Potent Pleasures (Pleasures Trilogy Series #1)

Potent Pleasures - Eloisa James OK, from the date and comments I've read about this book, I'm going to assume this was one of Eloisa James' first attempts at a romance novel. So I can almost forgive her... but not quite.If you're new to romance novels, please take my advice and DON'T BOTHER WITH THIS SERIES. It will put you off Regency romances forever, unless you like stories where men can act like complete and total jerks, expecting wives to be madonnas while secretly wanting them to be whores in the bedroom, but not able to accept it when they behave like whores in the bedroom because no proper lady could possibly be so, which means that she must really be a whore... blah blah blah, jealous anger that is so cruel and abusive, you just want to kill the guy. But the woman is so in love with this guy that her love forces him to realize.... blah blah blah. Somehow a happily-ever-after (HEA).Basically, move on to another series by Ms. James (like the Essex Sisters or the Four Duchesses), or better yet, read Julia Quinn's The Bridgerton series.----------------I'm sorry to be so hard on Ms. James, but what can I say? There is a lot of good in this book, except that The Big Misunderstanding between the Hero and Heroine make it truly impossible for them to behave in any way other than schizoid or angry.Charlotte is the "good girl" and last daughter of a duke. She's got a wild girl friend who convinces Charlotte to accompany her to a ball so that the friend can spend some unsanctioned time with some "curate". Neither Charlotte nor her friend are "out" in Society yet, so they shouldn't even be considering going to any balls. But Charlotte's friend convinces her because the event is a masquerade and will mostly be attended by servants, so both girls will wear masks and not risk being seen or known. Except that the "ball" is a Whores Ball held every Saturday; it's a notorious place for courtesans, whores, servants, and rakes from the "ton".Alex is such a rake. He and his twin, Patrick, attend these "balls" frequently to score without conscience. Both men are, of course, in their late twenties, and while their father thinks they should be settling down, because Alex will become the Earl of Sheffield and Downs one day, the twins are out to raise as much hell and sow as many wild oats as possible. Alex sees Charlotte, but thinks she's, of course, a whore; her hair is highly powdered and she's not in Society yet, so Alex has never met her nor any real idea of what she looks like. But he sweeps her off her feet and into the garden and then on the garden ground... Charlotte is a young innocent - naive - and she has no idea about kisses or sexual feelings, except that she's literally swept away by Alex's actions. So when he manages to "go all the way" with her, he discovers she was a virgin! Alex can't quite reconcile this with his actions... he's half in love with this girl, who responded so freely to his "wooing" and yet thanks him afterwards with such ladylike speech.Charlotte is stunned and somewhat traumatized by the event after-the-fact... as most young, naive, innocent girls are after being de-flowered - especially when the "gentleman" simply walks away afterwards. Charlotte believes that she's utterly ruined; how can she possibly have a debut or plan to marry any man? She's no longer a virgin, and she's convinced that she's damaged good that no man will want. And because Charlotte doesn't know the Whores Ball for what it is, she thinks that Alex is simply a footman. (To give her credit, the most sought-after footmen were supposed to be tall, well-formed, and handsome.) Charlotte almost has a break-down when her family insists that she continues with her first Season, including her own ball. So she confides her secret to her mother, who assures her that Charlotte still has a chance for a good marriage - that not every woman has a maidenhead in tact when she's wed, either through riding horses (really?) or because her intended has already taken it, as Charlotte's father did with her mother.So Charlotte continues on with her First Season, but gloomily so, and she's not a hit. Her mother keeps hoping that Charlotte will discover who this man is who took her virginity -- her mom, ever optimistic, hopes for a HEA romance. And her mother is smart enough to recognize from Charlotte's description that the man in question is likely one of the twins, Alex or Patrick.Fast forward 3 years... Charlotte has been painting to keep herself occupied and mostly out of society. Alex and Patrick have been sent out of England (Alex to Italy and Patrick to India) by their father, ostensibly to "grow up", although what would make him think separating the twins and sending them off to foreign countries would change anything? (Duh!) ANYWAY, Charlotte wakes up one day and realizes that at the ripe old age of 20, she's likely to be a spinster; the prospect of no life and no children aren't appealing, despite her father's gift of a house and lands which make her independently wealthy. (Her parents think this extra