Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-345-49539-6
Historical Romance, 2007
One of the problems that I have with the author’s previous book The Wedding Trap is that the story is so predictable and familiar that reading it is often comparable to reading an encyclopedia of historical romance novel clichés. Interestingly enough, My Fair Mistress is a complete one-eighty from the previous book: it is the often refreshing way the author twists the clichés into something less familiar that makes this one a far more entertaining and memorable read than it otherwise would be.
Yes, there is a pretty good chance that this book won’t make the grade where I am concerned were not for those twists on conventions because this story has a really tedious late third where the characters rush to upstage each other in playing the martyr. He has a good excuse, but she hasn’t. But I’ll get into that later. First, the story.
Julianna Hawthorne’s brother Harry has gone wild since he came into his inheritance and after one loss too many at the gambling tables, Harry has pretty much ensured that his sisters will be sleeping on the streets before the week is out. Julianna decides to confront Harry’s latest IOU-holder, Rafe Pendragon. I know, the hero’s name is beyond cheesy, especially when the author is going for “Dragon” as the hero’s nickname. But I suppose we all have our crosses to bear when it comes to our macho heroes. Anyway, before you know it, she’s agreed to be his mistress for six months in return for his “forgetting” what Harry owes him. Meanwhile, a bad guy is out to get both Rafe and Julianna and he doesn’t care who gets in his way.
I know, the plot smells as fresh as a teenage boy’s bedroom when his mother is not around to clean up after him, but there are some charming moments in the relationship between Rafe and Julianna that make their arrangement more palatable than sordid. There is a genuine chemistry between them that is apparent. They do like each other, I’m convinced, and they will get along well after the initial excitement of tearing at each other’s clothes simmers down into something more mellow. I especially like how Julianna, a widow, actually enjoys being in Rafe’s company, in and out of the bedroom, while at first keeping a level head about the nature of their relationship. For example, she realizes that she’s attracted to him and is no doubt falling for him, but she also understands that she may be the only one doing this and therefore she has to be careful not to get her heart broken too much.
At first, that is. This story is not free from clichés, and it comes to a point where Rafe decides to end the arrangement to protect Julianna from the bad guy. That’s not so bad, really. What is bad, however, is how Julianna, who knows that she is in danger at this point, immediately assumes that he’s no longer interested in her, he doesn’t love her, boo-hoo-hoo, and starts looking for a martyr’s hair suit to put on. Why oh why is Julianna suddenly so dense? Rafe has treated her like a princess rather than a convenient mistress all the while, so I don’t understand why she immediately assumes that he never cared for her all along. In fact, by this point, Julianna begins to rack up the points in the Stupid Wench meter that I can only be glad that the story is fast coming to an end and the first two-thirds of this book are so much more readable and entertaining compared to this later part of the story.
All I can say is, I like My Fair Mistress pretty much until the main characters get kidnapped by UFO or something and are replaced by pod people of the most annoying kind. This book shows that the author can put a decent spin on tried-and-true story lines if she puts her mind to it, so it is really a pity that the book fizzles out in such a manner towards the end.