I love vintage Mills and Boon, especially ones featuring a winsome, as-delicate-as-spun-sugar, wide-eyed ingenue being chased and seduced by a barely civilized, steely-eyed Neanderthal in a Saville Row suit in London… or Toronto. There’s just so much gooey, cheesy, melodramatic nonsense going on that you can almost bite into the crazy pie and come back for seconds and thirds without feeling like you just consumed something disgusting (okay, maybe a little disgusting… shouldn’t you be training for that full marathon?). In this lovely offering by Lynne Graham, we have: a secret baby, an Italian billionaire, amnesia, and a car accident reminiscent of Deborah Kerr’s in “An Affair to Remember.” The heroine is a fragile, pretty blond thing who is described as “innocent” one too many times and the hero is a majorly alpha, testosterone-heavy, chauvinistic He-Man who literally drags the heroine back to his castle like some liege lord claiming his lady. And yet… and yet… I ended up liking the hero. Sure, he basically kidnaps the heroine and keeps her with him under false pretenses, but in the end, he just seemed so helpless about expressing what he truly feels about her and utterly baffled as to why he should feel the way he does that it’s almost adorable. OMG, IKNORITE?! Let’s dive into the insanity together, ladies and ghouls, and explore this “Tempestuous Reunion.”
The Plot as I Understood It Catherine Parrish has one purpose in life: to serve as Luc Santini’s bedroom prop and plaything. While working as an art gallery assistant when she was eighteen, she meets Luc (who, thankfully, was merely in his mid-twenties) and falls like a ton of bricks. Luc expresses interest in her and doesn’t contact her for weeks, thus turning her into an insecure mess, and ensuring that she would be grateful and eager to hear from him. She loses her virginity to him—duh—and spends the next two years as his mistress in New York City. Until she gets pregnant. Catherine’s course of action is to awkwardly fish around for marriage proposal. Luc answers with smirky disbelief and says Catherine has neither the education nor the background that he’s looking for in a wife. OH NO HE DIDN’T. When Luc leaves for a business trip, Catherine decides she’s tired of being a rich man’s chew-toy and takes off. She flees to London and promptly runs toward the first phone booth she sees to tell Luc she’s made a mistake and wants to come home, but in her hysterical distress, she doesn’t see the oncoming car and Squish! Just like grape. Hold on to your hats, kids; this doesn’t cause the amnesia. OMG, IKNORITE?! Our intrepid, plucky heroine gets adopted by a super-eccentric old lady, whom she meets in the hospital, and goes on to give birth to a precocious child monster who was apparently able to disassemble a radio and put it back together by the age of two. But Catherine’s good fortune soon ends when the old lady dies and bequeaths her entire estate to some random charity in Africa, leaving Catherine and her creepy Macgyver child out in the cold. The old lady’s younger brother, who is a struggling businessman in the middle of a divorce, takes a liking to Catherine and offers use of his apartment in London until Catherine finds a place. While lunching at a fancy restaurant with Mr. Nice Older Man, Catherine bumps into—can you take a guess? Any guesses here? Come on, just give it a shot—all together now: Luc Santini! Shaken and unnerved by the event, Catherine is escorted to Mr. Nice Older Guy’s apartment where Mr. NOG promptly tells her he’s in love with her and would like to marry her someday. Catherine doesn’t know what to say, but Mr. NOG tells her to give it some thought and takes off. It is not long that Catherine is alone in the apartment when somebody knocks on the door. Who do you think it is? Why, it’s Luc Santini, everyone! As it turns out, he’s got spies everywhere! Luc accuses her of being Mr. NOG’s chew-toy and proceeds to get all aggressively jealous and manhandle her and Catherine’s all, “Get away from me!” while shivering deliciously. He threatens to ruin Mr. NOG’s career—duh—if Catherine doesn’t come back to him and Catherine, panicked and flailing wildly, trips on the rug, hits her head on the corner of a desk, and voila! AMNESIA! But not full-blown amnesia, unfortunately. She doesn’t have to relearn how to brush her teeth or tie her shoes. She just forgets about the last five years—leaving Luc, having the kid, living with a creepy old lady—and Luc takes advantage of this by telling Catherine that he wants to marry her and they’re going to move to Italy together and live in the palace he bought especially for her. How sweet! But what about the kid? And the dyslexia? Oh, God, we can’t forget about the dyslexia! Screw all that noise! We’re moving to Italy and we’re going to live in a castle! Oh cara la mia ragazza, vieni a vivere con me nel mio castello e diventare la mia amante puttana. Saremo felici per sempre e non dovrete mai preoccuparvi di una cosa mai più!
