Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29782-2
Historical Romance, 2014
Lady Althea Curtiss and Lord Rhys Denham know each other since they were teenagers.
He’s the predictable guy with the rakish reputation, and he hasn’t found a replacement ever since his designated wife ran off with his former best friend just when Rhys was about to make it official a few years ago. Actually, he doesn’t want to, because he doesn’t want any more relationships with overly-emotional women that concern themselves too much with finer feelings. Love doesn’t exist but people who believe in it are annoying – that kind of thing. You’ve heard that song before, I’m sure.
She’s the heroine who has carried a torch for Rhys all this while. Because she’s convinced that she’s plain and nothing special, she rationalizes her determination to hold out for him by saying that she will never marry unless she finds someone whom she loves and whom she feels desire for. The implication that a woman will only feel lust for a man she is in love with is in itself an unfortunate one, but then again, if I am looking for “fortunate implications”, I won’t be reading romance novels, especially those published by Harlequin. Anyway, Thea has set for herself a pretty predicament where, basically, no man would do other than Rhys, and she knows Rhys will never want to marry her. It’s the predictable set-up for typical “I’d sleep with him out of true love and it’s okay if I am completely ruined or pregnant or diseased after the event because, hello, true love!” shenanigans that I’ve come to expect from everyone’s favorite twit of a heroine.
When this story opens, Thea approaches Rhys with a plan. Her father wants to wed her off to some guy whom she doesn’t love or wants to play the peanut butter jelly sandwich with – no Rhys, no buy! – so she wants to tag along with him as he goes on a long vacation in the Continent. She wants to find her godmother and negotiate a way to keep her money while turning down her father’s plan, but it isn’t long before she’s more concerned with analyzing every interaction she has with Rhys and coming up with excuses as to why he clearly doesn’t want her as much as she wants him. Meanwhile, Rhys tells himself that Thea is an innocent, clearly incapable of feeling desire because she is Thea (apparently women not being able to feel desire for a man unless she’s in love with him is a biological fact in this fantasy version of Regency England) so every inch of his extending willie only adds to his guilt and self-loathing.
Of course, they have adventures, including meeting a nice guy who wants to marry Thea – with Rhys’s encouragement – only to be rejected because Thea is only biologically capable of getting hot and horny for Rhys. I have to hand it to Louise Allen – her graceful narrative and occasional good humor makes Unlacing Lady Thea very readable despite the fact that it is carefully constructed from scenes that remind me of every similarly themed historical romance novel I’ve read before. The heroine meets the hero right after he’s waking up with a hangover. The hero gets hurt and is undressed when the heroine barges in, upon which he tries to hide his extending crotch protrusion. There are familiar babbles about love, prolonged and often groan-inducing misreading of the other person’s action as a negative, and more, all of which rarely stray from the familiar path.
Rising above the abundance of clichés is a depressing romance. The romance is depressing because Thea is clearly not suited to live life as a scandalous woman of ill-repute despite her assertions that she’s happy to be ruined, and yet, she’s ruining herself and her future by sleeping with a man whom she believes has no intentions of marrying her. She’s willing to keep doing this and letting herself be dumped by him at the end of their “vacation”, so Thea is basically on the path of self-destruction by rationalizing her hormonal overload for Rhys’s overused willie as some kind of noble expression of true love.
Rhys comes off as horribly selfish because he knows that Thea is way out of her depths by spreading herself like his favorite jam on his toast, but he goes ahead anyway. I don’t blame him for taking what she’s offering for free, but I do blame him for annoying me with his constant prattle about how he will ditch her at the end of the day or get this other guy to marry her. Rhys comes off as someone who rationalizes way too easily what seems like selfish acts into some kind of self-sacrificing act on his part for her own good. The sad thing is that he doesn’t seem to be aware of how much of a user he is. The scene where he berates his ex for being a selfish twat is hilarious because here he is, sleeping with Thea with no intentions of staying around when she has to face the repercussions of her inability to control her horny impulses. Let’s just say that self-awareness is not exactly his strongest suit.
The thought of these two in a long-term relationship is depressing because she’s just going to do what she always does, keep finding excuses to enable him and allow him to take as much as he wants from her while keeping quiet about what she truly thinks and feels. He would keep taking her for granted because of this. The whole painful drama would continue until he grows bored of her and starts to resent her or she explodes from all that pent-up frustration and throws herself down the stairs.
But hey, at least she gets unlaced and boinked into delirious bliss by the man who makes her horny. You know how romance heroines can be – they are willing to suffer the rest of their lives for that one glorious moment of love-fueled infusion by the hot guy they have been dreaming about. So… good for her?