"Sexy As Hell" by Susan Johnson

Pros: Steamy romance, and the power struggle between hero and heroine is so much fun to watch.
Cons: The ending feels rather rushed, almost as if it comes out of nowhere.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Determined to avoid marrying her detestable cousin, Countess Isolde Perceval arranges to be caught in bed with a man, thereby making her unmarriageable. Her plans are thrown awry, though, when Baron Osmond Lennox walks into the wrong room for his assignation. Instantly attracted to the beautiful countess, Lennox offers her an easy way out of the whole situation: a marriage of convenience. When her cousin backs down, the two of them will amiably divorce. But neither Lennox nor Isolde had counted on the scorching heat between the two of them, or the clashes of will that stoked that heat even higher. But have they stumbled across something worth keeping? Or will their mutual stubbornness tear them apart?


 

Wow. What a steamy book. When I picked Susan Johnson’s Sexy As Hell up, I was expecting a fairly typical historical, but Ms. Johnson has created an interesting blend of romance and erotica based on passion and personality clashes. Despite the fact that some of the language used and character attitudes felt out of period, the book is unashamed of the fusion and I actually found myself enjoying it way more than I expected to. (I should point out that the language can be a lot more blunt than most historical romances, but it does keep the book from straying into purple-prose territory!)

As much fun as it is to watch Isolde and Lennox butt heads, there were a few times where I wanted to shake some sense into one or both of them. Lennox has a tendency to simply issue orders, expecting them to be followed. The one thing that kept me from getting completely fed up with that tendency was hearing his explanations of why those edicts were handed down. And yet, despite the apparent sense behind some of those decisions, Isolde still puts up a fight even though the end result of her getting her way with Lennox might be detrimental to her overall goals. Her behavior wasn’t bad enough to fall into the “too stupid to live” category, but she certainly toed the line at times.

The power struggles between the two were actually fairly sexy; they would crop up in some unusual and funny places. (The modiste’s reactions to one of  their tiffs had me chuckling unashamedly!) Ms. Johnson does an excellent job of showing the fine line between power and passion, and how easy it is to step over it without realizing. Even though it took the characters a long time to discover their feelings for each other, that didn’t feel out of place for me because of how blurry the lines between lust and love become in situations like their arranged marriage.

The one thing that did feel incomplete to me was Lennox’s realization that he is in love with Isolde; the moment of realization happens off-camera and so it felt very sudden for me. Not knowing how or why his perspective had changed made his declarations of love feel rushed and somewhat shallow. Had I been able to see what he was thinking and feeling, or what the impetus was for his change in perspective, his admissions of love would have felt a whole lot more genuine. As it was, I was left with the feeling that while they did get their happily-ever-after, it would still be a rocky road for them as their relationship continued. Given the nature of their courtship, it’s not a surprising feeling, but at the same time I felt like future problems could still be serious.

With that being said, however, this is possibly the steamiest historical that I’ve read in months. Isolde and Lennox’s attraction nearly sets the pages on fire and pulls you right into the maelstrom of their courtship. Although some of the conflicts get a little irritating, they do serve to tighten and tangle the cords that bind the two together. There’s just something fascinating about watching two people so fiercely independent come to terms with their deep desire for each other. If you enjoy sexy contest-of-wills romance novels, you’ve simply got to check this one out!

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