The Heroine Catherine is—come faccio a dirlo gentilmente?— a dumb box of hair. No, that’s not nice. Catherine’s parents died when she was a young girl and she went on to live with some distant relatives without ever really knowing what familial love is. She’s a pretty, wide-eyed blond creature who doesn’t seem to understand why people can be assholes nor can she figure out that people will quickly take advantage of her because she can’t believe that people can be monsters. Yeah, one of those. Basically, she’s a caricature of a Disney princess who hasn’t yet discovered that the two perky globs of flesh on her chest and her prominent, heart-shaped bottom make men’s eyes telescopically pop out of their sockets and their tongues to roll out of their mouths like a red carpet. Because she is beautiful and guileless, she is taken in by old ladies who turn her into an unpaid companion slash maid, all the while letting her think that she’s just being helpful and what a treasure she is. Exhibit A: the old lady who takes her in after she gets squished by a car. Peggy allows Catherine to live in the cottage on her property with her young son provided that Catherine help her out around the house and scrub floors and wash the draperies while singing happy little songs with the house mice. Her best friend (lesbian with lusty designs on Catherine’s person?) tells her that she is too nice and lets people walk all over her. After Peggy dies, Mr. NOG finds another position for her in London where she will look after another old lady in exchange for room and board. OMG, I think this is what happens to Cinderella in real life: she meets her prince who turns out to be a ginormous dickbag who only uses her as a cock-cozy, then when she runs away from said prince, she’s adopted by a batty old woman who proceeds to use her as an unpaid servant. Oh my heart, it hurts for this girl. WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE BEAUTIFUL, WIDE-EYED, GUILELESS, DYSLEXIC HEROINES OF HARLEQUIN PRESENTS? I think there should be a reserve for them or something. Maybe on an island in the South Pacific where they can have ponies and battered orphans and abandoned old people to tend to and there’s like… a protective sound wave orb thing around the entire island that would cause virile, strutting billionaire men to short-circuit and get aneurysms if they get too close. Catherine just doesn’t know any better. She doesn’t seem to have any friends—save for a Sapphic, wise-cracking best friend—or an older female relative to give her a gentle shake and tell her, “You are not a Barbie Doll. You have a soul. You can live a good life without having to depend on the kindness of strangers. You can get a job. Take care of your son.” She doesn’t seem to have any formal education—she gave up on school because the teachers thought she was stupid due to her not being able read good. She’s functionally illiterate, has never really had a job outside of being a nanny for old people and being the mistress of Señor Cockbag, and she seems to be wandering aimlessly through life, clutching her young son to her, and fearfully asking herself, “What am I going to do now?” If that doesn’t make you want to embrace this young girl to your fragrant, ample bosom and brush her hair while telling her soothingly, “It’s all right, child. You will be okay. Momma’s here now,” then I don’t know what will, you heartless bastards. OH MY GOD, DOES THIS TURN ME INTO A WACKY ASEXUAL SIDEKICK IN A HARLEQUIN PRESENTS NOVEL?!?
