Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29784-9
Historical Romance, 2014
On paper, the plot of Marguerite Kaye’s Unwed and Unrepentant sounds like something that I’d love to read. We have Cordelia Armstrong who, like her namesake in King Lear, is disowned by her father when she may just be the one who wants his love the most. Made the family pariah when she refused to marry the man of her father’s choice, she ran off to do her thing elsewhere, living the life of an independent woman who doesn’t give a damn. She and our hero Iain Hunter first met when she liked what she saw and ended up having a one-night stand with him. Yes, Cordelia is certainly an… interesting… heroine for a romance story set in 1828.
They meet again when she comes home to try to make peace with her father so that he can let her see her sisters, but he conspires instead to have her married to his business partner, a self-made man who turns out to be Iain. She and Iain decide to go on a fake engagement, because this way, they both win. He gets his contract in Arabia, she gets to go there and see her sisters again. They also think the other person is hot, and that sex was hotter, so an encore isn’t out of the question.
Sounds great, huh, the plot? Well, the whole thing is a lie.
The title of the story is a lie. The heroine is anything but unrepentant. She’s practically begging people to forgive her when she’s not pathetically holding out again and again for her father’s love only to have him stomp on her heart and crap on it. Now, this is probably where having not read the previous books in this series puts me at a disadvantage. It’s that or the author botched things up here, but I’m the nicest dame ever, so I’d like to imagine that, perhaps, me having not read the previous books is the problem here. Something happened in the previous books, I guess, to trigger Cordelia’s behavior here, and I can’t imagine what it can be. Maybe two dozen puppies died while under her care? At any rate, she is in this story running around begging everyone to forgive her and love her back. Apparently she thinks she hurt them by doing her thing in the past.
This goes against the publicity material that claims how Cordelia is “unrepentant”, of course. Making things worse is how the author contrives to an unbelievable degree to have Cordelia facing no choice but to continuously subject herself to the whims of one of the most hilariously over-the-top assholes ever. Apparently she loves her sisters and are in contact with them, but to see them, she needs her father’s blessing. This has something to do with the sisters marrying Middle-eastern dudes who are all “Daddy knows best” and these wives would never go against them, I believe. Moral of the story: sleep with hot Middle-eastern dudes in Harlequin books if you must, but don’t marry them, because they have creepy gender issues. Despite the fact that Cordelia knows that her father can rival Snidely Whiplash when it comes to being the caricature of the year, she keeps acting like she can’t imagine – imagine – that he’d do such a thing to her.
Therefore, a big part of this story is all about Cordelia continuously placing herself under her father’s whims due to some kind of weird family complex, and repeatedly getting treated like used toilet paper by the man while she shrieks, squeals, and rants in helpless fury. Her antics in the past cause her to be guilt-ridden, and she flays herself considerably in this story. If this woman is “unrepentant”, clearly it is used in a different context from the one I’m more familiar with. Cordelia being “unrepentant” is like a heroine in a Mary Balogh story being “pragmatic”.
If Cordelia is a walking suicide hotline number, Iain Hunter is a creepy hero. Oh, on paper he seems like a nice guy, claiming to respect the heroine for her independence and willfulness, and wanting to treat her well, but he’s all talk. I soon notice that he forcefully inserts himself into her plan whenever it isn’t something he came up with himself, and takes over while claiming he’s just doing it for her own good. There’s something about him that has me thinking of Iain as a manipulative control freak. Worse, when he is confronted with evidence of Cordelia’s less-than-orthodox background for a heroine in this line, he acts like a sulky brat despite all his claims of respecting and admiring her for what she is. Iain doesn’t act like someone who could love a woman like Cordelia, and I can only wonder how long it would take before he starts to resent her and turns into another version of her father.
Unwed and Unrepentant is all about false advertising, but more annoyingly, it features a thoroughly mismatched couple whose happy ending I seriously can’t buy at all.