4 stars

Historical Romance Review: While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee

While Passion Sleeps, Shirlee Busbee, Avon, 1983, cover artist Harry Bennett

[Women] had faces like angels and bodies to drive men wild, and yet they lied, cheated, and would merrily rip a man’s heart from his body for the sheer joy of watching him writhe.

WHILE PASSION SLEEPS

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee made me feel really old. It wasn’t the plot or the characters; it was the actual book itself. This just-under-500-pages of an epic is printed in a tiny font on yellowed paper (my edition is 38 years old). Reading it strained my eyes something awful. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, but now things up close are getting blurry. I’ll be going to the eye doctor this week for a new Rx because I need bifocals. *Sigh.* Damn you, the passage of time!

The Hero

Speaking of the passage of time, While Passion Sleeps features a macho hero who would be booed out of Romanc-landia if he were to appear in a romance novel today. Rafael Santana, who’s one tough Texan (1/4 American, 1/4 Comanche, and 1/2 Spanish), was kidnapped by the Comanches as a child. He lived with them for years before being rescued by his Spanish relatives. He is a savage man, torn between two worlds, as he never fully adjusted to polite society. A forced marriage to a cold-hearted woman and several fleeting sexual affairs have jaded Rafael’s perspective about females.

“Women were such deceptive little bitches, [Rafael] thought viciously as he kicked his horse into a gallop. They had faces like angels and bodies to drive men wild, and yet they lie, cheated, and would merrily rip a man’s heart from his body for the sheer joy of watching him writhe.”

Besides being a founding member of “The He-Man Women’s Hater Club,” he’s capable of and has committed extreme violence:

“I was 12 the first time I went on a raid & yes, I did enjoy it,” Rafael interrupted coolly. “I was 13 when I stole my first horse and scalped my first white man and a year later, I raped my first woman and took my first captive. By the time I was 17, I was raiding w/ the warriors for over five years; I owned fifty horses, had my own buffalo skin teepee, three slaves of my own & several scalps taken by my hand decorated my lance.”

(I can just hear the clacking sound of myriad strings of pearls being clutched by the “How dare you!” crowd.)

The Heroine

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the heroine Beth. A beautiful violet-eyed, platinum-haired Englishwoman (are there really women who naturally look like that in real life? I’ve yet to see one.), she is made to marry a profligate gambler who drinks too much, as her father has no use for her now that he has a new wife and son. Nathan Ridgeway is handsome and, despite his errant ways, not that bad of a guy. The problem is Nathan has “teh ghey” and try and try as he might, he just can’t get a chubby for his sweet 16-year-old bride. Only hot, young men will do it for him and Beth ain’t that.

Dismayed at first by the inability to consummate their marriage, he and Beth fall into a contented, platonic arrangement, where Beth capably mages the household affairs while Nathan not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours. A whiff of potential scandal hits the air, so the pair hightail it off to the United States to make a new life for themselves. They move to Louisiana, then later to Mississippi, where eventually Beth, the super-perfect woman, manages a huge plantation that turns a tidy profit, while Nathan again not-so-discreetly enjoys the company of his paramours.

The Plot

Let’s rewind a bit to their time in Louisiana. There at a ball, Beth’s shimmering violet eyes met the passionate smoky-gray gaze of Rafael Santana. The attraction was instantaneous, leading Rafael to make a crude proposition. Of course, Beth wanted nothing to do with the married Rafael, being an honorable married woman herself, even if her marriage was not quite a “marriage.”

Jealous of the pair, Rafael’s wife arranged for Rafael’s cousin to rape a drugged Beth, then have Rafael come upon the scene. Moments before the cousin could do the deed, an enraged Rafael enters the room, catching what he believes are two lovers in flagrante delicto.

Furious that another man had his way with Beth, yet enchanted by her naked body, Rafael becomes maddened with lust. Under the influence of intoxicants, Beth’s only sensation is desire. She begs Rafael to take her, which he eagerly does. Thinking he’s having sloppy seconds and in a state of anger, somehow Rafael fails to notice that Beth’s a virgin, even though her hymen is still intact. (I always question when this sort of thing happens in romances: how can a man who’s been around the entire neighborhood not notice the major resistance a hymen makes upon entry? These heroes just plow through like it’s made of wet tissue paper.)

After their one night of passion, Beth flees in shame. She and Rafael don’t see each other until four years later when Beth decides to travel through Texas to visit an old friend. But, when they meet again, their lust can’t be controlled, and they go at it again. And again. And again!

