Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29783-2
Historical Romance, 2014
The cover of Lisa Plumley’s Notorious in the West has a young guy with a gun, but there are no outlaws or sheriffs running wild in this story. On the bright side, the title is accurate for once.
Anyway, the story. Both our hero Griffin Turner and our heroine Olivia Mouton learn their roles early in life. For him, life with a constantly inebriated mean drunk Mommy teaches him that money and power are all that matter in this world. Olivia learns that she is valued by her absent-minded father only for her beauty – her interest in science is considered a flaw i her character and it should be repressed if she doesn’t want to disappoint him and the people around her.
When these two meet, they are adults. He’s a self-made rich guy whose fortune comes with a few unflattering nicknames and rumors about all kinds of ghastly behavior. Griffin was fine with the rumors until he realized that the woman he’d wanted to marry since he was a teenage boy believes these rumors and considers him an unsuitable candidate for marriage. He comes to Morrow Creek to lick his wounds and generally get drunk… well, drunker than he usually is.
Olivia has successfully become the exemplary daughter and the epitome of beauty. Her face, on the labels of several beauty products, made those products a hit among ladies and earned her the devotion and affection of many men. She refuses to consider them even a little, as she feels that they want the beautiful woman in the label, not the real her. She wants to be herself, but she can’t, as she is also trapped by her desire to make everyone around her happy.
When Griff announces that, as the biggest shareholder of the hotel managed by Olivia’s father, he’s taking over things, Olivia decides that it’s up to her to be nice to Griff, show him around Marrow Creek, and get him to love the place and see its potential to become a booming town one day. That way, he’d not lay off the staff or fire his father. These people whose livelihoods may be in jeopardy, of course, can’t – or in the case of Olivia’s father – or are conveniently too incompetent to help themselves, and it’s up to the town sweetheart to save the day.
The whole martyr thing may sound awful on paper, but Olivia turns out to be a pretty likable heroine, if a little lacking in common sense at times. Then again, if she’s willing to do so much for other people, it’s given that she’s lacking in the common sense department. She and Griffin have some decent chemistry, and the story could have been fun if not for one big problem: the hero.
On paper, Griffin sounds like the bad boy to remember. Horrible childhood, misunderstood by all but the heroine, brooding and defiant yet vulnerable all at once… many authors have created intoxicating heroes using these ingredients. However, there is also a fine line separating broody tortured bad boys and whiny emo crybabies, and Griffin crosses the line early on and lands squarely on the crap side when he just won’t stop whining about the same things again and again and again until the last few pages of this story. Yes, he has a horrible mother, and people stare at him when he walks past, but come on, he has lots of money so it’s not like he’s the most unlucky bastard in the world. Worse, he often rejects Olivia – for her own good, naturally – after having his fun with her, so there is a self-serving aspect, at the heroine’s expense, in all his pathetic self-flagellation. I mean, if he thinks she’s too good for him, he could at least keep his willie away from her, right? No, it’s bop her and then drop her – nice.
Also, the length of his incessant whining ends up making Griffin more pathetic than tragic-heroic. Hearing him bring up his mother for the who-knows-how-many times makes me throw up my hands and exclaim, “Oh, just go kill her with an ax, embalm her, and start wearing her dresses already!”
So, yes, this one could have been a fun story of a heroine helping a hero heal his wounded soul, but the author overplays the hero’s pity party and ends up emasculating him, turning him into the equivalent of that sulky teen who uses the fact that he’s angry at the world to act like the world owes him a big apology. Yucks.