Wicked Pleasure

Lora Leigh
2008, Erotic Romance
St. Martin's Griffin, $13.95, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312368720
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Burning

Most of the Bound Hearts series was originally published by Ellora's Cave, individually, as novellas or "short novels." They have since been repackaged as two-in-ones. Wicked Pleasure, and the book directly preceding it, Forbidden Pleasure, were published not by EC, but by St. Martin's.

I've read all of Lora Leigh's Bound Hearts stories; some (Surrender and Submission) are successful, some less so. Wicked Pleasure falls into the latter category because it felt as though I'd read the book before. What I initially liked about the series was the pure unadulterated kink of it; the heroes all liked to share their woman with a trusted other man simply because it gave them pleasure to watch the women insensate with pleasure. But in both Forbidden Pleasure and this, Leigh's latest book, there's a hidden torment involved. Whether the change was a conscious effort on her part once she moved from Ellora's Cave to a mainstream publisher I can't say. But what bothered me about the male torment in this book was its closeness to the male torment in Leigh's Men of August series. Muted emotional intensity resulted from that sameness, as did a been there, done that feeling when reading the sex scenes aplenty.

Jaci Wright has known that Cam Falladay is her destiny since she was thirteen. The feeling is mutual; he knows she's his and was ready to claim her when she was 21, but she wasn't ready at that point to handle his need to share her with his twin brother Chase. He let her go, but seven years later she's back in his life, having been hired by her friends Courtney and Ian Sinclair (Shameless), to redecorate the club Ian runs and the mansion in which he and Courtney live. Cam and Chase are members of the infamous club, but they also work for Ian as security experts. They know that Jaci is the victim of a long-choreographed smear campaign instituted by a powerful Congressman and his wife, but what really happened? How can they protect her unless she shares that part of her very private self? And yet, how can Cam expect her to come clean when he's hiding a much bigger and more devastating secret of his own?

The twin connection Chase used to feel with Cam died when they were fifteen, and after the aunt who'd cared for the them after the death of their parents was forcibly removed from the house by the sheriff when they were of age, he realized that the shadows haunting his brother are related to that woman's involvement in their lives. He knows that Jaci is the only person who might free Cam from those icy shadows, and he plans on doing what he can to force the issue in order to save his brother and to regain the closeness they shared as wild youths.

As much as Jaci fights the magnetic pull between her and Cam, it isn't long before the two Falladay brothers have their wicked way with her. She's furious, though, that after devastating her with pleasure, Cam fails to spend the night with her (it's all part of his torment). And so the tug of war begins; each knows the other holds secrets, but won't reveal them. Jaci tells herself that she's keeping her secret so that Cam won't murder those threatening her, but that's only part of it. As for his secret, the author takes too long to lay it all out. Most of it is easy to determine, yet the reader doesn't understand the underlying basis of Cam's shame until very nearly the end. By waiting so long, Leigh mitigates much of the emotional impact of his secret.

The "what are you hiding?" arguments between Jaci and Cam and Cam and Chase eventually stall the character development component of the book. What's worse, the suspense sub-plot, which by default takes over in propelling the story, falls apart in the denouement. Awkward foreshadowing doesn't diminish - completely - the tension experienced by the reader just before then, but the bait-and-switch aspect frustrated me even though by that time, I expected it.

Wicked Pleasure is a truly a C range book. For every strong point there was a corresponding weakness. For each sizzling sexual scene there was another I swore I'd read before. And for every poignant moment there was an eye-rolling one. I'm fast running out of patience with the series, though, because it's reading like déjà vu all over again. If the next book in the series, out next January, isn't a major improvement, I'm giving up on it. And if Leigh hadn't written one of my romance DIK's this year - Dawn's Awakening - I'd be ready to write her off altogether with one more disappointment.

-- Laurie Likes Books

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