Rafael’s wife is now dead, and he thinks Beth is a shameless adulteress, beguiling innocent men with her beauty. I’ve never read Gypsy Lady, but for those of you who have, it’s interesting to note that Sebastian, the son of that book’s protagonists, is featured in While Passion Sleeps as Rafael’s cousin. He, too, is mad about the lovely Beth. Sebastian is the only one who knows the true nature of Beth’s marriage, having witnessed Nathan in bed in the arms of another man. He vows to save Beth from her phony marriage and make her his bride.

In a powerful scene, Sebastian’s illusions are shattered after he catches Beth and Rafael in an embrace. Sebastian and Rafael, who are good friends, almost come to blows until Rafael claims Beth is his mistress. Sebastian leaves the field to his cousin, his heart is broken.

Never having felt such deep emotion for a woman before, Rafael is conflicted. Not only is his cousin in love with her, but there is also the matter of her husband to contend with. So, in the end, he decides to make Beth his and his alone. No matter what, passion will find a way.

Language Lesson

I did have an issue with the bad Spanish in this book. Rafael’s wife is named Consuela; it should be Consuelo. Also, Rafael refers to Beth as “mi cara” which means “my face.” Instead, it should be “querida” as “cara” is Italian for “my beloved.” I’ve seen that mistake so often in older romances when the hero speaks Spanish, especially in Harlequins. Fortunately, Rafael doesn’t call her that too often, preferring to call Beth his “English.”

Permit me to go over this for a moment. Any romance reader worth their salt should know how to say this to a woman in multiple languages. There are many ways to say “my beloved,” “my dear,” or “my love” in various languages, but here in random order are the ones I know off the top of my head:

Cariad – Welsh
Querida – Spanish & Portuguese
Cara – Italian
Chère – French
Habibti (or Habibi) – Arabic
Stór – Irish
Liebling – German
Agápi – Greek
Elsket – Norweigian

Okay, language lesson over.

My Opinion

Except for my eyes squinting in vain to read the words, While Passion Sleeps was an enjoyable ride. It is a bodice ripper that spans continents and years, has lots of steamy love scenes and plenty of violence. That’s enough for me to like it.

There are times when this book lags, especially during the first half when Beth and Rafael don’t spend much time with each other. For some reason, Busbee went into extreme detail over the most unimportant things, like Beth and her husband traveling from New Orleans to Texas or about Comanche & Texas history. The editing could have been tighter.

Beth and Rafael had crazy, intense chemistry. You feel the heat coming off the pages whenever they are together. The love scenes, while a bit lavender, were sexy as hell. But… that’s all they have. They don’t really converse, don’t go through shared experiences (except for towards the end), they don’t really even argue that much. They have sex every chance they get when they’re alone. I would have preferred more time spent together bonding in a way that was more than physical.

A Mustache Aside

Also, for some reason, I imagined Rafael with a mustache. Busbee makes no mention of one. Yet after reading this scene:

Let me,” he muttered, roughly. “You are as beautiful there as anywhere, and I want the taste of you on my mouth, the scent of you in my nostrils. Let me!”

I couldn’t picture him without a flavor-saver on his face! Usually, mustaches are a turn-off. However, imagining Rafael as Mexican actor Mauricio Islas, one of the few men who can pull it off, made it all good.

Until I pictured another face. With the show The Mandalorian in the news lately, for some reason, Mauricio’s image kept morphing into actor Pedro Pascal. Nothing against Pedro. He just looks exactly like my cousin Felix! Nice-looking enough, but he’s not my idea of a brutal lover and killer, whose cold, pale eyes barely hide the passions which simmer beneath the surface.

Mauricio Islas as Rafael… yummy!
Pedro Pascal as Rafael… Nope!

That’s just my baggage. I’ve got to stop imagining actors as heroes. When the cover (sadly) fell off this book, I had no guy to look at and did some head casting.

Final Analysis of While Passion Sleeps

This is the third Shirlee Busbee I’ve read and definitely the best of the bunch. While Passion Sleeps has a hero you either love or hate. I loved him in all his pigheaded, dark alpha-ness.

Beth grows as a character. She transforms from a naïve, biddable housewife stuck in a loveless union to a fiery spitfire who endures trauma and hardship.

If Busbee had tightened the manuscript a bit more by reducing the filler and added more emotionally intimate scenes between Beth and Rafael, this would have been so amazing. As it is, it’s still a very gripping read, even if at times I did skim a page or two.


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