Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81199-5
Historical Romance, 2001
Christina Dodd’s conclusion to her Governess Brides trilogy, Rules of Attraction, gives me the chills. I am sure if I look up “Reptile” in the dictionary, I will find Dougald Pippard, Lord Raeburn listed under the entry.
The story takes place around three years after the last book. Apparently the two former partners of the Distinguished Academy of Governesses, heroines of the previous two books, have merrily gone their way to enjoy a life of soirees and balls, leaving Helen Setterington to slave alone in the Academy. Selfish, aren’t they? The least they could do is to send Hannah a check every month or so.
But Hannah, a workaholic, has no grumbles. She loves her job. But her increasing unease over the lack of closure of her past (she has no idea whom her father is) gradually leads her to sell off the Academy and to take up a job as a companion to an elderly lady. That’s Hannah’s way of taking a vacation, by the way. Imagine her shock when this elderly lady turns out to be the aunt of Dougald Pippard, her husband whom she has flown the coop from years ago.
Hannah flees her husband because she finds out that when she was 13, her mother practically sold her to Dougald’s parents to be his bride when she came of age. Hmm… like Hannah said, it does sound obscene when one puts it that way. She is mad because she believed then that Doug really loved her and that he seduced her because he wanted her. Apparently, Doug seduced her because to him, it was the best shortcut to marriage. No need the hassle of courtship, just tup her and post the banns, that sort of thing.
Now, Doug wants revenge. His pride is wounded. Hannah isn’t sure what she wants more – a naked Doug or, well, a naked Doug.
And someone is trying to kill Doug to inherit his title.
That’s the plot in a nutshell. Now, let me get down to the really ugly details.
One, there are more than once that Doug threatens to kill Hannah in this story. And given that Hannah seems to actually believe that he will do it, I find the relationship pretty creepy even for me. What makes me utterly disgusted, however, is the presence of four old ladies – the elderly aunt and her three friends – who, despite having dotty old lady habits like gardening and reminiscing of old boyfriends, actually get pretty orgasmic over their open discussion whether Doug may or may not have killed his wife. (Apparently everyone believes that Doug killed Hannah instead of Hannah having flown the coop.) These bloodthirsty old bags actually make light of the fact that the man they adore may have killed his wife – this must surely be the stuff nightmares and bad horror movies are made off. Bloodthirsty Nympho Grannies, anyone?
As much as I like dark heroes, this ever present threat to the heroine’s life – from the hero, and the hero cheered on by four senile closet serial killers – is just too much for me after a while.
Two, I wait for Doug to show emotion, any emotion. That perpetual bulge in his crotch doesn’t count. Oh yes, he has one singular emotion – coldness. He ruthlessly closes down Hannah’s bank account, freezes her independence, makes her entirely dependent on him, and he tells her he would have killed her if the thought of her suffering doesn’t please him more. He knows Hannah’s greatest asset is her independence, and he will crush her utterly by seducing her while chaining her to him entirely. He will make her love him while he performs his own special, trademarked brand of emotional abuse. And my favorite – he tries his best to sabotage Hannah’s search for her true identity by withholding documents that will help her – all the while during their marriage – and sneakily planting doubts in her mind that her new (and of course, noble) family will reject her.
I have to give Doug credit. He knows how to exploit brainy, intelligent Hannah’s insecurities and completely crush her until she is the pale shadow of her former self by the last few pages.
And towards the end, I wait for a grand show of remorse, a declaration of love, or something that will redeem Doug. The reason why I love this author’s That Scandalous Evening despite the book’s hero being one of the Stupidest Jackasses of the Year is because of the hero’s open remorse at the last chapter. In Rules of Attraction, if I hold my breath waiting, I will be asphyxiated. The hero decides to make amends in the end, but he never tells his wife or shows any remorse. Doug is not only humor-free, he is emotion-free. Yes, there is some brief speech from him about wanting to talk to Hannah, listen to her, et cetera, but it’s an abrupt thing that has me going “Huh?”. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, she proposes. He accepts. There is no satisfying payoff at all, and I am not convinced that this adult robot hero is any different from the younger robot hero the heroine fled from.
And when I close the book thinking that this couple is a tragic accident waiting to happen, I think this one has missed the bullseye by a zillion miles wide.