Harlequin HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77890-4
Historical Romance, 2015
The Devil Takes a Bride takes place at about the same time as The Trouble with Honor, but this one can be read just fine without having read the previous book first. Grace Cabot, like her older sister Honor, wants to marry well ASAP so that her family can still shelter their mother (who is struck with what we’d call Alzheimer’s disease today) while ensuring that there is minimal “madness” scandal to taint the chances of the two younger sisters to marry well. Grace decides to travel all the way to Bath to set up things, so that she’d be discovered in a compromising position with the charming Lord Amherst. Unfortunately, she ends up dry humping and deep-tonguing the wrong guy – she’s compromised, alright, but the guy she’s stuck with is Jeffrey Donovan, the Earl of Merryton – the older brother of the guy she set out to nab.
Now, a sane woman in her shoes would probably go, “Yes!” because she has, after all, nabbed the earl and not the younger brother, but, of course, such pragmatism is considered immoral and disgusting by we virtuous romance readers. Grace, therefore, is guilt-stricken by the whole thing, and she also realizes too late that forcing some guy to marry her may not be a good way to go if she wants a halfway decent life of matrimony. Still, she’s determined to make the best out of everything, and she’s also certain that she can get Jeffrey to agree on some kind of amicable arrangement. Besides, she knows that he likes pawing her.
The problem is, Jeffrey likes pawing her too much. You see, our hero has serious issues. He likes sex. Not just the usual missionary hump-and-a-pump thing, he likes girl-on-girl action. He likes multiple partners. Give him an attractive woman and he sees licentious images in his head involving that woman with another woman, and another woman, and another woman, and another… Of course, he pays good money to have his indulgences catered to, but he also believes that genteel ladies don’t like it if he unleashes his “beast” on them. Women like Grace – you know, the one who traps him into marriage – are too innocent for him. Therefore, he spends a good portion of this story humping the heroine and fleeing once he’s had his pleasure – he doesn’t want to scare and hurt the woman further, you see – or just acting all weird and hurtful around her when he’s not horny because he needs to keep her away from him in order to keep those disgusting thoughts out of his head.
The whole thing is just… well, I’m not sure what adjective I should use to describe this situation, because it’s… well, it’s like this. Fine, so that guy is so afraid that he’d start going all wild and kinky to the point that the heroine would just wail like a dramatic pregnant llama about to give birth, and the author tells me that all this is because the guy’s childhood messed up his head. Okay, that’s fine, although there is an unfortunate implication here that sexual acts involving anything more than the missionary position are disgusting, immoral, and worse. Still, the hero’s attitude is most likely accurate for a man of his time.
Here’s the thing. After spending three-quarters of the story acting like his penis would detach itself and go on a killing spree if he should ever willingly entertain lustful thoughts of his wife in his head, his angst is solved thanks to the power of true love. By that time, I’m so tired of his constant repetitive moping. Seriously, if he hates that thing so much and he can’t bring himself to pull at it, instead just complaining and whining like a broken record, just chop it off, problem solved, sheesh. And yet, after subjecting me to his nonsense for so long, all of a sudden, he’s okay because he’s in love with the wife. The author gives some concession to reality – now and then, Jeffrey’s pee-pee would wag at the thoughts of his wife’s sisters or cousins in hot girl-on-girl action, but apparently all he has to do is to look at Grace and everything is fine again. It’s like Grace is his sedative jab – each time he gets the horny horns, he touches the wife’s hand. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know, maybe it’s ten minutes in the bedroom? I guess oral action would be the Plan B if Plan A, the missionary hump, fails, and if things get really dire, backdoor action?
Even if I accept the premise, I’ve a hard time believing that Grace is that woman who would make him content and happy. Grace is a typical romance heroine with little sexual experience, so how is she supposed to slake Jeffrey’s “beast”-like lusts again? I wish the author had spun this story into an erotica. Imagine if Grace is a dominatrix who takes no prisoners. She’d punish Jeffrey, truss the man up and hang him from the ceiling, forcing him to watch as she gets it on with another woman. Oh yes, who’s the boss, Jeffrey? Who’s been a bad, bad boy?
Ahem. Anyway, I find everything about The Devil Takes a Bride, from start to finish, hard to believe. The hero makes too much fuss over his randy imagination and misbehaving pee-pee only to have his “beast” soothed by the simple act of sticking it to the right woman, and the whole sexual therapy aspect of this romance is just way too surreal for me. It’s an extreme version of the fantasy where a woman only has to marry a man to rid the man of anything unpleasant about his habits, personality, and more; a fantasy that skirts close to a whole new “all I have to do is to marry him, and he’d stop watching porn, masturbating, cheating on me, having sex with barnyard animals, boinking corpses, fondling the stuffed nude body of his mother – delete where applicable” level of self-delusion.
Not that I’m saying that a guy shouldn’t watch girl-on-girl stuff or indulge in group sex, mind you. As long as everyone is a consenting adult and you don’t do anything involving children and animals, my motto is: go ahead, life’s too short for hesitation. I’m just saying that this story sells the fantasy of a woman reining in the sex habits of a man which she finds unpalatable just by getting him to fall for her and marry her. I don’t buy this fantasy, and as a result, I don’t buy this story one bit.