July 2009, European Historical Romance (Victorian London)
Pocket, $7.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 1416592636
I read about half of Meredith Duran's debut novel, The Duke of Shadows, last year. Somehow, the book just didn't hit me right, but I thought the author showed promise and her choice of setting was very interesting. So when I saw this one while perusing the books-for-review list, I decided to give her another shot. And I was most happy I did. There's some damn fine storytelling within the 368 pages of Bound by Your Touch.
Lydia Boyce is the oldest of the three daughters of the esteemed academic Henry Boyce, whose passion is Egypt. Henry has been gone for much of Lydia's childhood, but is now on the verge of making an amazing discovery - the true site of the first stop on the Exodus. He just needs a little more cash to finance it. Lydia, dedicated to making her father's dream a reality, is making a speech to some important, deep pocketed men, and is therefore rather annoyed when, in the midst of her appeal, James Durham, the gorgeous and glittering but useless son of the Earl of Moreland, bursts in with an Egyptian stela she can tell at first glance is a fake. She lets fly at him only to be burned when it is eventually revealed that this stela came in a shipment of goods her father sent to England.
James doesn’t actually care that much about the stela or about being sold a fake antiquity. His primary purpose in collecting, or for that matter, in everything else, is to annoy, embarrass, or show up his father. Lydia’s pronouncement robbed him of that opportunity, and he wouldn’t mind returning the favor. However, when Lydia beards him in his own den and all but demands that he keep the matter quiet in return for reimbursement, James finds himself intrigued by the curious mix of her outspokenness and vulnerability. He offers her a deal: his silence for one kiss. And from there the sparks fly.
The above doesn’t sound like it's much out of the ordinary, but it actually reads quite a bit differently from all of those outspoken-spinster-bluestocking-meets-rake romances we are all so familiar with. And the “suspense” part of the book – the mystery of where the stela originated – reaches its denouement with nary a black mustachioed villain in sight. How refreshing.
Basically, at its heart, Bound by Your Touch is the story of two people whose complicated painful relationships with their families have molded them into the somewhat dysfunctional people they are. James, when we first meet him, seems like a charming, gorgeous, self-destructive loser. He has everything anyone could ever want in life, but he’s pissing it away. He regularly indulges in alcohol and other stimulants to excess and otherwise tries to kill himself via more direct routes, such as boxing with streetwise brutes for fun and profit. He has one obsession – to cause his father pain. He does this to pay his father back for the betrayal of his sister whom James feels they both failed in her hour of need and who now resides in a lunatic asylum as a convicted murderess. James's life is pretty dark right now, but he handles it with a wry and witty self awareness that is actually quite charming.
Lydia, for her part, is devoted to her father, but, conversely, dislikes and distrusts her sister who stole her first suitor from her and married him. Things are tense in that household as well, especially as the two have to work together to launch their other sister, Ana, this season. Since Lydia is a spinster, she derives her worth from running her father’s legitimate antiquities business and drumming up support for his work. She is all business and propriety, and, therefore, James seems like a waste of oxygen to her - someone with all the opportunities in the world and no direction whatsoever.
So they are opposites, and, as you know, opposites tend to, well, attract. And, boy, do they attract. There is some pretty sizzling sexual tension between James and Lydia, and it is delicious to read. It's also fun to watch them try to take each other's measure, as they are both smart and observational. As the story progresses, things get complicated, and both of them must confront their deeply held beliefs about themselves, their families, and each other. I liked how Duran carefully mirrored their situations comparing and contrasting the dutiful and the rebellious, revealing to be two sides of one painful coin.
It's so exciting to read such a solidly written book as Bound by Your Touch is. Everything here - characters, plotting, love story - is just so well put together and enjoyable that I have to give it my enthusiastic recommendation; there's no question. If you have been wallowing in romance novel ennui, go out and pick this one up. And there's a sequel too - more good news!
-- Rachel Potter
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