St Martin’s Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-97190-7
Historical Romance, 1999
Halfway while laughing like a lunatic through An Improper Proposal, I put it down and took a deep breath. I feel exhausted on behalf of the heroine Payton “Pay” Dixon. But hey, more on that later.
Pay isn’t a happy woman. She is spunky, smart, and intelligent, but she is denied her two true dreams – captainhood of the ship Constant on the account of her sex, and Captain Connor Drake who’s about to marry a more feminine Miss Whitby. When her idiot father gives Drake Constant as a wedding gift, it is the last straw. Someone is going to die.
Okay, not that dramatic. Pay is mad, but she decides that if that moron Drake wants to marry Ms Whitby because rumor has it that he has gotten her pregnant, who is she to stand in the path of true love? Then Pay spies Ms Whitby is a hush-hush rendezvous with a rival shipping magnate, and declares that Ms Whitby isn’t who she seems to be. Nobody listens to her. Pay ends up disrupting the wedding ceremony, Drake brings Ms Whitby to marry in a distant country where people are more sane, and Pay dons her tomboy outfit and follows. Put in a pirate ship, lots of gunpowder, lots of hot boinking above and below deck, and I get a really outrageously crazy story that has me tickled pink.
But poor Pay. That’s the problem with the story: Pay is too good for this story. Her brothers are idiots who are more childish than her, yet deem her unworthy of their attention because of her sex. Oh, and they use her as a free valet. Pay needs to shout, wave her fists, scream, throw childish tantrums, and probably burn a house down just to get one simple message across. I do feel tired for her after a while. She is always yelling at the top of her voice, and still no one listens.
Not even Drake, who comes close to being the Lummox of the Year. I never understand why Pay loves Drake. Drake is totally oblivious to everything. Pay has to practically tie herself to him to get his attention. Drake wants to marry a mealy-mouthed, subservient woman who will be dependent on him for everything, yet he is too cowardly – or too selfish – to tell Ms Whitby that he would be taking off to the sea instead of helping her hold soirees and balls. He keeps thinking of Pay as a girl until he sees her in bodice-bursting corsets, then it’s hormonal overdrive. Pay has to make the connection between the villains and suspects, Pay has to yell herself hoarse that something is not right before Drake looks up from her heaving chest and say “Huh?”, and it is Pay who will probably wear the pants and henpeck her hubby to death ten years down the road. I can picture Drake and his idiot brothers-in-law sitting in a tavern, commiserating that their wives have castrated them, they miss the sea, and hey, let’s dump the wives and go party with Millie and the girls! Then Pay would shout, “Drake, you lummox! Go feed the chickens!” and Drake would deflate like a punctured balloon. “Yes dear,” he would say meekly, cast his fellow drinking buddies an apologetic and sheepish glance, and walk away to feed the chickens.
This story is fun, make no mistake, and I love the way Payton goes after what she wants and fie to all who stands in her way. The author has a light, humorous way of writing, and she is not above making wry and often sardonic observations about her own characters. Drake is a victim of the author’s razor-sharp wit more than once, suggesting that the Ms Cabot doesn’t take Drake that seriously and Drake’s lummox-ness is probably intentional all along. It’s okay, I have no problem with that. I’ll take An Improper Proposal as it is at face value – a light, humorous, cotton candy story. A revenge of the weaker sex, if you will. For at the end of the day, it is Pay and her other female cast members who end up on top while their men drool, and that’s not a bad thing, is it?