My Dangerous Pleasure
Forever, May 31, 2011, $7.99 (print and digital)
TEMPT THE DARKNESS
Strong-willed and independent, Paisley Nichols is used to taking care of herself. But when an insane mage begins tracking her every move and threatening her at every turn, she has no choice but to put her life in the hands of a demon.
RISK THE PASSION
Burned by betrayal, demon assassin Iskander won't get too close to anyone. He spends his days serving his warlord and his nights indulging in carnal pleasures...and that's exactly how he likes it. But when a mage wages a wrenching psychic assault on his beautiful tenant Paisley, Iskander must defend her. Under his protection, she will be drawn irresistibly into his life and learn about her own mysterious powers. And not a moment too soon. The mage haunting her isn't acting alone—and he won't rest until he destroys both Paisley and Iskander.
What stands out most after reading My Dangerous Pleasure, fourth in Carolyn Jewel's Immortal series, is this: The hero, while totally the alpha male you'd expect a demon to be, is also incredibly sweet to the heroine, a human with latent magic being threatened by a mage.
The typical urban fantasy/urban fantasy romance hero is usually pretty slutty, with a bad-ass attitude to match. He's generally pulled into helping/saving/working with the heroine, often begrudgingly, and...yada, yada, you know the drill. Iskander, Jewel's hero, fulfills the slutty part of the equation, but even though he never planned any sort of involvement with Paisley Nichols, he brings no pissed off, sullen, or I'm-the-boss-of-you attitude into their relationship.
I can think of just one other hero I've come across in dozens upon dozens of this type of book who isn't high-handed in this way: Razvan, from Christine Feehan's Dark Slayer. Both he and Iskander are deadly warriors, but neither is the bossy sort when it comes to their heroines. Razvan actually has an innately gentle nature and, unlike the typical Dark series hero, is less dominant than his heroine, Ivory Malinov. That's definitely not the case with Iskander, whose sworn fealty to a warlord—a powerful fiend (fiends are a subgrouping of demons)—requires him to be involved in dangerous and deadly goings-on.
Paisley is a baker who rents living space in Iskander's building. She attracts the attention of a mage whose growing obsession with her leads to his total destruction of her apartment and everything in it. Iskander invites Paisley to move in with him while she regroups. He arranges for new clothing, money, and everything else she'll need in exchange for her delicious cooking and baking. He may be a demon, but he's also a typical guy, living off junk food, pizza, and beer.
At first Iskander believes Paisley to be “vanilla,” a human with no magic, but her resistance to the mage's magic proves she is something else. Her subsequent ability to release magic stolen by evil mages more interested in increasing their power than in protecting humans against demonic possession brings her even closer to Iskander, but throughout the book he is devoted to her comfort, attracted to her unlike anything in his previous experience, and more than willing to protect her, even before he knows of her abilities. All that, and he calls her “cupcake.” In more ways than one...yum!
I'm not generally a fan of romance novel nicknames, probably because so many Southern and Western heroes call their heroines “darlin'”, but Iskander's references to Paisley as “cupcake” endeared him to me, as did his insecurity about their burgeoning relationship. After having been burned by his one-time blood-twin, who betrayed him and left him for the mage now going after Paisley, Iskander could easily have become one of those bitter, “all women are bitches” kind of guys. Instead, he worries for the first time if a woman truly wants him, and how not to mess things up if she does.
“Let me take care of you.”
“You already do that.”
“Let me help with this. Right now.”
She wasn't acknowledging that he was touching her, but she also wasn't moving away. That had to be a good sign. But he was thinking about things he shouldn't be...He stroked his fingers through her hair. He didn't know what to say to her, what words to use...he'd never wanted more than a good time with anyone else.
In a scene much later, while he's discussing Paisley with her mentor, a famous woman chef, he first convinces the woman that his intentions are honorable, then wants to know how he can keep from screwing things up in the relationship. His behavior is adorably, utterly, cluelessly male:
“Do you treat her well, young man?”
“As well as I know how.”
She elbowed him again. For such a little woman, she was strong. “She's a woman worth having, Iskander.”
He gave her a hard stare. If he said the wrong thing, she'd kick his ass.
Ashlin rolled her eyes. “Don't tell me you're one of those men who can't make a commitment, foolish, foolish boy.”
“That isn't it.” Christ. He was always two steps behind this emotional crap...“I'm trying not to screw it up with her...I can't get her to tell me what kind of things she likes...I told her I'd replace her things, but she won't spend my money. That's why I don't know what she likes. She needs everything. I could get her new dishes, but that isn't very romantic.” He sighed.
Iskander also wonders how he might ease her financial struggles without steamrolling her—only in a fantasy world do the men in our lives not try to constantly “solve” all our problems when we bitch to them about something troubling us.
Our hero realizes he's walking into a mine field when they discuss her long hours:
“You put in more hours than anyone else at the bakery. You should take some time off once in a while.”
“I'm the owner. That's the way it works.”
“Tell me how I can help you get more time.” He was still racking his brains about what kind of things he could do for her that would show he cared. “If you need money, I have it.”
Paisley frowned. “I'm not going to take money from you.”
“Hire an accountant to do the books and payroll for you. Get a couple more bakers. Nikodemus has attorneys and accountants on staff. He'll hook you up with good advice.”
“I can't afford advice that good.”
“If he doesn't comp you, I'll call in some favors and set it up at a price you can afford.” He slid his arms under the sheets and pulled her close.
“I'll think about it.”
“That's all I ask...What's your favorite color? Do you like jewelry? Did you used to collect anything? What if we got a dog? Do you like dogs?”
I adore his vulnerability and eagerness, but mostly his tentativeness when trying to help without going overboard. A terrific visual of a strong man behaving tentatively in protecting his heroine out of respect for her strength comes from the final moments of this year's season finale of Castle, after Captain Montgomery asks Castle to remove Beckett—against her will—from what it sure to be a deadly scene. He physically picks her up and carries her to safety with no time to spare, then holds her as they hear the fatal shots signaling the captain's death. I've watched the scene three times since it aired, and find it incredibly romantic, as romantic, in fact, as the final scene when Castle tells Beckett he loves her right before she loses unconsciousness after being shot by a sniper at the captain's funeral.
A bad-ass nice guy is a delicious contradiction. He can call me “cupcake” anytime. How about you?
For more about this book, visit www.carolynjewel.com.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.