The Golden Touch

By Robin James (Sharon and Tom Curtis), 1982, Contemporary
Bantam, $4.50, ISBN #0515064114 (ISBN #0553299239 for reprint edition)

Sensuality: Warm

I first fell in love with Sharon and Tom Curtis when I read The Windflower four years ago. I bought their entire backlist but didn't read anything that could rival, or even compare to, that masterpiece. That is, until I read The Golden Touch.

The plot of The Golden Touch is essentially that of a Regency Romance with a contemporary spin. The quiet, unassuming vicar's daughter who gets swept off her feet by an arrogant lord is Kathy Carter, a 24-year-old widow living in the small town of Apple Grove, Wisconsin and the proprietor of the town's musical instrument repair shop. The dangerous and wealthy hero is rock star and Virginia aristocrat Neil Stratton, who enters Kathy's shop one spring day, guitar with broken peg in tow. Kathy faints (from lack of food and not Neil's glowing presence), repairs the guitar, gets drunk (accidentally) and is nearly seduced under a railroad bridge. And that's just within 24 hours of meeting the man.

Neil proceeds to court the shy, reluctant Kathy in a sometimes tender, sometimes hilarious fashion in between trips to New York and LA. He helps her with a group of juvenile delinquents she's supervising. He buys her a vent fan for her shop. He arranges the magnets on Kathy's fridge into a heart. He talks to a frog. He sends her 200 dozen roses.

That last stunt alerts the ever-hungry media about Neil's latest addition to his "model of the month" club. Kathy is now in the spotlight, and she begins to realize what being Neil Stratton's lady love entails. She is stalked by tabloid reporters. She even gets an offer from "the nationally known magazine that had made 'centerfold' a household word" - and they aren't exactly offering her a good rate on their subscription prices, if you know what I mean. Things are brought to a head when Neil brings Kathy to New York, where she sees the temptations and chaos that surrounds Neil and realizes that a charismatic rock star and a conservative preacher's daughter may be the greatest mismatch in history.

The best thing about this book is the dialogue. Sharon and Tom have a way with words, and one of my favorite exchanges takes place on Neil and Kathy's first "date," when Kathy is gloriously drunk after chugging down a quart of what she though was fruit juice but which was actually a tequila cocktail:

"Where's what you were on earlier?"
"The bike?"
"Do you know what?" she said as he slipped the transmission into gear. "You've got to quit calling it a bike. I ride a bike. It has two things you pedal, a thumb bell that goes ting-a-ling, and brakes that fail when you're going downhill on wet days. What you were riding, Mr. Stratton, is not a bike. I thought we were going to ride motocycles and I was going to be your moll, or your chick, or - what do you call them?"
Grinning, he said, "Women who ride motorcycles."
The characters in the book are also immensely likable. Kathy is an old-fashioned soul, but her shyness and awkwardness are more endearing than anything else. She also has a sense of humor, and despite her tentative nature, never descends into whininess. After asking Neil in for a cup of coffee, this is what goes through her mind:
"Mayday. Mayday. Brain malfunction. All barriers left intact please report to the frontal lobe. Bring pictures of Stratton's discarded love interests."
Insights like these allow the reader to see that Kathy's reluctance to get involved isn't completely irrational - after all, what would you do if a handsome rock star with a reputation for being a playboy suddenly singles you out for exclusive attention for no apparent reason?

Neil is a multi-faceted character. Although he is a rock star and therefore arrogant, hard-edged and cynical, he also has a soft-hearted, whimsical side that he displays to the people he loves and trusts. His car is a 1952 four-door checker cab he bought in college, complete with a glove compartment that flies open at the first suggestion of a vibration and door handles that come off in your hands. How can you not love a hero with wheels like that? Plus he's sexier than all get-out.

The only small complaint I have with the book is that it is told completely through Kathy's point of view. I would have loved to have read what Neil thought, especially when he shows outward signs of desperation, or when he appears particularly enigmatic to Kathy. And why does he latch on to Kathy so fast? I understand that she's innocent and fresh and everything his world is not, but it would have helped to have seen the attraction from Neil's standpoint. But that is a very minor quibble.

I have to rate The Golden Touch as my favorite category romance, ever. The writing is beautiful, the characters are well-done, the sex scenes will curl your toes, and despite being written in 1982, it has aged remarkably well - no bodice-ripping, no "I-hate-you-now-let's-have-sex" scenes, and best of all, no pantsuits. If you ever see a copy in a used book store, I suggest that you snag it immediately and settle down for a funny, endearing read.

-- Candy Tan

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