Review: Dark Dominion

Dark Dominion by Charlotte Lamb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one HP that actually made me doubt if the heroine was going to end up with the guy on the cover or if Charlotte Lamb was going to pull a fast one on me and have her end up with the other guy. Hah, no chance. James Fox, the “hero” has gray eyes and Charlotte Lamb fans know the author loooooves gray-eyed heroes. Other than this book, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an HP since where the heroine actively desired someone else and told the hero “I want you both” to his face. This is a real love triangle, y’all.

Caroline and James Fox, an up and coming barrister, have been married for two years and they’re both miserable, living without sex and affection and barely talking. When Caroline first met James, she was an actress in London and was cheerful, happy, and outgoing, but James didn’t like her outlandish theater friends and he slowly cuts her off from them, refusing to go to their parties, and Caroline stops acting, too, because James didn’t really think much of her profession. She devotes everything to James and ends up getting pregnant, but then she miscarries and she and James continue to drift apart from each other, until one day they both look up and discover they’re strangers. James accuses her of moping around like a ghost and demands that she go to London to get herself new clothes. Something awakes inside of Caroline and she goes to take a bus to London where she gets a makeover and by chance, bumps into her old actress mate, Maggie, with whom she used to live in London. Maggie is throwing a party and wants Caroline to attend, but Caroline wants James to go too, so she tells Maggie she’s going to go to James’ office to invite him because she couldn’t contact him via phone. Uh-oh. Standing outside James’ office, Caroline overhears James—regularly so cool, unemotional, and unattached—practically in tears and sounding so tortured, telling another woman that he’s unhappy in his marriage and he can’t take it anymore. Naturally, Caroline assumes James is having an affair with this woman and takes off back to Maggie’s house, where her good friend Jake Redway, a very sexy and successful actor is waiting for her to come back with open arms.

That night, Caroline doesn’t come home and doesn’t tell James where she went, so he freaks out and acts like an all around jealous and crazy fool, accusing her of being a whore and just totally loses his shit. They go back to their place together and do it violently—James slaps Caroline, but the passion engulfs them both and they get carried away. James is disgusted with himself for treating Caroline so roughly, but Caroline admits that she enjoys his passion and the way he makes love to her. James tells her he is obsessed with her in an unhealthy way and that he doesn’t want to share her with anyone, not even a baby. James and Caroline separate with Caroline moving in with Maggie, where Jake hangs around a lot, and Caroline realizes she has feelings for him, too, and may have always had feelings for him that she never acknowledged in the past.

As it turns out, Jake wrote her a letter on the day she got married to James, which James never gave her because Jake had confessed his feelings to Caroline. Caroline and Jake start hanging around together and she enjoys his kisses, but they just don’t have the dark edge that James’ kisses and embrace do. When James confronts Caroline and tells her to choose between him and Jake, Caroline tells him she doesn’t know because she wants them both. Caroline tells James she doesn’t want the life she had with him anymore because she was dying in it. She hates their drab, gray house and wants to move to London to start up her acting career again. James hates this, of course, because he wants to keep Caroline to himself and he doesn’t want her changing and finding herself or whatever, but he knows he must evolve with her or he would risk losing her forever.

James Fox is a hard hero to like. He’s arrogant, cold, and rude. He’s extremely possessive of Caroline and suspicious of her activities, always accusing her of one thing or another without much evidence. He tells Caroline he didn’t want to have kids because that meant he would have to share her with a baby. He couldn’t even grieve with her when she miscarries the baby because he didn’t know how. James is also slap-happy. He slaps Caroline a couple of times at least in this book and that’s a NO-NO. Jake Redway, the other guy, isn’t much of a prize, either. He wants Caroline to start a sexual affair with him, even though she’s not ready for it because she’s still married to James and her mind and emotions are just a mess. He’s insistent that Caroline must want him because she responds to his kisses, so he begins to pressure her to have a relationship with him.

Poor Caroline doesn’t know her own mind. When she first met James, she was knocked out for a loop because she’d never met anyone like him before. He’s completely different from all of her friends and on paper, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but as soon as James touches her, she’s on fire. That’s why when he proposes to her within weeks of knowing him, she says yes and jumps right into marriage because she was so crazy about him, but now she thinks maybe she shouldn’t have been so hasty because she really loves the theater and her friends and James made her quit all of that. James doesn’t want a family. James has issues. James is a gloomy puss. Meanwhile, James is realizing he cannot really keep Caroline to himself and was wrong to make her give up her passion, so he compromises, even though he hates it and hates even more than this Jake Redway character is still hanging around.

This was a hard HP to read, especially because of all the physical abuse. James is very rough with Caroline and even though she tells him she likes it, there’s no arguing that he’s actually slapping her around in anger and calling her terrible names. They also spend an awful lot of time apart, with Caroline trying to get her acting career started up in London again and hanging out with Jake. I found myself skimming through the pages where James and Caroline weren’t together because the pages only really came alive again when the book was about them. Anyway, it was nice to read about a heroine with a passion outside of the hero, but I wish Caroline had been a stronger character and didn’t have such a wishy-washy personality. A lot of the book dawdles because Caroline just can’t make up her mind about stuff and James is off somewhere else, brooding, and not being with Caroline. It’s a vintage Charlotte Lamb, so it’s still worth a read for that, but if you want to swoon over the magical love of the hero and the heroine, this book ain’t it. Even at the end, I wasn’t convinced that these two would keep their HEA going long after the last page.

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