Taylor’s Temptation

cover image - Taylor's TemptationTaylor’s Temptation is a 2001 Silhouette Intimate Moments, by Suzanne Brockman – part of her Tall, Dark, and Dangerous series. I wanted to like the book, because I admire the author, but I was disappointed.

Bobby is a Navy SEAL. Recently wounded, he’s taking a short leave when his buddy Wes asks him to visit Colleen, Wes’s sister. Colleen lives in another city, and in about a week, she is traveling to the war-torn country of Tulgeria, on a relief mission to an orphanage. Wes wants Bobby to convince Colleen not to go. Bobby and Colleen have known each other for years, and have always been attracted to each other, but nothing has come of that.

So far, so good. Man in uniform stories sometimes work for me, and sometimes don’t, and Wes is a controlling and hypocritical jerk, since his career is dangerous missions, but it’s a solid friends become lovers plot, there’s a reason for them to be together, and there’s a deadline. Unfortunately, I kept tripping over reasons to dislike this story.

Spoilers ahead, for those who want to be warned of that.

Things get off to an awkward start with an action prologue that is actually a flashback, told by one minor character to other minor characters, but used to introduce Wes and Bobby. Early on there are some repetitive descriptions and back story that could have come later. Occasional swear words are omitted with varying degrees of awkwardness. But these are minor quibbles. The big problem is that the sole obstacle to the relationship is Bobby’s fear that Wes will not approve. Bobby has this silly male bros thing about not getting involved with your best friend’s sister. I’m just not convinced that’s a thing, especially after high school.

The relationship progresses, with various plot threads introduced and abandoned, and eventually there is immediately fantastic sex (sigh). That’s an annoyed sigh, immediately fantastic sex being one of my romance novel pet peeves. And there are more sex scenes than necessary, but perhaps that’s a requirement of the Intimate Moments line. Room mates appear and disappear as required by plot convenience.  When Wes learns of the relationship, there is a knock-down nose-breaking brawl, which involves the whole comitatus. Then, having settled their disagreement in a suitably macho fashion, they go back to being best buds and it’s fine that Bobby and Colleen are a couple. This is the first climax of the book, but it’s between Bobby and Wes. Arguably they have grown – Bobby defies Wes, and Wes accepts Bobby as Colleen’s lover – but I’m not that interested in their relationship.

What about that dangerous trip to Tulgeria? It’s the location of a second climax, but after all the buildup about the trip, I was hoping for more. I felt a great opportunity for rich character growth was ignored in favour of a quick and flashy cliche.

Despite all this, a few things in the book appealed. Colleen is largely presented as naive,  and the plot has her rescued a few times, but at other times she’s ambitious and capable.  She takes the lead in the relationship, and she is not talked out of her trip. There are multiple not quite subtle references to various types of diversity, and this is apparently consistent in Brockman’s writing – at least one of her books has a male couple, and the earnings of that book are donated to a foundation for marriage equality.

The plot references AIDs several times, and the fictional Tulgeria is a place of terrorism, poverty, and natural disasters.  This gritty reality makes the ‘don’t date my sister’ conflict seem more ridiculous by contrast, especially since the ‘loving a soldier is risky’ conflict is also mentioned. And a conversation about risks leads to the most impressive moment in the book.

Early in the story, Bobby learns that a woman who works at a community AIDS center has been attacked, and a day earlier he witnessed a man threatening Colleen at an AIDS fundraising car wash. He tells her she is in danger. She admits to being afraid, but points out that Bobby takes risks too. He says:

“I’m trained to do those things.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a woman,” she countered. “I’ve been trained, too. I’ve had more than ten years of experience dealing with everything from subtle, male innuendo to overt threats. By virtue of being female, I’m a little bit afraid every single time I walk down a city street – and I’m twice as afraid at night.”

He shook is his head. “There’s a big difference between that and a specific threat from a man like John Morrison.”

“Is there?” Colleen asked. “Is there really? Because I don’t see it that way. “

She goes on to describe receiving sexual threats from strangers on the street, though, as usual, the language is awkwardly censored. She continues:

“After someone,” she said more quietly now, “some stranger says something like that to you–and if you want a real dare, then I dare you to find a woman my age who has not had a similar experience–you get a little–just a little, nervous just going out of your apartment. And when you approach a man heading toward you on the sidewalk, you feel a little flicker of apprehension or maybe even fear. Is he going to say something rude? Is he going to take it a step further and follow you? Or is he just going to look at you and maybe whistle, and let you see from his eyes that he’s thinking about you in ways that you don’t want him to be thinking about you?

“And each time that happens, ” Colleen told him, “it’s no less specific–or potentially unreal– than John Morrison’s threats.”

I suspect the passage particularly resonates in the current environment of many powerful men being brought down by their history of harassment – and also reminds us that women have been speaking up about sexual harassment for a long time.  The passage is strong dose of reality, though it’s another example of why the ‘don’t date my sister’ obstacle seems too light for the story. Bobby admits being “that guy,” who whistles at women, but says he never thought something like that would frighten a woman. It’s not very heroic of him, and it could be a character growth moment, but the moment slips away with a change of subject. Colleen does not get much opportunity to demonstrate the strength she talks about. The Morrison threat subplot is resolved, but it’s Bobby that finds out why Morrison is a threat, and how to handle him, even though it’s something Colleen could have found out, and probably more easily than Bobby.

Still, on the strength of that one passage, I’m keen to try something else by Brockman. She’s a prolific writer, and although action heroes seems to be her main area, she’s written in other romance genres. She’s also an independent film maker.  The book was a disappointment, but it had hints that suggest I may enjoy some of her other work.