Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.49, ISBN 978-0-263-90857-2
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Matteo De Campo is handsome, debonair, drowning in women’s undergarments flung his way, and oh, alpha. However, he is also hurt inside, eaten up by guilt over a most distressing incident in his past. Worse, he chose to drown his sorrows by, er, drowning inside the wrong woman. That woman turned out to be the daughter of a big hotshot whose signature on the dotted line would grant the De Campo brothers’ wine company a seven million dollar contract. The woman told her father that she didn’t have the best morning after reception from Matteo after what she thought was a passionate beginning of a l’
When the story opens, Matteo has a chance to redeem himself by securing a contract with the global Luxe restaurant empire. Luxe has been in slow decline over the last few years, but interest in the company surged when it was bought over by the boss of all bosses, Warren Davis. Warren Davis lets his daughter Quinn oversee the reorganization of the Luxe restaurants, and she has four wine companies shortlisted for the lucrative contract. If Matteo can waltz into the final negotiations and secure the contract for De Campo, he would redeem himself in his big brother’s eyes.
Besides, Quinn is a mere woman. That mean she can’t be that smart, and every woman practically flings herself at him and begs him to shag her the moment he just breathes in her direction, so how hard can winning over Quinn be, anyway? Okay, that sounds dirty, but this story isn’t that dirty, unfortunately.
The Truth About De Campo is actually a familiar tale of a woman whose understanding and empathy – not to mention her possession of the magic hoochie that every romance heroine must have, that can soothe all raw nerves and banish the ghosts haunting the man that is attached to the pee-pee that made first contact with it – calms the raging beast, and it’s a pretty well-written one at that. The author knows her characters well, and she can flesh out Matteo’s inner demons to an extent that, despite most of them being familiar to folks that read romance novels regularly, works to make me feel a tad sorry for him. Matteo isn’t an asshole – in fact, he has pretty good chemistry with Quinn, and the two of them make a good “boyfriend/therapy patient-girlfriend/shrink” archetype couple.
One of the typical issue I have with stories of this sort is how the heroine often shows remarkable understanding and patience for the hero’s many issues, like she has a hidden degree in psychology tucked away somewhere, without the author showing me how the heroine can come to be this way. We aren’t all born with the ability to talk like Oprah Winfrey on her talk show, after all, and I bet even she can’t talk like that without rehearsing a bit first. Here, however, I think that the author did a pretty good job in making Quinn’s empathy and understanding a natural aspect of her personality.
Unfortunately, the Therapy with the Magic Hoochie part of the story comes up later. The first half or so of this story suffers from a kind of dissonance that makes it hard for me to get into it. You see, Matteo is built up to this smooth player that can charm his way into any woman’s panties. But his behavior in this story, when he meets Quinn, however suggests that this guy probably can’t get a date unless he pays the woman to get undressed. The “smooth lines” he offers Quinn are so clumsy and even gauche that I feel embarrassed for him. He’s supposed to be charming… so he tells her that she’s not his type as well as a couple of things that could have gotten his company blacklisted. Okay, she baits him as much as he puts his foot into his own mouth, but he has more to lose, so for him to do that makes him come off as sharp as a rotten turnip. Until he decides to reveal his vulnerabilities and lets Quinn become his unpaid shrink, his behavior is more smarmy than charming, to the point that I actually wonder whether the author has a different concept of what a woman finds charming in a man.
Quinn also isn’t a prize at first. She’s abrasive and sharp just because she hears that Matteo sticks it to any woman that shares the same air as him. She is also an unfortunate stereotype – she is said to be a good businesswoman, but this ability of hers is often attributed to the fact that she’s her father’s daughter. Apparently all those years at Harvard only served to hone the business acumen that apparently came with the rest of the X chromosome in the sperm that impregnated the egg that eventually became her. Worse, her success is depicted as a result of her wanting to be that perfect daughter and win her father’s approval. In other words, it is still unnatural and even unfeminine for a romance heroine to have career ambitions, and if she does go somewhere in the business track, it’s because she is doing everything for Daddy. It’s year 2014 and we are still treating career-minded women like little leprosy patients that could. Then again, this is Harlequin Mills & Boon so oh well, the sun rises in the east and water is wet.
Like Matteo, she fortunately becomes a far better character in the second half of the story, once she decides to be the Oprah in his personal soap opera.
The Truth About De Campo only becomes very readable in the second half or so, when there are plenty of credible emotional moments. The first half is all about the author rather awkwardly walking along the tightrope and replicating the Harlequin Mills & Boon formula as faithfully as she could, only this time the playboy doesn’t seem anything like one and the heroine is just a sad embodiment of an antiquated notion of career women. That makes this one only half of a good book.