bit of dowry will sweeten the deal for some lucky guy.)Charlotte suddenly decides that she wants to be part of Society. So she throws away all her old clothes and gets a whole new, scandalous wardrobe and short hair cut. And she's INSTANTLY the talk to of the "ton" - the new "It" Girl, courted by scads of dukes, earls, lords, and sirs. Uh... yeah. OK.And, of course, Alex is back in London. He married an Italian woman, Maria, whose face reminded him of his Garden Girl, as he likes to think of her. Except that Alex remembers his Garden Girl as smelling of lavender and having probably red hair under all that powder -- must be red, he thinks, because her skin was so white and creamy. (Ugh!) But it turns out that the reason Maria's family was so eager to wed her to a foreign English gentleman is that Maria had already slept with most of the Italian men, and none of them would have her. Alex finds out he was duped, and that his wife was a "whore". She makes his life miserable with all her screaming, shouting, and demands. So Alex goes away. When Maria wants an annulment to marry someone else, Alex lets her have whatever she wants - he only wants to be rid of her. So when she gets the annulment - FROM THE POPE - on grounds that Alex is impotent... he doesn't contest. (REALLY? Ms. James says this is historical, but I find it hysterical. What man would allow himself to be so labeled?) Except that as some sort of parting gift, Alex and Maria have sex on their last night together, and a year later as Maria lies dying (drama, anyone?), she presents Alex with his daughter, Phillipa, aka Pippa. And Pippa is the likeness of Alex in feminine form, right down to her eyebrows.So... Alex comes back to London with his daughter. Society somehow knows all about his Italian adventures, and he's dubbed the "Ineligible Earl", because of his "floppy poppy". Alex sees Charlotte (no masks or powdered hair this time), and he falls instantly in lust with her, which isn't hard to do given the gossamer nature of her almost-there French gowns, her stylishly short hair of abundant curls that always looked "tossed", and her pert eyebrows and come-hither looks. And, of course, her biting wit and intelligence. She's got beau swarming around her. Why wouldn't she draw his attention? Alex sets off to win Charlotte, but he must first overcome his reputation of the "limp lily" and convince her and her parents that he's capable of performing his husbandly duties and producing an heir.The sexual tension and frustration between Charlotte and Alex is both aggravating and charming. Charlotte has had one experience, so she's no longer a complete naive miss. And when she gets a close-up look at Alex, she recognizes him as her one-night-stand. Problem is, he doesn't recognize her, which first sends her into a fit and then sends her into scheming. The two of them can barely keep their hands and lips off one another, which convinces Charlotte that the ton is wrong about Alex - he's no floppy poppy. (No matter that Society can't quite figure out the child... except that ton marriages being what they are, the assumption is that Alex perhaps can't get it up without a whore.)ANYWAY... despite Alex's determination to have a proper wedding night before his wife loses her virginity, he still manages to do everything BUT before the wedding. And on the wedding night, Charlotte is in heaven - in rapture! She's determined to share with him that SHE is the Garden Girl, except she does it in a stupid way by muttering something about how this time was so different from her first time... blah blah blah... Alex realizes his wanton Charlotte isn't a virgin, and he immediately leaps to the conclusion that she is a WHORE. That is the only explanation for how responsive she was to him. She's playing some horrid game, like his first wife, yada yada yada. There's a horrid scene where Alex shouts unimaginable insults at Charlotte - the kind that you can not only never take back but never forget. (And IMO, never forgive completely.) Charlotte, hurt, tries to press her suit and convince him that HE was the one who took her virginity, but Alex won't allow her to talk any details (and so learn about the garden), and he screams more insults and stomps out. They're headed to Scotland, to one of his lands, and he's determined to punish her. He leaves ahead of time and banishes Charlotte to the servants' carriage, behind the carriage with Pippa and her nanny. INJURY to INSULT, because this speaks volumes to the servants and everyone along the way.Charlotte takes some measure of revenge in making the journey as long as possible, using Pippa as an excuse to linger everywhere. AND Charlotte rides with Pippa, getting to know her better. By the time they arrive in Scotland, Alex is out of his mind - he's magnanimously decided to take Charlotte back. (HA!) Alex thinks that his twin, Patrick, must have taken Charlotte's virginity, and she just doesn't know any better. So he's decided not to punish her and still be her husband. After all, he has to overcome the "floppy poppy" thing and must produce an heir. When