Mills & Boon, £0.65, ISBN 0-263-73400-5
Contemporary Romance, 1980
Once upon a time Barbara Haynes had a thing with Jock Molloy. Yes, that’s Jock, not Jack, and I’m sure she’s the only one shocked when he decided to dump her after he had become bored of her. Lady, that name is a giveaway – his parents clearly were trying to do womankind a favor by giving him a name like that. Still, that’s the past. She’s with Todd Gaynor now. He’s rich, he’s wealthy, and he’s going to marry her after introducing her to his family in their huge, luxurious manor. Hello, everyone, and… oh. Oh. So Todd’s older stepbrother JR is actually Jock. Oh my.
Janet Dailey’s Southern Nights is quite interesting in that, in a sea of virgins, here we have a heroine who had an affair in the past. Of course, she had an affair with a bloke she would eventually end up with, and everything here is still forceful kisses and ecstatic shivers instead of actual hoedown throwdown, but still, the idea that the heroine has had fingerprints at places where the sun doesn’t shine on her is a pretty novel one for a Mills & Boon story.
There are some good things here. For one, Barbara eventually develops a spine where Jock is concerned, although it can be a test on one’s patience to follow her to that point – she is quite putty in Jock’s hands for quite a while. Todd isn’t a stereotypical other bloke elevated into one-dimensional villainy. He’s not the one chosen by Barbara because she realizes that they don’t match. It’s her decision, her choice, and I like that.
However, this story also has a fatal mistake: there is no emotional tenderness or anything of that sort from Jock here. He’s all asshole kisses and forceful pawing, and I supposed I’m to be titillated by such display of unbridled tomfoolery. Sure, his antics may be exciting if I were a much younger lady looking for fun with a bad boy, but I have a hard time believing that Jock is a suitable husband material for the long haul. Here, the only reason Barbara seems to want the indignity of being known as Mrs Jock Molloy is because his touch makes her super horny.
Jock isn’t really cruel and nasty here, although this is subjective. I read romances way back from a time when romance heroes have done far worse, and a little “I’ll tell your fiancé about us if you don’t let me fiddle with your diddle downstairs” coercion and lots more forceful advances actually aren’t too bad compared to the heroes of other stories published around the 1970s and 1980s, including some of the author’s own heroes. I am judging this one as a product of its time – folks who prefer to judge this one by today’s standards may end up finding many things here to give the middle finger to.
Also, readers with more contemporary sensibilities may be put off by Barbara’s insistence that Todd should know every gory detail about the men in her past, and she gets confused when he prefers not to know these things. Of course, she doesn’t grill him about the women in his past: a man has privileges, I guess, and this includes knowing everything about the traffic in his woman’s southern highway.
At the end of the day, Southern Nights is not that bad, because it could have been far, far worse, and phew, it isn’t. What a relief. However, it is sorely lacking in the tenderness department to make the romance believable. This one ends up being a story of an otherwise somewhat sensible lady throwing away a rich, reliable guy for an asshole mostly because the asshole makes her randy and ready to go 24/7. I don’t think this romance is going to end well for her, and I’d feel sorry for Barbara if she hadn’t already been burned before by the same person.