Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-268125-6
Historical Romance, 2017
The title of this novella comes from the following from Lord Andrew Mabry, second son and womanizer, spoken to Virginia Hammersley, the American heiress in London:
“Gentlemen prefer heiresses. You shall have a slew of beaux from whom to choose. Don’t settle on Somerdale until you’ve seen the other offerings.”
Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses is closely linked to An Affair with a Notorious Heiress – Gina’s sister was the heroine of that book, who ended up with Andrew’s brother. Fortunately, this one stands alone well so nobody has to read the other book to understand this story. All readers need to know is that Andrew’s brother marries Gina’s sister in the opening chapter, so this makes them a big family. This is an inconvenience between they are attracted to one another. Thing is, Andrew is determined to be a lifelong bachelor, while Gina is intent on marrying someone with a title, with her eye on Lord Somerdale.
If you read the synopsis on the back cover, I’m afraid you will be completely spoiled, so I may as well as break it down here: Andrew and Gina soon begin playing very fast and loose with societal conventions on propriety and what not in a way that will not endear this story to folks who prefer a greater degree of historical authenticity in their stories, and eventually they are compromised. That compromised thing is stated in the synopsis, but this development happens towards the tail end of the novella. It’s the grand climactic moment of the story, and the back synopsis spoils it. Oops. So write your angry emails to the publisher, not me.
In the meantime, I can’t help but to be charmed by the interactions between these two. On paper, these two seem like the usual stereotypes of the rake and the feisty American lass, but I find that there is much more to savor in these characters, especially Gina, once the author goes in a little deeper with the characterization. No matter how much she tries to emulate the antics of a typical feisty heroine who foolishly runs into all kinds of trouble, I find myself understanding completely why she does what she does here. Even when she predictably rejects the urgent need to marry Andrew after they are compromised, I completely get where she is coming from. Gina’s emotions and motivations feels real to me, despite how one can argue that much of her feels anachronistic, and I can even relate to her. I also like how she is never made to suffer for wanting to marry someone with a title. It’s the way things work in her time, after all.
Now, Andrew is a touchy issue. If I boil down all his angst, it’s basically a silly boy who wants to have his cake and eat it too. It’s hard to empathize with his desire to remain a lifelong bachelor when he’s obviously smitten with her. Perhaps it is the short length of the story that is the problem here, but his change of heart happens late in the story – too late, in my opinion – and too abruptly to be believable. He’s telling her that he will tire of her eventually, but one chapter later, he’s going to marry her. Why? Not to be crass, but the only solution I can come up with, given that he changes his mind after the grand boinking, is that the heroine’s ever-powerful honey pot has struck again.
But for the most part, he channels the rakish gentleman perfectly – just the right amount of naughtiness without coming off as too predatory or creepy – and I find his interactions with Gina to be unexpectedly charming and even romantic. That’s “unexpected”, because I never know what I am going to get in novellas, after all. If you have watched While You Were Sleeping, do you recall that scene where Jack and Lucy deliver a chair to her “fiancé’s” apartment only to have to walk back because his van was hemmed in by other vehicles? The scene of Andrew and Gina having their secret escapade together reminds me of that scene; not because the author has copied the scene, oh no, but because there is a very nice and believable transition from two people who only have first impressions of the other person to two people who find that they understand the other far more than they initially anticipated. There is a playful yet sweet undertone to much of their conversations, and I really like that.
If I have one disappointment, it is, as I’ve mentioned, the author abruptly changing the hero’s mind from no nuptials please to yes, yes, yes, let’s get married. I personally would have preferred to have the hero and the heroine live in sin, and have the epilogue set a few years, maybe even a decade down the road, when their emotions have matured enough into love and they finally decide to get married. This, I feel, would have been a more believable transition of the hero’s feelings while making the most out of the limitations of the novella format.
Still, no matter. As it is, Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses is a sweet, charming read. The romance isn’t the most believable due to the way the author handled the hero, but for the most part, I’m glad I read this one.