he discovers that Charlotte moved her things form the lady's bedchambers to another place in the castle and won't eat with him, he stomps in and demands his marital rights. To which she finally shows some backbone and tells him he's out of his mind: she intends to him to honor his last words about never sleeping with her again. Alex attempts to use his skills to change her mind, but while Charlotte's body responds, she doesn't allow her mind to respond. Alex almost gives up completely (as I did with the book at this point!), but he tries again. And manages to woo Charlotte AGAIN.They have a week's worth of makeup sex in every room and on every surface of the Scottish castle. And make vows about trust and love and whatnot. And return to London, Alex now determined to take Charlotte from exile and make her his true wife. How magnanimous of him! (Gag!)AND THEN... we're treated to more sex everywhere scenes, including Alex's frustration with his wife's monthly flux - give me a break! - until Alex is asked to go to France posing as an Italian. He's supposed to rescue a 13-year old French aristocrat from hiding and pick up some secret government papers from Paris. Flux or not, Charlotte and Alex are both grumpy from no sex, so she gives in to him (her flux is winding down anyway) and sends him off with a smile on his face.But we go through another session of Alex's anger and jealousy when, while he's away, his twin Patrick shows up and is seen in company with Charlotte. And the wagging gossips of the ton can't help themselves, but start speculating that Patrick is there to provide an heir for Alex, because as they all know, Alex is incapable. The gossip increases when Charlotte faints into Patrick's arms... and the doctor confirms that Charlotte is "increasing". Charlotte is all but thrown out of London, so she retreats into the country, where Alex is greeted by his ever vigilant secretary with the horrid scandal sheets from London. The secretary supposedly wants Alex to sue, but we know that Alex immediately jumps to his stupid conclusions about Charlotte and his brother -- she MUST be in love with Patrick, since he took her virginity, right? And because she was having her flux when he left, the child cannot possibly be his! Even the secretary agrees that a lot depends upon how far along Charlotte is, since Alex has been out of the country. And the secretary has divorce papers waiting only Alex's signature.Another brutal, cruel scene with Alex where he screams the most horrid, insulting things at Charlotte without allowing her to speak. AND THEN tells her that if the child *is* his (based on months), Alex will take the child and Pippa away from Charlotte and raise them in London, abandoning her to the country where she can fend for herself, as whores do.Charlotte does what any self-respecting, abused woman would do. She takes Pippa and runs away to her own estate. But her friend, Sophie, thinks that Alex just needs to UNDERSTAND... and Sophie lets Alex know that Charlotte is ready to deliver and he better get himself there. Alex has heard that his twin Patrick is hiding in the country with a woman, and he jumps to the outrageous conclusion that the woman is Charlotte. So he gallops off to Patrick, only to discover that the woman is someone else entirely, and that Patrick never met Charlotte before his latest jaunt into London, that Patrick never slept with Charlotte before or after her marriage to Alex, and that Patrick got away from Town as fast as he could to try to allay the gossip. Even Patrick understands the impact of the horrid scandal that Alex has brought down on Charlotte!Alex rushes off to Charlotte. He finds her having difficulty with labor. When Alex arrives, Charlotte basically gives up, convinced that he'll take her newborn and abandon her. And ONLY because Alex believes his brother Patrick (and not because he could ever believe that Charlotte would tell him the truth), SUDDENLY Alex is in love with Charlotte again and helps convince her to push out that baby. And he's SUDDENLY tender and devoted and loving... so much so, that she welcomes him back to her bed after he declares his undying love to her again. (Gag!)But OF COURSE, the whole question of who Charlotte gave her virginity to still is a problem for Alex. So Charlotte arranges a surprise for Alex's birthday: she has him costumed and driven to the Whores Ball, where she meets him in a costume like the Garden Girl near the same statute. SOMEHOW (finally), this gets through to Alex, and he recognizes his WIFE. And they live happily ever after... after several protestations of how he doesn't deserve her... If I hadn't already read other much better romance novels by Eloisa James, I would have permanently taken her off my author list.ONCE AGAIN: If you're considering reading this book or this series, I strongly encourage you to run the other way. Take up another set of books by Ms. James or by another Regency romance author, such as Julia Quinn or Mary Balogh, who give you the right amount of steam, romance, social issues, drama, and comedy in a romance book.