Category Romance Review: Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald

Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald features one of her trademark piggishly cruel heroes. In spite of his repugnant deeds against the heroine, this is one of Donald’s better books.

category romance
Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Len Goldberg
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #1104
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Category Romance Review: Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald


The Book

Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald features one of her trademark piggishly cruel heroes. In spite of his repugnant deeds against the heroine, this is one of Donald’s better books.

Your mileage may vary, as I have a weird penchant for these kinds of crazy stories–when they’re done right. Smoke in the Wind is one of them.

The Characters and the Set-Up

The reason this so-called hero didn’t detract from the story was the refreshingly capable heroine, Venetia Gamble (what a great name!), who had tons of fortitude. Alas, not enough for her to dump the porcine swine and get with a better man.

Venetia is a hot up-and-coming news reporter in New Zealand. Ryan Fraine, a famous documentary filmmaker, is in the Land of White Clouds looking to set up a new TV station. When these two high-powered professionals meet, the temperature is off the charts.

Venetia had been hurt in love before. At only 23, she has a failed marriage behind her. After getting pregnant at 17, her guardians–her aunt and uncle–forced her and her boyfriend into a shotgun wedding. The marriage ended not long after she miscarried the baby. Despite that, she and her ex-husband are on friendly terms.

Ryan is a bachelor who has pumped and dumped every Kiwi beauty from Cape Reinga to Wellington to Bluff. (Impressed with my geographical skills? It’s easy when you have the internet!) He’s a typical Robyn Donald hero, a sexist bigot sizzling with sensual intensity and irresistible to women.

Venetia is a well-adjusted human being, confident in her sexuality. Nevertheless, she’s wary of his “love ’em and leave ’em” reputation.

Ryan sizes up Venetia and thinks because she’s not a virgin: “She’s a very kinky girl/ The kind you don’t take home to mother…”

Venetia tells him she’s not into one-night stands, so Ryan translates that into: “She’s up for a steaming hot, quick fling.”

And Venetia can’t resist him. They’re at it every which way, and though Venetia is gaga for Ryan, our girl plays it cool.

The Plot

Part One

Venetia’s pretense of indifference fools Ryan. It turns out he’s a shallow guy for whom only surface-level appearances matter. Venetia’s relationship with Ryan turns dark when his true colors–fish belly white–begin to show.

He is looking for a wife, just not Venetia in that role. Our girl is perfect for bedroom fun, but she’ll never as the mother of his little Ryans and Ryanas.

You see, Mr. sex on legs has mommy issues as his mother was a businesswoman, i.e., a bad mother who had no time for babies, and his childhood left him traumatized. The dude has a deep-seated hatred towards working women, believing they make poor wives and mothers.

So he will be dumping Venetia in the near future. Very near.

Venetia is an orphan who had been raised by her traditionalist aunt and uncle and grew up with her younger cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth looks similar to Venetia but is the polar opposite in personality. She’s a “sweet” girl with no plans for an icky career, the kind a man like Ryan would take home to meet his family and be proud to call wife.

In actuality, Liz isn’t so sweet at all because when she comes with her family to visit Venetia and meets Ryan, she flutters her eyes at him in feigned innocence, and ball-brains Ryan falls for it. Within weeks, the two-timing scum sucker tells Venetia their “relationship” is over, and he’s marrying sweet Liz.

Venetia is left heartbroken–and pregnant. She quits her job and moves to Australia to live with her grandmother.

Venetia isn’t bitter with the hand she’s dealt. It is what it is.

“I won’t allow you to treat me as if I was an illness you can’ be vaccinated against, she said with an icy composure which hid her fear and despair.

“You won’t be able to stop me,” he said quietly, not bothering to mute the threat. “Because we both know I could take you on that kitchen table if I wanted to. And I do want to.”

Part Two

Years later, Elizabeth passes away. After a period of mourning, Venetia’s aunt and uncle let their beloved son-in-law know of his secret son with Venetia. Oh, yes, those two knew! Like their amoral dead daughter, they did everything to keep Ryan at their Liz’s side.

