Tempted is Megan Hart's most recently published novel with Spice publishing. It is marketed as an erotic novel, and while it does have erotic elements, Tempted is more a novel of romantic realism. It is a realistic novel about strongly intertwined relationships brought about by real life actions, reactions, and consequences. It is the bittersweet emotional story, told from Anne's perspective, of what transpired over the course of one summer between Anne, her husband James, and his best friend Alex when the three became lovers.
Anne has everything a woman could want. Her husband James is handsome, loving and attentive and they live a happy and comfortable life together in their charming lake house. But things aren't exactly picture perfect. Anne is stressed out from dealing with her critical and impossible to please mother-in-law, and the ever present consequences of her father's alcoholism. In addition, each of Anne's three younger sisters are dealing with some serious problems of their own. Then a call comes from Alex, James' best friend from his youth, and everything in Anne's world changes.
James and Alex were inseparable childhood friends until they had a huge falling out the night before Alex left for Singapore on a business venture ten years ago. No one talks about the mysterious falling out, not even James, and it must have been intense if they dropped from each other's lives for ten years in a heartbeat. Now Alex has sold his company and is returning to the States to stay with James and Anne for the summer. Anne has never met Alex until he arrives at their home, and she is instantly overwhelmed by his sensuality and the mysteries of his past with her husband. She immediately senses a deep bond between James and the enigmatic Alex that is complicated, yet clearly depicts love and possibly even sexual attraction. Inevitably, Alex joins Anne and James in their bed and it isn't long before their relationships transcend fun and games and the boundaries of friendship, sex, and love are tested. Emotions develop in complex tangents between the three of them, and Anne and James' marriage is put on the line. The consequences of the threesome are engaging and a also a bit disturbing, forcing the characters to make decisions that may forever change their lives. Ms. Hart's characters are real and complex. They have flaws, they make mistakes, and are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. They address things about themselves that they may not have otherwise, had this affair not happened. And in the end, each have to make important decisions about the love they choose to embrace.
Tempted is not a typical erotic romance novel. While there are indeed erotic sex scenes, including several menages a trois scenes, it isn't the eroticism that gives this novel its power. The power behind this novel is the intense emotions and complicated relationships that drive the plot. Anne's personal struggle to understand her own emotions and desires, as well as those of James and Alex, and how it all affects her life, her loves, and her family is what makes this novel what it is: intense, honest, engaging, and thought provoking.
The ending of Tempted is not the kind of happily ever after ending I have come to expect and love from reading romance, but since this novel is not a lighthearted romance or erotic novel, the bittersweet ending is true to the complexity of real life. Initially, I had some issues with the circumstances surrounding the ending because it went against the resolution that already took root between the characters and didn't provide any closure. But after I thought about it for quite some time, I decided that the ending that Ms. Hart wrote is actually the only possible ending that would give Anne, James, and Alex the closure they each needed to move on with their lives, which is a good thing, even if it was disconcerting.
I had a really hard time coming up with a grade for Tempted. There are a few decisions that the characters make that I thought were inconsistent with the circumstances. I also felt that the story could have been even more interesting and compelling if James' character, and his relationship with Alex were more deeply developed. Then the fact that the ending threw me for a loop and I kept analyzing it gave me doubts about the book. However, I enjoyed reading Tempted because the relationships were so compelling and I couldn't help but examine and reexamine the characters and their actions for days after finishing the novel and that is what moved me the most. Perhaps that was Ms. Hart's intention after all - to write a powerful and thought provoking novel that left a profound impression on the reader. If so, her mission was accomplished with me.
I also now plan on reading Ms. Hart's previously released Spice novels, Dirty and Broken.
December 26, 2008
Edited to Add: I'm sure this is completely untraditional in the world of book reviewing, but ten months later, the characters and their stories as portrayed in Megan Hart's novel Tempted still linger with me, which I think is a testament to the strength of the author's story telling and the impact of her writing on the reader. Therefore, ten months later, I am changing my grade for this novel from a B+ to an A.