Saturday, March 5, 2016

Retro Review: The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom
This review of The Virgin and the Vengeful Groom by Dixie Browning was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2000.  I rated it 3-Hearts (C Grade) with a sensuality content rating of PG-13.


Semi-retired Navy SEAL, Curt Powers, was happily minding his own business when fate steps in to foul things up. After surviving a dangerous mission that has left him physically and emotionally aching, he discovers that his father has recently passed away. This is big news to him, since his mother told him years ago that his father was already dead. Dear old dad left him a cabin by the ocean, Power’s Point, along with six boxes of old family papers. A rolling stone for most of his life, he had finally decided to take a look through the old boxes, when a gray-eyed vixen steals them right out from under him!

Romantic suspense writer, Lily O’Malley, was on her way to drop off some of her books in a storage unit when she happened on an auction. On the block were six sealed boxes, and her curiosity getting the better of her, she puts in the highest bid. What she discovers turns out to be a gold mine of inspiration - so, when Curt shows up at one of her book signings demanding his property back, she’s hesitant to relinquish it. After all, she’s the one who bought the boxes all nice and legal after he missed three payments on the storage unit.

Since Lily is unwilling to back down, Curt offers a compromise - why not return to Power’s Point with him where they can sort through the boxes together? While Lily is a little hesitant to run off with a strange man, she’s not all that anxious to stay in town. Lily’s success as a writer has come with her own stalker. Not only has this man left dirty messages on her machine, but he’s also broken into her house to leave her “gifts.” While going away with Curt isn’t exactly appealing, the idea of getting out of town is.

After groaning upon seeing the title (why do categories always have the dopiest titles?), I found myself pleasantly surprised after the first few chapters. For one thing, Curt and Lily have oodles of sexual chemistry, and the tension is thick right from the very start. Browning has crafted two fine characters that play very well off each other. Curt is an alpha hero with a wounded past, and sexy as hell. The author had me scrapping my chin off the floor by the close of the first chapter, and completely envious of the heroine by the time they are sharing living space.

As the title implies, this story has a virgin and (big shock here) it’s Lily. The great thing about her is that she’s not the standard “shrinking-violet-must-have-man-to-protect-me” type of romance virgin. She grew up in a very tough environment and learned to take care of herself at a very young age. She may be a successful writer now, but she never takes it for granted, and still has a tendency to worry about where her next meal will come from. In her own words, her body grew up but her brain barely made it past puberty.  

The main problem with this story is that it needs to be twice as long. There was too much going on that needed to be explored in depth, and the length of the Desire line just doesn’t provide the author with the opportunity. For one thing, the stalker issue is wrapped up a little too neatly in the very last chapter. It practically screamed “plot device,” and it often detracted from the sheer enjoyment of reading about the romantic couple.  

Also, Curt’s ancestors play a prominent role in the form of the historical information that both of the characters want to keep their hands on. While these ancestors are briefly explored, it only served to wet my appetite and left me with lots of questions by the close of the story.  

Most unsettling were the unanswered questions about Curt. Why did his mother leave his father and tell Curt he was dead? Exactly what happened on that fateful secret mission that left him scarred and almost broken? Since this title appears to be a part of the “Passionate Powers” series, I can only assume that some of the information I crave is locked away in early books.

While an enjoyable story with excellent sexual tension, I can’t help but wonder what might have been if this story was twice as long. With an expanded suspense thread (or omitting it altogether) and more information about Curt’s past, The Virgin And The Vengeful Groom could have been a real blockbuster. Browning has a real knack for characterization, and I’d love to see what she could do with a full-length single title.

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