Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.19, ISBN 978-0-263-87208-8
Contemporary Romance, 2009
The Billionaire’s Bride of Convenience is not an accurate title for this book because the heroine is the one who needs a fake fiancé ASAP. The Secretary’s Convenient Bridegroom is a more accurate title, but that one probably castrates the hero’s alpha male status, while another accurate title, The Billionaire Forces His Secretary to Whore Herself Out to Him for a House, is probably too tasteless even for the Harlequin Mills & Boon editors. That or the second title is too long to fit into the cover. Still, the title does tell you what to expect from this one: a fake engagement thing.
The first third of this book is heartbreakingly fabulous. I say “heartbreaking” because the late two-thirds of this book can never measure up to this great first third part of the story.
Hugh Parkinson is a billionaire who prefers to laze around and enjoy life, and it is his PA, Kathryn Hart, that bullies him into attending meetings and all. It’s not that he dislikes her for that, far from it: he’s madly infatuated with her. Sure, he sometimes deliberately shows up late for appointments just to fluster her, but he knows that she has spoiled him for any other woman even when they haven’t even gone to bed yet. In the great early parts of the story, Hugh is the perfect balance of naughty charm and gentlemanly gallantry. I adore him.
Kathryn, in the early parts of the story, is a fabulously different heroine for a Modern story. She is not a virgin. She has a lousy fiancé, but she enjoys having sex with him. Kathryn is also amazingly efficient in her job, she doesn’t let Hugh bully her, and she’s smart for her type. When her fiancé Daryl turns out to be the worst kind of guy, she throws him out and changes the locks on her door without having to be told by the hero to do so.
The magic doesn’t last. Soon enough, after losing Daryl, Kathryn needs a new guy to marry ASAP or she will lose her childhood sanctuary belonging to a late friend whose will insisted that Kathryn get married or lose that house. Some friend, I tell you. If I were Kathryn, I’d dig up the corpse of that horrid “friend” and leave it on the busy highway so that it will be run over by traffic. Anyway, Hugh discovers Kathryn’s need to marry and this is when the story takes a turn for the truly ugly: Hugh will marry Kathryn, but she will let him shag her out of his system in return. If she refuses, then she’d lose the house. Hugh’s eyes, I’m told, are “hard” when he issues this proposal to Kathryn, and he even mocks and throws her so-called hypocrisy (the fact that she doesn’t love Daryl but is willing to marry him for the house) to her face in the process. Hugh seems to forget that Kathryn believed that she loved Daryl until Daryl’s actions forced her to realize otherwise, and conveniently insists that she would have whored herself out to Daryl all along for the house.
The author tries to make this scenario palatable by telling me that Kathryn secretly finds the whole coercion aspect of her relationship with Hugh thrilling, tying this up to Ms Lee’s assertion in the first page of the story that we are all cave people at heart and we women love our men to be tall and alpha. I have a hard time buying this because the taint of coercion is always there in this story from that point onward, making what could have been a beautiful relationship between a deceptively happy-go-lucky guy and a practical and sensible heroine come off like a tawdry affair instead.
Maybe fans of the whole “coerced into sleeping with the boss” fantasy will adore this story better, but I feel really cheated when the story starts off as such a great and non-formulaic book in the Modern line, only to abruptly mutate into something else once I have started to have faith in it. If the story has remained true to the spirit of its fabulous first third or so, this one would have been a keeper. As it is, I feel slightly nauseated at the end of the day, because I feel so cheated, it’s like I’ve been betrayed or something.