This classic is one of my top favorite romance novels of all time. I do an annual reread of Derek's story, who is such a wonderfully tortured and sexy hero that he makes my toes curl just to think of him. I found that writing this review was much trickier than I thought it would be. I mean, how do you differentiate between a really wonderful book, and a book that makes you utter a wistful sigh just to think about it? I don't know. Let's see how I do.
Derek Craven was literally born in the gutter and raised in a brothel. His sordid climb to the top has seen him working as a climbing boy, a dockworker, a resurrection man (digging up fresh corpses for medical students), a prostitute, and eventually the owner of an exclusive gambling hall and one of the richest men in England. He is a legendary figure, equally admired, envied and feared. Now that he has gained everything in life he'd ever wanted, he finds that he has nothing left for which to strive. His cynicism has reached new levels and he is just going through the motions, dead inside. Until he meets Sara.
Sara Fielding, beloved daughter of elderly parents, small town gal with a slow-moving almost-fiance is also an author of some note. Though she loves her home, she has always felt restless; she is an observer, always feeling a bit apart from the rest of the world. This longing for adventure shows through in her novels, as her subject matter – prostitution, alienation, tragedy – is not that of your average lady writer. Her new novel will feature gambling, so she is in London to do research.
She meets Derek when she rescues him from knife-wielding attackers by shooting one of them. (She is fairly idealistic, but she's also realistic and knows to carry a pistol in her reticule when venturing into unsavory parts of London alone). They become better acquainted when Sara is allowed to tour his famous gambling hall and interview his employees for her research for several weeks.
Derek is intrigued by her, by her beauty, her kindness, her industry, and her intelligence. Everyone in the place falls for her, as does Derek, though he fights it every step of the way. He is determined to protect her from himself. Sara in turn, is as fascinated by Derek. He is unlike anyone she's ever met. His complexity, his many faces, and her admiration of what it took for him to achieve his present situation captivate her. Not to mention an acute awareness of his physical presence. Sara's recklessness comes to the fore when she attends a masked ball at the gambling hall. She longs to be someone else for one night – someone who might steal a kiss from Derek.
Well, they go much further than a kiss that evening, but while Derek is obsessed with Sara, he is also obsessed with keeping her from the harm a relationship with him would cause her. Derek feels that his past actions put him beyond redemption. There is a wonderful scene where he exposes all his past sins to Sara in an effort to make her understand how completely unworthy he is of her care. He knows he is not husband and father material, and is convinced that he would destroy not only her innocence, but also her spirit if he were to act on his love for her. He is completely undone when he receives not condemnation, but acceptance. Sara is a woman who knows what she wants. And she wants Derek. Well, who wouldn't?
And all this only takes us up to p. 180! There are many obstacles on the road to Derek and Sara's Happy Ending; a road littered with guilt and torment and humor and longing and tears and hot sex. This is a practically perfect novel and Sara and Derek are characters who come alive on the page and take over your imagination long after you close the book. While Sara is a terrific creation, it is Derek that makes my heart go pitter-pat. He is incredibly vulnerable beneath his tough guy exterior, he is so desperately in need of love, and so sure that keeping away from Sara is the only honorable thing he's ever done in his life, that you just want to cuddle him and say, "There, there, baby. Tell Auntie Cheryl all about it" And then of course, those maternal feelings go away and you just want to ravish him. Or, at least I want to…
Dreaming of You has just been reprinted with a new cover (and a new price, unfortunately). If you haven't read this book, Go get it! I promise you won't be sorry. Ah, Derek… *sigh*
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 23, 2003