Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239105-6
Historical Romance, 2016
The clocks are all stopped at particular time in the home belonging to the Marquess of Marsden: it’s the time of his beloved wife’s passing while bringing Killian St John, Viscount Locksley, into this world. As you can imagine, the household is quite the morose one, and with the Marquess generally acting like he’s senile, Locke spends his days pouting over the fact that love can drive you this nuts when you lose the one you love, so no thanks. he’d never do that lovey-dovey thing ever.
When The Viscount and the Vixen opens, however, Locke discovers that his father has not been entirely barking mad. Marsden is aware that the clock is ticking and his son is not settling down to produce an heir anytime soon, and he’d be damned if he’d let the title and the properties that come with it go to the usual greedy, alcoholic cousin that every noble family in a romance novel has kept in the wings to get plots into motion. So what the man did was to purchase a bride behind Locke’s back. Mrs Portia Gadstone, a widow, is arriving that very afternoon, and Marsden fully intends to marry her and beget an heir himself. It will clearly be a pragmatic arrangement, he assures Locke, as he’d always love his wife and Portia understands that the marriage is strictly one for getting an heir, on his part, and financial security, on her part.
Fortunately, the father is actually scheming to have Locke marry Portia, so there is no messy daddy-son competition thing going on here.
But here is also where things get a bit iffy with me. First, Locke acts like he can’t fathom that a woman of his time would ever be in any situation where she has to marry or there is nothing else for her in this life. When Portia tells him that she wants financial security out of this whole thing, that makes her automatically a mercenary whore in his eyes. Why? What else can a noble-bred woman (which he thinks of her to be) do in that time? Run wild and do stupid things like those heroines in other historical romances? There is something off about this set-up – Locke’s prejudices when it comes to women like Portia only make sense if he’d been fleeced hard by a few women in the past – which he hasn’t – or he is naïve enough to believe that the behavior of those “I will only marry for love – nothing else, but in the meantime, I’d put out to the guy I like for free, rejecting him when he marries because he never says the L word to me!” dingbats in other historical romances is the “true” way to go.
Still, I put aside my reservations about Locke when the author proceeds to deliver some beautiful, even haunting quiet scenes that build up the intimacy between Locke and Portia. On a good day, the author can create scenes that sing, Here, the author balances melodrama and more down to earth emotions very well, and this is one story where the middle third is easily the strongest and most emotionally satisfying part of the story. Portia is a standard damsel with secrets and Locke’s motivations and emotions are often all over the place in his inconsistencies, but when these two are together, they work very well as two damaged people connecting and falling in love.
And then comes the denouement as her secrets are dragged out. This is when the story goes straight into tired old “Hello There, We’ve Been through This Many Times Already!” territory. As you can guess, he starts treating her like she’s the whore that whored all the whores in the whoredom of whores, and she’s like, oh, I’ve lost him and I really must pack my bags and leave now, boo-hoo-hoo, even if it puts me even more into trouble, because I must prove to him that I’m actually a self-sacrificing martyr rather than a whore. Seriously, sweetheart, can’t there be a middle ground between the martyr flinging herself off a cliff and a whore being treated by the hero like she’s his personal commode?
Sure, these may be overplayed developments, but they won’t be so bad if they fit into the context of the story. But Locke spends all the time suspecting that Portia has mercenary reasons to want to marry her father, and he also suspects that she is hiding something. So why does he act like a wronged party here? He’s the one who pushes Portia into a relationship – in fact, he’s the one who gives her no choice but to accept his kiss when she’s supposed to marry his father, and then when it’s over, he naturally accuses her of being that kind of woman – he’s the one who pushes to know her secrets, and when he gets what he wants, it’s time to treat the wife like she’s a whore. Yes, that’s the word he uses – he argues that he has all the right to treat her like a whore since she’s, in his eyes, one. Locke really comes off here like a spoiled child who doesn’t know what he wants, and when he doesn’t like what he gets, he lashes out hard and doesn’t care whom he hurts along the way.
And when he finally decides that he’d go right back and tup the wife after all, it’s her turn to go, “No! No! You must divorce me, because I don’t deserve you anymore!” Oh, she’s such an imbecile, but then again, romance heroines, so whoop be doo.
The unusual premise, all wasted on the played out boring late third. I could have wept if I were a less jaded reader, I tell you. That late act negates all character growth in the middle third, turning the characters back into stock Avon historical romance clichés, so I suppose this is just another day in the life of a romance reader where this book is concerned. A pity. For a while, I was thinking that this book could have been something more – so much more.