy - which totally freaks Dane out. The only time I lost patience with him was when he decided she ran off and didn't go to look for her. I was glad that she didn't quickly forgive that act and left him. This was one separation that was well deserved.

It should also be mentioned that some of Dane's expectations of Olivia were based on what her mother told him of her experience running a house. Suffice it to say that Olivia had been abandoned in the country by her family and hadn't a clue how to run a house or plan a party - among the skills a young lady of the time would have been expected to have. I loved it when Olivia proposed dancing dogs for the entertainment at a ball and then in her naivete consulted the "renowned hostess" from the gossip column I did giggle a bit. In some heroines I would have considered this TSTL behavior but Olivia is so sweet and sincere that it came across as charming rather than dumb!

Blythe:   I know some people are sick to death of spy heroes in general. I don't necessarily mind them; a lot of the time, I like them. But I didn't care for Dane, misguided father or not. I thought he was pretty cruel - and demeaning - when he yelled at Olivia during a dinner party incident that went wrong. It was pretty obvious that it wasn't her fault, but he saw nothing wrong in yelling at her in front of a roomful of people. Really the only thing I liked about Dane was that he had the sense to pick Olivia in the first place. They first meet when Olivia's mom throws her into the Thames on purpose - right as Dane is walking by. I found both Dane and Olivia's thoughts on the incident very funny. Dane dryly muses that he's been through these engineered "rescues" before, and he has a remarkably good attitude about it; he's not bitter at all. Olivia, on the other hand, is completely practical. She rescues herself, then goes back for Dane (who is stuck in the mud).

I thought this boded well for the rest of the book, but I just tired quickly of Dane's behavior. Then I just had more of that "been there, read that" feeling. Did this seem fresh to you?

Linda:   Yes, it did. But, then I haven't been reading a lot of spy novels lately and guess it could seem like more of the same to those who have. I found Olivia a fresh, fun and totally likable heroine and I really liked Dane - even when his behavior wasn't perfect. His worries over his size were entertaining and I thought Olivia was the perfect match for him. There were several plot twists and turns I didn't see coming - particularly at the end of the book and I was happily surprised by them.

This was my first Bradley book, although I have two or three more on the tbr pile <vbg>. I will definitely be digging them out and I feel a glom for the Liar's Club books coming on. My only criticism would be the heavy handed spy name and references to other series. For someone new to the series, it was confusing and not particularly illustrative and had a tendency to pull me out of the story. But, all in all I enjoyed the book a lot. It was a fast read for me and left me smiling; what more can one ask from a book?

Blythe:   I assume that's a rhetorical question. I think we don't always want the same thing when we read. One night one of my daughters was having slumber party, and my husband was sneaking out the door to Barnes and Noble. I was in the mood for light, fast, and sexy, so I searched the Harlequin website and found Heidi Betts' (at least I think it was her) Blame it on the Blackout. A couple accidentally having sex in an elevator sounded like just the ticket, so I had my husband pick it up. But that's not the mode I am in right now. In order to get this book read for Pandora, I had to temporarily set aside Diana Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I was in detailed historical mode, and that's really where I wanted to be. Compared to Gabaldon, this looked pretty commonplace. And then came the animal names, and well, you know the rest. I don't think I'd be adverse to trying Bradley again (like you, I liked Marcus) but I'd have to get some advance word on the hero's behavior.

Linda:   LOL, I saw this as more of a romp and definitely not historical heavy - which was fine with me. Gabaldon is a bit heavy for me, but I have listened to the Outlander series on tape and enjoyed it. It's definitely not the same mode as Surrender to a Wicked Spy. Perhaps your reading experience was colored by your mental mode. I agree that we are often in the mood for different types of books, but I always enjoy humorous books with great dialogue and Bradley delivered for me here. I am guessing the first book in the series is about Dane's cohort Reardon and I definitely want to read it as I loved Willa Reardon. Her set-down to Dane was priceless; obviously she and Olivia are cut from the same cloth and it is a pattern I like a great deal.

Blythe:   I wonder if I might have liked this more if I'd read the first one...but then I do really dislike the whole "spy group with cute name" scenario.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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