I was fairly new to romance when Stephanie Laurens' Devil's Bride came out in 1998. It was a revelation to me. Until then, most of my reading had been traditional Regencies with very little overt sexual escapades. But here was Stephanie Laurens writing love scenes that went on for pages and pages—lordy, did those men have stamina!
But aside from the in-your-face sensuality of these books, what really grabbed my attention and appreciation was the fact that these heroes wanted marriage and the heroines didn't. It was such a refreshing change from the “I won't marry because [insert your favorite excuse: my mama was a slut, my daddy was mean to me, I don't believe in love, my first wife was a ho, I can't trust anybody, I am a rock, I am an island] hero. In the vast majority of romances, it is the woman who is pining away for the man, the one who has to wait until her one true love has been dope-slapped (hopefully, literally) into realizing he's in love with her. It was so refreshing to have those roles reversed; something that was rarely done before Laurens and her Cynsters.
There were six original Cynster cousins, all with silly nicknames. Most of those six books worked for me and were memorable.
Devil's Bride (1998): The one that started it all. Devil and Honoria get caught in a compromising situation and he is quite happy to get married, but she wants to go and explore Africa. It takes Devil a long time—and a lot of sex—to convince Honoria to marry him. It's a dirty job, but . . .
A Rake's Vow (1998): My clearest memory of this book is a kiss that lasted for three pages. I remember being very impressed by that feat.
Scandal's Bride (1999): Scandal was the Everready Energizer Bunny of Sex. He kept going, and going, and going everywhere. There was even a time he and Catriona did it on the back of a horse. At a full gallop, if you'll pardon the expression.
A Rogue's Proposal (1999): This was a very horsey book, and I'm not a horsey person, so it's not a favorite. Additionally, the heroine's nickname was “Flick” and I kept mentally calling her “My friend Flicka.”
A Secret Love (2000): My favorite one, after Devil's Bride. Gabriel and Alathea's story has that whole childhood-friends-falling-in-love thing going for it, which I love. But Gabriel also makes the most romantic gesture of any Cynster: he sends a come-out posy to Alathea (who was unable to have her come out years ago when she should have) with the note, “You have my heart—don't break it.” Awww . . .
All About Love (2001): Lucifer is a champion swordsman and I have a distinct memory of him cutting away Phyllida's clothes with his sword. Then he uses his other sword, and . . .
After these six books were finished, Laurens moved on to Cynster friends and in-laws and friends of friends and friends of in-laws—I think she's up to 16 now—and it all got to be a bit silly. And, after six books, the formula was well and truly established and had gotten to be a bit, well, formulaic; they had almost become parodies of themselves, and I stopped reading them. In fact, I wrote a Cynster parody for the (now defunct) All About Romance Purple Prose Parody Contest.
I still pick up a Stephanie Laurens novel from time to time. Sometimes I just want to read about an alpha male who is relentless in his pursuit of his mate and made to jump through hoops in order to get her to commit—even though she is in thrall to his sexual expertise. There's a comfort in knowing what you're going to get from a reading experience. But, I will always fondly remember the excitement and newness of those first Cynster novels.
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.