Ryan flies out to Australia to claim his child and reignite his relationship with Venetia.

In Australia, Venetia had been raising their son John and had a flourishing career as a novelist. When Ryan demands what’s his, she’s shaken but fights with all her iron will.

But Ryan will not be deterred. he knows their sexual bond was never severed and uses it to his benefit.

Despite his ruthless behavior, Ryan is self-aware, and his intense reactions toward Venetia stem from his inability to control his feelings for her. His marriage to Elizabeth wasn’t exactly what he wanted, even if he had thought it was. A man like Ryan thrived on passion, Elizabeth was just blech. Ryan married Liz because he saw her as a more idealized version of the sexually-secure working woman he rejected. Ryan’s strict standards for a partner stem from his unresolved mommy issues.

His desire–his love–for Venetia conflicts with all his self-imposed beliefs.

Meanwhile, Venetia’s grandmother is a supportive and wise character who adds depth to the story and provides a voice of reason amidst the chaos.

There’s a scene where Venetia bump into her ex at a dance, and they spend a pleasant time together, making me think, “Wouldn’t it have been a nice twist if she ended up with him?”

But no, Ryan is too vital a force to be ignored. One issue I had is Ryan never really expresses regret for his marriage to Liz. She was not emotionally deep, but she was genuine in her love for him, so he was content to have made her happy for a few years. (This made me want to throw an egg at Ryan, but almost 50 cents an egg right now, I wouldn’t waste valuable protein for a smeg head like him.)

Ryan’s cruelty towards the vulnerable Venetia is both riveting and gut-wrenching. Venetia is a fearless and determined woman who refuses to let Ryan break her spirit… Even as he captures her in the end. So, it’s mostly a happy ending, right?

In the end, Ryan acknowledges his feelings for Venetia, that he loves her. He fought against it because of inhibitions and childhood trauma.

“You wear your independence like a banner. I like to look at you and know that I can kiss you free of it any time I want to. It’s like owning my own small falcon that comes only to my hand, and gives up her freedom only for me.”

Final Analysis of Smoke in the Wind

Smoke in the Wind is a terrible romance but a riveting read that will leave you breathless. Ryan is par-for-the-course as far as Robyn Donald’s heroes go. (Okay, maybe one of her top 5 worst heroes. She really knew how to write a lot of dickhead male main characters.)

The dominant/submissive dynamic between Ryan and Venetia is both intense and fascinating. Venetia is strong and resilient, overcoming her traumatic past and standing up for herself. The plot is well-crafted, with twists and turns that kept me engaged, even as I despised Ryan.

It’s Venetia who makes this Harlequin Presents shine. Ryan is both vicious and self-aware, reflecting the depth of his inner turmoil. Despite his porcine nature, he is a well-written, complicated, and intriguing character.

Ryan and Venetia’s sexual relationship is as extreme as the muted BD/SM powerplay in Harlequins can be, a dominant/submissive one, with Ryan exerting his control over Venetia.

Smoke in the Wind is a roller coaster ride of emotions, with a heroine who is capable and determined to overcome the challenges life throws at her. Despite Ryan’s cruel actions, Venetia refuses to be a victim and rises above the situation, proving that the heart can survive enormous pain.

Overall, Smoke in the Wind is a must-read for fans of intense, passionate romance. The multi-faceted characters, thrilling plot, and nail-biting drama make this an HPLandia stand out.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.3


Her response to him was frightening… Venetia Gamble had felt desire before. The result? Such a disastrous marriage that she felt she wanted never to experience desire again. And she hadn’t–until now. Ryan Fraine, famous documentary filmmaker, was in New Zealand to set up a new television station.

From the moment they met, Venetia, herself a TV reporter, knew this man could make her suffer as she never had before. So she shied away from his blazing sensuality. Yet there was something else, something in the very core of her soul that wouldn’t permit escape…. 


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