by Beverly Jenkins, historical (2013)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-223110-9
Destiny's Surrender comes after Destiny's Embrace, but it can stand alone very well as it has a self-contained plot and a small cast of mostly unintrusive secondary characters. This story is worth a look mostly because Beverly Jenkins switches things up a bit after falling into a formulaic rut in her last few books.
Wilhelmina "Billie" Wells, our heroine, is a prostitute. No, she's not a destitute lady on her first time out only to find happily ever after with her first client. She's not a fake prostitute who actually only balances the books. There are no happy, cheery brothels where everyone sings happy songs during happier hours. She sells herself for a living. While our hero Andrew Yates is her client, he's not the only one.
The rich lawyer is one of her favorites, however, because he's great in bed and treats her like a queen. In fact, she may have fallen in love with him, although she would never tell him that because she's smarter than that. She's his good time girl, not someone he will marry. Indeed, shortly after the enthusiastic sexed-up opening scene of this story - another first of sorts from this author, as she's never this in-your-face with the bedroom stuff to this extent in the past - he decides to keep his distance as he wants to look for an appropriate wife.
Imagine his delight when, about a year later, she shows up at his engagement party after going MIA (he tried looking for her when he had an itch, but she was gone) with a son that is unmistakably his. She wants him to care for the child while she flees her pimp's son, who wants to seize that boy and sell him to a wealthy couple. Drew is like, "Hell no, you ruined my party, you scheming bitch, so take the brat and get lost!" Billie sees red and shoots back that he had no complaints when she was sucking him off (her own words, not mine). Drew's mother has heard enough, grabs her bullwhip, and insists that these two get married or she'd start cracking that thing around the place. So here we go.
Despite being more, er, controversial than Ms Jenkins's usual heroines, Billie bears many of the trademark characteristics of the author's lead female characters. She's smart, savvy, pragmatic, and, when her back is against the wall, she'd fight tooth and nail and end up on top. In the context of this story, Billie's personality works beautifully. She has no illusions about her finding acceptance among Drew's social circle, but at the same time she's pragmatic enough to tough it out for the sake of her son, and she'd also never let anyone treat her like crap. She may not be proud of what she did for a living, but she makes no apologies for having to do what she did to survive. I like her, and I really like her when she beats the crap out of the bad guy without any help from the hero.
Drew is an interesting hero, because he's the first "flawed" hero I've come across from the author. Normally, Ms Jenkins's heroes are paragons whose flaws, such as rampant promiscuity, are actually "virtues" in the romance genre. Drew, however, is outright bratty and immature. Yes, he's understandably mad when his engagement is cancelled, but after he has had enough time to cool down, he's still a bit of a putz. Drew is also pretty hypocritical because he is a lawyer fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and oppressed, but he has no problems wanting to toss Billie and his son back onto the streets, even after realizing that the boy is his.
His brother, who was quite a paragon in his previous story, show the same reaction, which I find quite out of character considering how he was in his story. Only their mother's reaction - she doesn't want a prostitute as a daughter-in-law either, but she'd make do given the circumstances - feels real.
While I do like that the author tries to insert some realistic reaction from flawed characters with regards to the idea of marrying someone like Billie, the author unfortunately falls back into the predictable routine of having only the mean secondary characters shun Billie. The good ones accept her without reservations. This is a 180 from the initial reactions of Drew, his brother, and their mother, somewhat unnecessarily in my opinion. Why inject some realism only to revert back to happy unicorn-and-love la-la-la sentiments later?
My disappointment, though, is how the author sets up conflicts between Drew and Billie that are best resolved between them in their own way, but resolves them with the usual "the heroine is in trouble, the hero puffs up his chest protectively, and he then realizes that he really loves her" plot line. This method robs the story of much of the emotional intensity that it might have if the author had the characters work to examine their feelings and treatment of one another, scream a lot, throw things here and there, and experience glorious moments of epiphany in time for the happy ending.
I do find the whole action-packed drama entertaining, though. The villain, who is on the cartoon side, is amusingly nasty and efficient in his schemes, and the denouement is pure rollicking fast-paced chaos that culminates in Billie showing how remarkably bad-ass she is. It's just that I wish the author had taken an approach that would have done her premise and her characters greater justice.
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