The Hero Luc Santini is—come faccio a dire questo in Inglese?—a bit of a strutting, preening, narcissistic, egomaniacal Douche Canoe. And that’s his charm. SPOILER ALERT! (you know what to do, you curious catbags) As soon as Luc leaves Catherine in the penthouse after telling her he’ll never marry a beautiful dingbat like her, he realizes he’s actually madly in love with her and can’t live without her. He returns to the penthouse only to find that Catherine has fled and he spends the next five years searching for her. He buys her a nice English cottage as a wedding present where the two of them will live as soon as he finds her. He actually becomes a hopeless, depress drunk who almost loses all of his money in his despair from losing Catherine. All together now: Awwwww! Luc grew up poor in New York City. I have no idea how he became a tech billionaire—is he a gorgeous Mark Zuckerberg?—but he somehow pulled himself up by his boostraps and started a tech empire. Of some sort. I don’t know. We don’t get much about what Luc actually does for a living, but he can afford to buy an actual Italian castle. Luc’s parents and siblings apparently live far away from him and he sends them enough money so they can live in the lap of luxury, but other than that, he doesn’t have much to do with them. He apparently dates society maidens, movie stars, and supermodels, all while keeping Catherine locked up in his penthouse as some kind of midnight snack. He hires a bodyguard to watch over Catherine at all times, but when he sees the bodyguard and Catherine getting friendly, he fires him. I don’t know how Luc becomes a successful businessman because he seems to be single-minded in his quest to possess Catherine. He’s like Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings and Catherine is his precioussssss. His assistant is obsessed with him, but he’s oblivious to that. He’d shagged her a couple of times, but she’s not Catherine, much to the assistant’s dismay. For Luc, it’s Catherine Catherine Catherine, nothing else. Overwhelmed with passion, he lunges for Catherine in Mr. NOG’s apartment and scares her enough to cause her to trip and hit her head. If he had killed her right then and there, I think he would have jumped out of the window to off himself. When she wakes up forgetting the last five years, Luc sees it as his second chance for a life with Catherine and absconds with her to his castle like a hungry troll without giving thought to what her life might be like outside of him. And yet… and yet… he’s so repentant about being a Conceited Cockbag and seems to genuinely love—is obsessed with?—Catherine that you can’t help but forgive the crazy bastard. He just seems so lost and confused about why he’s feeling this way about Catherine that it’s… almost endearing, really.
Oh My Word I loved this book. It’s such a whirlwind of no-holds-barred, pure, unadulterated cheese fest and insanity that made me cry out, “Holy shit” a few times with my eyes popping out. And I know this might make me sound cold and unfeeling, but I thought it was pretty hilarious that the author sends away the precocious child monster almost in the very beginning just so she can concentrate on Catherine and Luc reuniting with each other without that pesky brat in the way. To be honest, I’m not sure if these two even really love each other. Catherine seems to have abandonment issues and latches on to Luc because he’s a paternal and strong masculine figure; meanwhile, Luc seems to view Catherine as this earthy fairy princess that he deserves to have, much like everything he has worked for and gotten in his life. He’s obsessed with her. She’s something that he needs to possess. These two don’t have one single meaningful conversation. They’re either making love like Bonobo monkeys or hissing and yelling at each other. I don’t know what kind of relationship that could be, but all Catherine really wants is for Luc to marry her and now that she’s got that, how does it change the dynamic between them? And what does the child add to the mix? Will Luc continue to be a domineering, controlling Cockbag who locks her up in a gilded cage with her child and will Catherine become a pill-popping, blowsy boozehound whose only escape from Luc’s ardent and obsessive embrace are barbiturates and vodka? What will happen to these two crazy lovebirds? I can’t sense love between Catherine and Luc—the two of them just seem to be co-dependent, love-starved idiots who enable each other’s weakness: each other. But JESUS, this book was a lot of fun to read. It almost reads like a prologue to a very special Law and Order: SVU where the child, tired of his parents’ inattention and neglect of him and obsession with each other, kills them both in their sleep, arranges it to look like a murder-suicide, and sets the castle on fire. **shivers**
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