Dear Ms. Hoyt,
I hate this title but suppose that few readers would buy a book called “She is a balm for his soul.” Nah, not catchy enough but so accurate for this book. In “To Taste Temptation,” you gave us the secondary character of Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale. Jasper’s a former Army Captain, current “hale fellow well met,” slightly unlucky at love and possessed of nightmares that would curdle the entire milk supply of the state of Wisconsin. The boy’s got a few issues.
What he doesn’t realize he has is one strong woman who loves him above all others. When Melisande Fleming sees that Jasper is being thrown over on his wedding day – and for a curate, if it can be believed – she seizes her chance with both hands and hangs on for dear life. She knows that Jasper has never taken much notice of her beyond what politeness demands but she stiffens her spine, sneaks off to the church vestry and proposes to him. Slightly stunned, first to have lost his second fiancee in mere months and then to be on the receiving end of a marriage proposal, Jasper blinks then thinks, “what the hell. Got to get married and do my duty to the succession” before he accepts.
He thinks he’s getting a woman of good family, etc, who will be a dutiful wife, etc, and bear him children, etc, etc, etc. Melisande knows she’s getting the chance of which she’s hardly dared dream in all the years since she saw more depths to this man than most people who’ve known him for years ever noticed. But he doesn’t love her. Not as she loves him. And so she can’t reveal her love to him as that would make her too vulnerable. She’s been there and done that before only to have her heart crushed. And so begins a marriage of convenience that quickly becomes more as 1) Melisande watches Jasper try and discover who betrayed his regiment to the enemy deep in the primeval forests of North America during the late war and 2) Jasper begins to see the depths of this quiet wife who only wears drab dresses and hides her feelings better than he does.
Jasper’s little verbal witticisms – such as at his mother’s garden party – reminded me of Bertie Wooster but that’s natural as Jasper plays the slight fool in public to cover what he’s feeling inside. Melisande thinks she’s loved him for years but even then, after all she knows about his past lovers and the women he’s flirted with, she still doesn’t know him or know how to help him until after she begins to see what he hides. At first I questioned how deep could have been Melisande’s attachment to her first love but her confession of what happened after Timothy spurned her made it a bit more believable.
I have to agree with Munroe and Horn in their thoughts on Jasper’s scars – which have to be much worse than the physical ones those two men bear. Their pain was over seven years ago while Jasper’s still lives on. His sense of duty and honor are almost crushing him under their weight and I can see why he can’t let go of the search for a traitor. We finally begin to get some details about the torture that followed the betrayal and battle at Spinner’s Falls.
As Munroe tells Jasper, Melisande has courage. And as one of the few survivors of the torture inflicted on them by the Indians, he ought to know. She has the guts to take her only chance and go for the man she’s loved from afar, she decides to try for the kind of physical relationship she decides will take the place of romantic love and she confronts someone whom she suspects her husband fears blames him for the events at Spinner’s Falls. Melisande faces Jasper’s darkest fears and holds his hand while he walks through them. She sees the way he deals with the nightmares that still haunt him and makes no comments – only joins him in the rituals he needs in order to live through each dark night. I guess these two will be sleeping on a pallet bed with a loaf of bread and canteen of water until they’re eighty or so.
But was it ever revealed what in Melisande’s past made her the quiet, self controlled woman she grew to become? I do like that she doesn’t throw off her dull, brown clothes to don a rainbow of gowns as the book ends. Jasper falls in love with her as she is, as she looks, as she dresses and as she acts. Yet, what’s with the dress on the cover? Melisande is famous for her mud matching gowns and here she’s decked out in ever-lovin’ yellow.
It takes Jasper a long time to truly begin looking at Melisande as his early nice, but basically useless, present shows her. No woman has ever held his heart and despite the flowery phrases he uses about her in conversation with her, she’s not his dearest one or own true heart until he sees past the mask she wears in public to hide her inner self. And even after he gifts her with the lovely prezzie at the end, it’s still the small things he does for her that I remember – training Sir Mouse – despite the fact that the dog bit him – because Jasper realizes the dog is Melisande’s only friend, the promise of a huge bowl of pink blancmange just for her at Christmas and the elimination from her life of a past cause of pain while they revisit his aunt’s house in Edinburgh.
The plot is mainly a character study of Jasper and Melisande. The continuing arc of who betrayed the 28th Regiment is there but it mainly throws light on these two as Jasper continues his dogged search for the traitor. I still have a few doubts about these men being held for ransom, and how that was conveyed to the British authorities and how they got the remaining men away from the Indians. But now I’m almost as determined to discover who the blackguard is as are the men who suffered for his actions. From the “save” that Melisande makes, I think I know who’s the hero of the next book and who his heroine will be. I’m ready and waiting. B