Desert Isle Keeper Review

All I Ever Needed
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

Jo Goodman
2003, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $6.50, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821774166
Part of a series

Grade: A
Sensuality: Hot

Unexpected plot twists and a wonderfully appealing hero and hero elevate All I Ever Needed from other popular Regency-era historicals featuring men involved in secret work for the government. It's the third in a series about the Compass Club, an organization started by four boys who met at school. Each boy had some family connection to a title - Northam, Southerton, Eastlyn, and Westphal - so they took compass directions as nicknames and formed a club to stand against the bullies. East is the hero of this book, and you first meet him in the prologue as a lovable, chubby little boy trying to protect the sweets his mom sent him.

We meet Lady Sophia Colley, daughter of the late Earl of Tremont, 22 years later, resting under a tree remembering the laughter of our four heroes. Sophie thinks they were laughing at her, especially over a rumor that the Marquess of Eastlyn is engaged to her. She considers the rumor to be ridiculous since she is 24, on the shelf, and unlikely to attract the attentions of someone like East, who is rich and so handsome he doesn't need to glance at his reflection when he passes a mirror. Sophie did not have a Season because she had to nurse her father, who then died after years of drink leaving the depleted estate to his cousin. Now Sophie is just a poor relation living with her cousin, the son of the current Earl, and acting as governess to his two mischievous children. Both the Earl and his son want her to marry for money and save them from financial ruin.

East comes to straighten out the engagement rumor and finds Sophie napping under the tree. Sophie makes no effort to be kind to him, dismisses him as being "outside" her notice, and tells him not to propose because she objects to his gambling, drinking and dueling. This of course pricks his ego and piques his interest. As East later remarks, everything about Sophie puts him off balance. Although East had met Sophie on at least one occasion, he remembers her as being very dull and too innocent for his attention. Now her sharp wit and intelligence intrigue him. He does propose, but Sophie leaves him sweating her answer while she goes into the house for refreshment to "wash the taste" of the proposal from his mouth.

So, why won't Sophie marry East and solve all of her problems? Is it because he is a rake and she is shocked by his behavior? No, not really. She is intrigued by what little she knows of East, especially his close friendship with the other men in his "club." But East admits that had it not been for the rumor, the possibility of a match between them would not have occurred to him. In addition, Sophie has determined not to marry and give her cousins what they want. Although there were times when I wondered if Sophie was being stubbornly TSTL, eventually Goodman gives good reasons for all of Sophie's actions.

Unlike other other romance heroines who say "no," Sophie is most convincing and keeps the reader off balance too. Although the plot of the "poor-relation governess rescued by the dashing hero" is not a new one, the book is kept fresh and lively by the interactions of the hero and heroine. Both East and Sophie have honed their comments to a razor edge, resulting in some memorable laugh-out-loud scenes. When they finally fall into each other's arms, you are ready for relief from the sexual tension, which the author provides in stirring and steamy detail.

The one weakness of the story (and it's a very small weakness indeed) is that the suspense plot is very dark, complex, and sometimes intrusive to the romance. In this case the villains are members of a secret society from school days that continues after school as the ultimate "old boys network." East comes to realize that the villains are ruthless not only in their politics and search for financial gain, but also have designs on Sophie. They are a bit over the top evil and lack complexity. The reader has no sympathy for them and little understanding of why they are so evil.

East has a need to fix things so he feels compelled to rescue Sophie. But he is just an ordinary guy, not an omnipotent hero with an army of faithful retainers ready to storm the battlements. He sometimes even makes mistakes. The characters from the other books in the series do appear to help out, but each of the four Compass Club novels happen simultaneously. So while East is preoccupied with Sophie and the old boys network of villains, other members of the club are busy solving their own knotty problems, both political and romantic. When you finish Sophie and East's story you will want to get to know the other members of the Compass Club as well.

Readers who may have overdosed on either poor relation governess heroines or school-chum-come-spy heroes won't be disappointed in All I Ever Needed. Both lead characters stand head and shoulders above most heroes and heroines and their chemistry is not to be denied. If you're looking for terrific dialogue and wonderful characterization, you'll find it here.

-- Kay Tindel

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