5 stars

Historical Book Review: Moment of Desire by Rachel Cosgrove Payes

From the back of the book:

Beautiful, spirited young Mellie Wilton thought the handsome Earl of Henning was going to rescue her from her degrading life in London and take her to his wealthy estate in Kent because he wanted her for his wife. When he tricked her into marrying his son so that he would have an heir to his fortune, Mellie became enraged. Tormented by a husband who could never love her, yet consumed with desire for the man who had deceived her, Mellie was filled with a burning need for fulfillment and revenge.

Moment of Desire, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Playboy Press, 1978, Gina D’Achille cover art

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An Anti-Heroine?

After a couple of decades of reading romance, I can’t say I’ve encountered too many heroines like Melusina Wilton and that’s a damn shame.

Moment of Desire by Rachel Cosgrave Payes might be an aberration, both for her (I wasn’t fond of the other Cosgrove Payes book I read) and the historical romance genre. It was published by Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Press, which churned out bodice-ripping romances and schlocky sci-fi well into the seventies and early eighties, part of the golden era of pulpy trash. And yes, this book is trashy, with a heroine so conniving, so cunning, so single-minded in her pursuits of love and revenge that she made me love this book beyond all logical reason.

The Tawdry Plot

The tale begins as buxom, blue-eyed blonde 14-year-old Mellie Wilton tries to catch the eye of a much older nobleman at a violent bear-baiting. She worries that her dress may not be low-cut enough to obtain his lustful interest. And unlike other heroines in Romancelandia, she doesn’t bat an eyelid at the sight of animal cruelty; she indifferently laments the fact that she has no money to gamble (despite modern perspectives, that’s what bear baitings were for, after all). Mellie is youthfully self-centered and cares only for her pleasure.

She lives at English court, as her mother is a lady-in-waiting to German King George’s wife. Unfortunately for Mellie, her mother is a bit of a lusty tramp, romping around with married lords and pissing off their wives. Mellie’s mother screws the wrong woman’s husband, and not even the Queen will aid them, so Mellie, her mother, and their loyal maid are thrown out into the streets. Tragic events result in Mellie being forced to sell her body in a brothel. To her joy (and then horror), her first customer is her beloved crush, who, to her dismay, proves to be no hero.

For months Mellie plies her trade and learns how to entice a man beyond all reason. Meanwhile, Mellie dreams of one day finding her true hero: a man who will take her out of her life of whoredom, bring her to his mansion, drape her in fancy clothes and jewelry and love her faithfully.

And she does. But there is a catch…

Mellie is bought by her beloved john, not for himself, but to wed his openly gay son and be a broodmare for grandchildren. The young son despises Mellie and is accompanied everywhere by his handsome tutor, who’s not so keen on Mellie himself. Despite it all, Mellie sympathizes with her unwilling husband; she may be a tough bitch, but she’s not a heartless one.

What About the Hero?

This is a story of the young, sexy, voluptuous, blonde former hooker finding true love with her older sugar daddy. As a hero, Ritchie Jamison, Earl of Henning, isn’t as fun as Mellie, but he’s no jerk.

Despite a reputation for being a ladies’ man, he doesn’t sleep with anyone other than the heroine. He’s handsome, mature, rich, although sort of dim and dull. But because Mellie loves him and Mellie’s so great, I desperately wanted Mellie to get her man!

Final Analysis of Moment of Desire

What so terrific about Mellie?

Everything! She is who she is, complex, yet straightforward. Those she loves are fiercely protected, but those who have wronged her better watch out!

She ends up in ridiculously harrowing situations and plots her way out of them, skillfully succeeding. Mellie is no swooning, foot-stomping, virginal heroine who waits for the hero to save the day. She kills without flinching, she’ll fight for her man and the way Mellie plots revenge and crushes her adversaries in such a cruel and calculating manner is such cold-hearted, evil fun! I don’t want to spoil the shock; I was astonished that a heroine could be so remorseless!

This book was full of amusing spectacles, like a glitzy old-time soap opera. One quibble, though: the last few chapters are a bit anticlimactic as Mellie has disposed of all her enemies and there is just one more hurdle to mount before she can find happiness. But if anyone deserves it, she does.

Just like in the words of 1980’s English pop-tart Samantha Fox: “Naughty girls need love too!”

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