Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.99, ISBN 978-0-263-9598-3
Contemporary Romance, 2016
What is The Secret That Shocked De Santis? Is it the heroine Stella Zambrano having extra dangling bits between her legs? Oh come on, don’t say preg… damn, you’ve spoiled the fun. Yes, this is another “Oops, pregnant” story.
Stella Zambrano sneaked out of the military premises for one hour a few months back to dance on the pole of our hero, Prince Eduardo De Santis. So, when the story opens, a medical check-up reveals that she’s pregnant, and before she can say, “Eh… pregnant?” the military higher-up – her father, mind you – has her discharged while a bat signal is sent to Eduardo. He shows up right away insisting that they get married, and, apparently in this island principality of San Felipe, a woman can’t say no when a man insists that they are getting married. Yes, there is really no secret here, so yes, what a shock, the title of a romance novel is a lie.
Oh no, that’s not the Mexican San Felipe, oh please. A Mexican hero in the Mills & Boon Modern line? That won’t do, we may as well ask the Zika virus to infest this line. This line has always been too classy to feature smelly, stinking peasants from those backwater, poverty-stricken ethnic places like Mexico and San Francisco, thank heavens for that. No, this San Felipe is one of the trillions of made-up islands crammed up in the Harlequin Mills & Boon fantasy paradise version of Mediterranean sea, where everyone is white, rich, amazing, and beautiful.
Amusingly at first, this story is like the clash between reality and romance novel fantasy. Stella behaves in ways that would be considered acceptable by romance heroine standards – she was a virgin for so long until she has a chance to put out to Eduardo, and then, whee, she’s bouncing up and down on that fellow like a demented jackrabbit. Like most sane person, when Eduardo discovers that she was a virgin, he wonders why on earth would she put out to him so quickly, and the whole “Pregnant!” thing seems like an entrapment. If you read this book and see the way Stella behaves, you may end up agreeing with Eduardo that something seems off with the whole thing. Naturally, Stella is offended that Eduardo would even think for a second that she put out to him with mercenary intentions. She was only a virginal peen-hungry WANT IT NOW GIVE IT TO ME STICK IT IN ME!!! sweet young woman, not some money-hungry skank, so how dare he! She may be easy, but she is a pure kind of easy!
The story soon becomes a chore to read though. Oh, Eduardo isn’t mean or cruel, which is a relief – he’s just one of those “Oh! I’m too manly to love, so I’ll just tell the heroine that I will force her to do my bidding if she doesn’t want to marry me voluntarily!” twits. How on earth is this guy popular with the ladies again? His life would have been so much easier if he would just lie and pretend that he loves Stella – she’s so starved for approval and affection that she couldn’t get from her father, she won’t be that hard to fool.
Stella is tedious and boring – she will keep coming up with excuses as to why she can’t marry him. It is not fair to place princely responsibilities on her baby! (Really, that’s what she says.) She wants to marry for love! Blah, blah, blah – I may respect her more if she actually does something about her predicament. Instead, she is having sex with Eduardo when she’s not whining that she can’t marry him. I know, she keeps putting out to him without much resistance – it’s bewildering why he doesn’t take her seriously.
Oh yes, this is one of the “sexier” books in this line that I’ve come across, in that there are quite the number of sex scenes here, but these scenes are boring. They are written in terse, clinical manner. I’ve been reading romance novels for a long time, and I’m come across so many positions and permutations, so how about something different? Like, say, these two having sex on top of a speeding bus? Or make a sex tape – that seems to be a favorite among European royalties?
The rest of the story is no better. These two are having the same arguments throughout the book, so the whole thing feels like it’s moving in circles.
Still, the last two or three chapters are unexpectedly solid. Stella realizes that she has been using the baby she is carrying as an excuse to play out her daddy issues, Eduardo finally opens up, and I am almost moved to believe the happy ending. The author demonstrates that she has a good idea of her characters’ strengths and flaws, so that’s good. It’s just unfortunate that the author’s execution up to that point has been so groan-inducingly, mind-numbingly dull.