Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.19, ISBN 978-0-263-87412-9
Contemporary Romance, 2009
The Santorini Marriage Bargain is Susan Mayo’s 75th book, so hearty congratulations are certainly in order. Now, having said that, perhaps those people taking part in the celebrations may want to avert their eyes should they happen to stumble upon this page via Google or something. Just keep eating that cake and imagine that I have nothing but beautiful words in heart-shaped speech bubbles to say about this book.
Not that this book is that bad. Ms Mayo certainly did her best to subvert a ridiculous and overused premise in her story, but unfortunately, she didn’t do enough to cobble this story into something that happen in this world today. I will always wonder about the book that could have been if Ms Mayo had gone out of the safety zone where this story is concerned.
Rhianne Pickering is – what else? – down on her luck. She first lost her job when her company experienced a corporate takeover and she was given the walking papers. How come she had no clue that this was coming, you ask? Rhianne is a quintessential English virgin in a Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern book. Is that a rhetorical question? If that wasn’t bad enough, when she went home, she found her supposed true love – whom she hadn’t put out to, of course – playing doctor with her best friend. It is understandable, therefore, that when the story opens Rhianne is wandering along the street in a daze until she is nearly run over by our hero Zarek Diakos. No, he’s not a refugee from Dr Who, he’s a Greek multi-billionaire who finds Rhianne attractive and sympathetic enough to offer her a job – his PA. The catch here is that he has to return to Santorini to be by his sick father’s side, so she has to accompany him there.
Sick father – ding, ding, ding! That’s right, folks, we have a “Son, I am a sick control freak and I love you, so I’m cutting you out of the will if you don’t do as I say HA HA HA!” story here. Up to this point, Zarek is a shockingly non-asshole hero who actually listens and pampers the heroine, while Rhianne displays a degree of awareness now and then that marks her as a genius compared to her fellow English virginal farmgirl heroines in such books. But once the “Marry or else!” ultimatum hits Zarek, he turns into a crabby pig while Rhianne becomes the ultimate doormat. It’s not that Zarek is deliberately cruel, he’s cruel because he is stupid enough to believe that he must not love Rhianne or… I don’t know, or else he will start bawling like a baby, I suppose. Rhianne occasionally protests his treatment of her, but she always ends up giving him what he wants, even to the point of blaming herself for hurting him by falling in love with him! How these two characters can come to have such a twisted view of love, I don’t know and I don’t think I want to know.
The author could have made the story interesting by introducing a twist here and there that is out of the normal script. For example, she could have the dreaded brother of Zarek, the one Zarek doesn’t want the family business to go to, to show up as a reformed fellow. But no, it only takes one look into that guy’s eyes for Rhianne to magically know that Zarek is right all along, sigh. Speaking of eyes, this author is obsessed with them. She’s always describing her characters’ eyes, and I honestly don’t see the point. It’s not as if those eyes are changing colors all the time. Isn’t there a better way to express the characters’ emotions other than to describe their “cold eyes” or whatever all the time?
The Santorini Marriage Bargain lulls me into believing that this story would have been different from the usual average and badly-written Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern fare by having seemingly more intelligent than usual characters who speak and relate to each other. Then Ms Mayo drops the will thing and has the two characters mutate into walking clichés. Worse, these characters’ psychology when it comes to love is too bizarre to be believable. This story is composed of cliché after cliché in its second half, strung together in ways that don’t make sense half the time. And to think, the first half really isn’t bad at all!