Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61922-581-7
Historical Romance, 2016
Ooh, don’t mess with Lord Rafe Drummond, people. He may seem like the usual rake sort, but he was a former spy and assassin for the Crown. At the end of the spectrum is Simon, the Duke of Bellingham who, at 20, is boozing, gambling, and wenching all the way to bankruptcy, dragging her sister Minerva along with him. Minerva, as you can imagine, is far from pleased with her brother’s ways. She is also not on the best of terms with Rafe, so imagine her ire when Simon loses £23,310 to Rafe at the gambling table. She’d have to use her entire dowry to pay back Rafe, while her brother is like, oh sister, please take care of the whole mess, thanks.
Rafe offers an alternative means of payment. He’d take Simon as a household staff for three months, putting that kid to work and hopefully, that kid will learn how to be responsible in the process. Minerva can keep her dowry, but she will have to come along and work too – she can help him manage his estates. As you can probably tell, those two really don’t like one another. Minerva sees no better option, but she won’t make it easy for Rafe to enjoy what he perceives as her comeuppance.
Now, I have not read the previous book in the series, so maybe I missed out on that scene where Minerva tied a naked Rafe to a tree and invited everyone to come laugh at his tiny pee-pee, but I find Rafe’s decision to “teach” Minerva a thing or two, apparently for her ice queen attitude, by forcing her to do something that can ruin her reputation for good to be so disproportionately exaggerated for whatever sin he imagines she has committed that Rafe comes off as petty and cruel as a result. Oh, I agree with Rafe in that her coddling of Simon is destructive, as her continuous treatment of the young man like a simple and naughty child would only reinforce Simon’s bad behavior. But what he forces her to do is just ridiculous.
Of course, the author needs an excuse for Minerva to be in the big house for the whole familiar song and dance of Rafe going “Ooh, I’m so tortured and tormented, see me scowl and sneer!” while “succumbing” to his weakness and pawing Minerva until his senses return and he pushes her away, when he’s not moaning that she’s too pure and innocent and sweet for him (but, clearly, not pure enough as he still sees a need to “teach” her a few things about life, snort). The heroine eventually gets all hurt and annoyed because she is offering free sex to him (out of true love, of course) but he just refuses to take the freebie so oh, does he hate her that much? He decides that he must be increasingly more hateful to her, to drive her away, even as he has no problems boinking her and insisting that she gives him oral services. The villain is like MUAHAHAHA I AM THE CARTOON VILLAIN COMING TO KILL YOU, and at the end of the day, the hero finally realizes that he loves her, the dark clouds part and a ray of light shines on him, and finally, he is whole and free again. All that crap he does is forgiven, because he’s such a woobie and he can’t help himself, poor baby.
In other words, A Brazen Bargain follows the tropes associated with the whole emo crybaby hero thing very faithfully. How the author forces Minerva to constantly be with Rafe when any sane person would have left that whiny boo-boo ages ago, however, is something that I am still scratching my head over. Maybe I’d have an easier time getting along with the whole thing if Minerva has voluntarily tag along to ensure that Simon is not mistreated by Rafe, for example. The crybaby asshole hero, the heroine who becomes a greater enabler for the hero’s melodrama as she continues to accept the nonsense he tosses her way – all these can still be okay, maybe even great, if the author had created a compelling and intense story around these two. As it is, though, I’m befuddled by the fundamental premise of this story, and I still am by the time I reach the last page.