Louisiana is a popular place to set sensual romance novels. I think it’s a combination of the heat and the Cajun culture, which gives a taste of the exotic right in the United States. Add in the voodoo religion, a smattering of Cajun French, and the sweltering heat and you have a recipe for a sexy romance.
Which is what Donna Kauffman thought back in the 1996 when this book originally came out. Loveswept, the publisher, at that time was a division of Random House and responsible for some very popular romance novels in the 1980s and 1990s. While this imprint disappeared for a while, I gather the publishing house decided to resurrect Loveswept as an ebook-only line, launching a new website dedicated to e-romances. In addition to new romance novels, (like the long anticipated Iced by Karen Marie Moning, the spin-off series from her Fever novels) Loveswept has cleverly mined its backlist to discover any titles that would benefit from a cover makeover and hold up to today’s market.
What they found was several of Donna Kauffman’s novels, and I, in turn, found them on NetGalley. The new covers are FABULOUS (and believe me, these books needed them) but with any reissue you need to worry about whether the content holds up after 15 or so years, right?
No danger here. Bayou Heat did not feel like a recycled romance in the slightest despite it’s lack of technology and only a couple of sex scenes (which is not what you expect looking at that cover). Instead I was sucked into this tale of Dr. Erin McClure, an ethnobotanist who discovers her sexy Cajun guide bloody and almost unconscious in her rented bathtub – oh, did I mention she was naked and ready for her shower? Teague Comeaux enjoys the view, thinking that this mental image does not match what he thought he’d be guiding through the bayou. From the first moments between them, Kauffman does a skillful job showing the web of sexual attraction while also highlighting how these two characters have trouble communicating with one another.
Teague has baggage – of the Samsonite 6-piece collection variety. He, like his half-brother, was born on the wrong side of the blankets to the wealthiest man in the parish. Although his father married his mother, it was a tumultuous relationship at best, one that led this unstable woman to commit suicide. Teague was taken in as a mourning teen by his grandmother, the local voodoo priestess who lived out in the bayou. While he loves her for raising him, one family member after another has rejected him for who he is, so much so that he left Louisiana as soon as he could and has only recently returned. What no one but the local sheriff knows is that Teague spent his time away from the bayou working undercover for U.S. Customs. Once he caught wind of an operation centered in his former backyard he got himself reassigned and purchased a local pool hall as his front. Now he has a feisty scientist stirring up emotions he never wanted to feel and shattering every image he possessed of how scientists are supposed to behave, an unexpected twist which could endanger his current job.
Erin McClure was raised untraditionally, to put it mildly. The daughter of a scientist herself (whether he was an anthropologist or another ethnobotanist, I couldn’t quite put my finger on) she grew up among a variety of cultures and highly self-reliant, camping in the Amazon by herself at the age of thirteen. As frustrating as her sexy new Cajun guide is, she needs his connections to the local voodoo priestess in order to her work, work she began with her father and now continues after his death. That he sees her as a desirable woman – something none of the academics she’s worked with before have done – is secondary to her mission.
There were a few pieces of this book that I found disconcerting. There wasn’t a ton of physical description, so it was hard to get a handle on how the two main characters looked. Call it a pet peeve, but I like a regular reminder or a reference to something other than the expression in their eyes, to keep me grounded. My vision of Teague and Erin was pretty blurry and I found it annoying in parts. Also, while I’m sure it mimics real life to perfection, I felt that a good part of the dialogue between Erin and Teague or Teague and his half-brother, Marshall, to suffer from lack of clarity. How exactly did Marshall have a hand in the smuggling venture? And what precisely were they smuggling from Haiti?
Kauffman’s writing strengths have me willing to read the other books I’ve pulled from NetGalley. The sensuality rampant between the characters was excellent and she has serious chops when it comes to writing body language and letting the reader literally see the attraction between characters. She also manages a nice balance between having enough authentic cultural details thrown in her books but doesn’t go the route of info dumping explanations of the culture. With her writing, I don’t think I would have minded more explanation, but I also admire a writer who gives me enough of a head start and then trusts me to look things up on my own.
This foray into Kauffman and the Loveswept line has me intrigued and wanting to try more. Thanks to Donna Kauffman for writing a book which holds up over time and thanks to Random House for reviving it. 🙂