Black Ties And Lullabies
by Jane Graves, contemporary (2011)
Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-56847-0
If you have read Hot Wheels And High Heels, then you may remember Jeremy Bridges, the womanizing millionaire who is as rich as Bill Gates but without all the ugly. He gets his story in Black Ties And Lullabies. Don't worry, this one can stand alone very well.
In this one, Jeremy finds himself in a familiar bind: he and his bodyguard Bernadette Hogan have a dynamic going where they keep trying to push each other's buttons, and one day, they finally succumb to the attraction between them. Bernie quits subsequently, leaving poor Jeremy to feel rather lost and vaguely unhappy. Oops, it turns out that the condom thing didn't work that time, so Bernie is now pregnant. She'd love nothing more than to be a single mother unable to pay the bills, but Jeremy decides that he'd like to be involved in this weird thing called parenthood as well. Can these two abstain from killing each other before the delivery date?
This is a ball-and-chain story, with the heroine being forcibly shoved out of her job into being a mother and wife and in the process realizes that her life is more fulfilling because she now has a man who to love and his children to care for. Bernie is supposedly good at being a bodyguard - I'm taking the author's word at this because Bernie doesn't have much opportunity to show off her bodyguarding chops here - and she has left the army to single-handedly support a mother who is going through the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. And yet, her mother is more concerned that Bernie isn't more feminine and therefore can't get a man of her own. When Jeremy finally realizes the extent of Bernie's sacrifices for her mother, he is more awed by the fact that she is such a selfless person (the standard virtue of a romance heroine). Even Bernie doesn't think much of herself - she is plagued by insecurities because she feels that she is not pretty enough to be considered as someone Jeremy could hang out with. As long as she doesn't feel like a "real" woman, she is a failure in her own eyes. It is not surprising that tomboy Bernie undergoes a makeover to become a more traditional heroine later in this story. This is truly a balling and chaining fantasy where a woman eventually finds contentment by adopting a traditional concept of femininity. Not that I have a problem with this, as my years of reading romance novels have taught me to expect this type of premise in the genre. Moreover, Jane Graves does an amazing job selling me the fantasy, as I'd explain more later. I'm just pointing this out to readers who may not want to read stories with this premise.
My bigger concern here is that aspect of Bernie's personality. Yes, you guessed it - we have yet another expectant mother who, despite being in a financially precarious situation, refuses to accept child support from the hero as a matter of principle. Honestly, this principle thing never flies with me, especially not in this story. Bernie has to take care of a mother who does not have medical insurance, a mother who is going to need special care soon due to her Alzheimer's disease, and now she is expecting twins. She has little savings. Moreover, she lives in a run-down apartment in a seedy neighborhood - definitely not a safe place to raise her children. Let's not even get into the fact that she has no one to turn to for help - she's going to be a single mother of two while holding a job to make ends meet and she also has a mother who is going to need care 24/7. And yet, Bernie makes a big fuss when Jeremy repairs her place for her, she acts like she has been violated when Jeremy suggests that she is seeking him out to ask for child support, and she makes a face when Jeremy offers to have a driver take her mother around town so that her mother doesn't worry when she forgets how to go home. And Bernie is loved for this! Of course, her problems are solved when she ends up marrying this billionaire - then again, is there any problem that can't be solved by marrying a billionaire? - but that doesn't change the fact that she's still dumb.
But Ms Graves succeeds in selling me everything else about this story. Bernie is a self-righteous dingbat and Jeremy is an immature self-absorbed twit, and perhaps it is because they are both equally screwed up that they actually play off each other very well. Perhaps it is because that these two innately know the other person's flaws and can still be attracted to them despite these flaws. The romance is certainly more believable because these two are not harboring wildly romanticized illusions about the other person. Bernie is right in that Jeremy is not ready for fatherhood - he wants to be involved only because he feels that he has something to prove to himself and to Bernie. Jeremy is right in that Bernie is a sanctimonious and judgmental person who has no clue who he really is. Both characters are also very likable, I find, although Bernie's abrasiveness may put off some readers. If I take away Bernie's attempts to be the single mother of the year, she is actually a pretty smart lady who can take care of herself. Jeremy is a spoiled and childish man at times, but it is pretty sweet (if a little cheesy) how he ends up doing all those things that break his own rules just to make Bernie happy.
Ultimately, I have a great time reading this book despite the number of times when I roll up my eyes at Bernie's pig-headed recalcitrance at accepting help even when it's clear that she needs assistance. Jane Graves has peppered this book with plenty of amusing exchanges, occasional heart-warming moments, and interesting secondary characters (Bernie's mother is a far more complex character than I initially expected her to be). Thus, Black Ties And Lullabies is a very enjoyable read. But if you want to read this one, just be aware that it has its share of dumb moments, such as Bernie's willingness to become a suffering single mother due to principles.
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