I have really enjoyed Cheryl Holt's books with the exception of Absolute Pleasure, her novel prior to Complete Abandon. Absolute Pleasure was average at best and disappointed me because I expect above average writing from Holt. But she is at her best once again with Complete Abandon and I was able to determine that within the first fifty pages of the book (and I'm not talking about the sensual scene from the first few pages).
Viscount Wakefield, John Clayton, is one of those immoral heroes who is too wealthy for his own good. He isn't too pleased with the many responsibilities required of a viscount who owns numerous properties. He has spent years in decadent living - always partying, gambling, womanizing, and whatever else he can do to provide a thrill to his very tainted life - a life that is becoming quite boring. He visits one of his estates, Wakefield, and begins the tedious task of making the estate profitable once again. Fearing boredom, John has brought with him to Wakefield his mistress, brother, and a crowd of equally decadent revelers who are ever willing to accept John's immense hospitality.
Emma is a heroine with a lot of zest, purpose, and down right audacity. She is the daughter of Wakefield's deceased vicar and is known to protect those she loves. The villagers petition Emma's assistance when many receive eviction notices from the newly arrived viscount. Emma is incensed when she realizes the eviction notices are directed to those retired, ill, or fatherless. She eagerly takes up the village's cause and tromps to the estate family's home to confront the viscount with his poor judgment, stingy inclinations, and downright villainous tendencies as he evicts the most needy from their homes. Emma has heard all of the horrible rumors about John Clayton's despicable behavior and it only makes her more determined to face him down and hammer some sense into him.
John is having a fairly boring morning, complete with a boring sexual encounter with his mistress. This is the opening pages scene that has been commented on in many reviews. Afterwards, he is holding a rather boring informal business meeting with his brother when this unknown woman demands entrance to his home. His butler is unable to keep her out of the house and this stranger barges straight into John's library where he sits with his brother and his mistress. Well, John is one of those alpha males who always want to be in charge but, as a gentleman, he attempts to placate this furious, beautiful lady and get her out of his house. Soon John is speechless as he learns this vicar's daughter doesn't think too highly of him and is actually criticizing him! And insulting him - a lot! She is dictating to him about his duties and detailing his many failures. As he attempts to speak to Emma, she keeps up her tirade and refuses his efforts to dismiss her. So John, ever the devil viscount that he is, makes a rude and shocking proposition to her in exchange for his withdrawal of the eviction notices. Of course, his intention is to cause her to run from his house - away from his evil, reprehensible suggestion - and the obviously depraved person he is. He expects this vicar's daughter to scamper away in fear and out of his home forever. But Emma is one step ahead of him and stuns him by taking up his challenge. This all occurs within the opening pages of the book and is one of the more entertaining scenes I have read in romance writing. I really savored this interaction between the two. John is stunned as Emma not only agrees to his proposition but also insists he put it in writing.
So, Complete Abandon is off and running fast. There is not a dull moment from page one and Emma and John's relationship is at once adversarial as well as intensely sensual. Their relationship is unlike most romance plots. Oh there are similar elements to mainstream historical romances but the situations between Emma and John are unusual and refreshing. Most of all they captivate you as they each try to outmaneuver the other. It is a rollicking story with many ups and downs as well as containing some serious overtones. John's continued shock at Emma's behavior is humorous throughout the book. Their relationship, as to be expected, does become physical eventually and these sensual scenes rate a strong 4.5 out of 5.0 (see More About Me for rating guidelines). John holds true to his alpha character but it does not rule the book, as is so often the case. Emma remains strong and resilient without becoming tiresome or irritating. The chemistry is strong between these two yet their situation is a bit sad since neither expects anything lasting from the other.
I highly recommend Complete Abandon. It goes on my keeper shelf - I have not had many of those lately. Thanks Cheryl Holt for a fantastic and fun story.