Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.19, ISBN 978-0-263-87229-3
Contemporary Romance, 2009
Susanne James’s The Playboy of Pengarroth Hall is published under the Harlequin Romance imprint in the US, when usually books under the Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern line get shunted to the Harlequin Presents line over there. This is a point folks should take note, as this book bears a shocking lack of hirsute Mediterranean or South American mulish billionaires barking orders to heroines they consider for the most part tramps or prostitutes. Yes, Sebastian Conway is loaded and Fleur Richardson is a virgin, but they get along fine for the most part, making this one an anomaly of sorts in the Modern line.
Sebastian is the playboy in the question, and he thinks marriage is not for him. They always say that, don’t they? Here, he comes back to the family home Pengarroth Hall, a bit reluctantly (he’s too cool to mingle with the rest of the mere mortals, after all), to spend Christmas with his grandparents and his sister. There are other guests, of course, and one of them is his sister’s friend Fleur. Mia, Sebastian’s sister, wants him to try and be nice to Fleur, because Fleur is said to be the kind of heroine who needs someone to show her how to relax and have fun. I say “said” because Fleur comes off as a pretty well-adjusted heroine to me. At any rate, you can guess what happens to Fleur and Sebastian over the next few days, I’m sure.
The romance in this story is of the slow boiling sort, as it takes its time to develop. This is not a bad thing, of course. I confess, though, that I initially have a hard time believing what I am reading, and I expect the hero to jump on his feet and start accusing the heroine of being all flavors of prostitution any time now. Once I realize that such a moment is not going to happen, it is pretty easy to sit back and enjoy the show.
The characters are likable, and there are plenty of pleasant scenes here. However, there are moments when the author attempts to introduce some conflict in a way that seems petty, for the want of a better word. For example, Fleur is miffed at Sebastian… because he wants her to sing with him in a fundraising event. Why? Because she has feelings and he could have somehow read her mind to understand these feelings! The whole thing is pretty ridiculous.
The Playboy of Pengarroth Hall offers an old-school flavor of romance here, as the focus is all about the relationship without any of the over-the-top hate-sex stuff that fuels the Modern line. The only downside here is its utter predictability as well as the occasional laughable “romantic conflicts”, which are all minor issues actually. Therefore, while this one won’t set off firecrackers anytime soon with heat, passion, or drama, it’s a pleasant read that makes me wonder how it manages to find itself in this line. It’s too sane and normal to be a Modern!