Harlequin Presents: Heartbreaker by Charlotte Lamb

Heartbreaker Poor, poor Caroline Storr. For years, she suffered through a physically abusive marriage with an alcoholic, afraid to ask for help because she lived in a small town and the scandal would have killed her mother-in-law. But when Peter starts hitting her little girl, Kelly, Caroline decides she’s had enough and whisks herself and her daughter away to London. Cut to three years later and everything is coming up rosy. She had stumbled upon a copy-writing career and with the help of a small inheritance from her father, was even able to buy a house. She hadn’t heard from her drunkard swine of a husband since she’d left him and she and Kelly are doing just fine.

And then comes the asshole in the Porsche. Nick Holt, her husband’s cousin, was a painful reminder of her one emotional indiscretion—she was secretly crushing on him while she was married to Peter. Peter, of course, was a jealous, insecure psycho, and tended to “J’accuse!” Caroline of cheating on him with everyone from the mailman to the kindly town doctor. He also loved to cry his heart out to Cousin Nick and talk about what an amoral, selfish, cheating slut Caroline is. Nick, who was also secretly crushing on Caroline and felt very guilty about it, was at first unable to believe what his cousin has been telling him, but quickly changes his tune, when—say, on a lark—he makes a pass at Caroline by kissing her and she KISSES HIM RIGHT BACK, the dirty harlot! Peter was right! Ever the avenging-angel-slash-hypocritical-asshole, Nick takes it upon himself to hire a private detective to find Caroline, marches his self-righteous ass to her front door, and proceeds to tell her three things: 1) Peter is dead, 2) Peter’s mom is dying and wishes to see her granddaughter, 3) Caroline has been judged and found guilty of harlotry, and Nick himself will be her executioner. Oh, and could dirty, amoral whore Caroline and her little moppet uproot their lives, pack up everything, get into the goddamn Porsche, and go see Grandma before she croaks.

Question: If Caroline is the evil, scheming, selfish, morally bankrupt hussy that Nick thinks she is, why the hell does he think that she would give enough shit to see her ex-mother-in-law?

The passionate kiss disturbed them both.

Nick looked from her eyes to her mouth, convulsively swallowed, and looked away.

“When Peter was killed, I told myself that I’d make you pay for what you did to him,” he said hoarsely.

She opened her lips to deny, but the burning blue eyes ripped through her.

“No, you listen to me. It was a mistake to let me see you wanted me, Caroline. You handed me my weapon on a plate…”

Caroline’s body stiffened, the skin on the back of her neck prickling.

“You’ll stay here in my house, where I can keep an eye on you. No more men. No affairs. You’re going to pay and pay in your own coin. I’m going to make you suffer the way Peter suffered.”

Sheeesh… what a psycho.

Your Heroine Oh Sweet Caroline. For the most part, I liked her.
Heartbreaker She was brave enough to leave her physically abusive husband, smart enough to find a good job and buy a house for her and her daughter, and was probably a pretty nice, level-headed person before the Coming of Saint Nick. It was only when Nick Holt re-entered her life that she became a weak, constantly tearing up, spineless jellyfish. This was a woman who managed to start over and build a whole new life in a big city for her and her daughter. No small feat, that. But throw in Nick and all of a sudden, she’s indecisive, nervous, and unable to stand up for herself. Would you let a man, who constantly berates you and calls you a whore, kiss you, then treat you like a used dishrag? Hell no. Instead of screaming in his face, stomping on his foot, and kicking him in the balls, Caroline instead allows him to get all up in her grill and kisses him back, clinging to him like toilet paper on the bottom of your shoe, even as he shoves her away afterward and calls her a whore. Why would you do this to yourself, girl? She’s a glutton for punishment. After each and every one of these kissing encounters, Caroline would run to her room and sob, wondering why he could be so cruel to her. Throughout this novel, there were plenty of moments when she could have told Nick to fuck off and taken off to a hotel with her kid and sickly mother-in-law (Caroline stays at Nick’s house for almost all of the story). Lawd have mercy. That Nick must be one hell of a good kisser (Like Superman in Superman 2 whose mere kiss gives Lois amnesia).

Oh and she actually quits her job and sells her house in London because Nick tells her to. As if that’s not enough, she accepts a job offer from him to work at his factory—when the only reason Nick wants her to work for him is so he can keep an eye on her at all times! Ugh, I CAN’T EVEN with this lady.

Your Hero I DO NOT LIKE THIS MAN AT ALL. He has no redeeming qualities. Up to the last few pages of the book, he was still seeing some other woman. He yells at Caroline, berates her in front of others, accuses her of whoring when she talks to other men, and assumes the privilege that he has any right at all to dictate anything she does. How is he different from the dead asshole who used to beat her? He refers condescendingly to her as a “sexy little blonde” and proclaims that he’s wise to her feminine wiles. AND THE REASON HE DOES ALL OF THIS? He was beset with guilt from having been in love with Caroline while his cousin, her husband, was still alive. Here was his cousin, complaining about his no-good wife, and all the while, Nick was thinking, “Oh boy, I sure would like a piece of that.” He is stubborn to the point of obstinacy and refuses till the very last pages to listen to Caroline. AND THEN, when he finally realizes what an utter idiot he’s been (hurry up, boy, we only got 2 pages to go), the first thing he says to her is, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Heavens to Betsy, what did he think Caroline was trying to do for the past one hundred and twenty pages? But to his defense, Caroline was really mouse-like with her protests, weakly saying things like, “No, I am not who you think I am” or “No, I’m not” whenever he calls her a slutbag whore. NICE COMEBACK, CAROLINE. On top of all this, the man is not above using his elderly aunt to manipulate Caroline into staying put. He is the archetypal alpa male who lashes out because waaaaaah, he doesn’t understand his own feelings AND he’s super mean to Caroline because he actually likes her, but doesn’t know what to do about it, so he’s like snarl/brood/yell/grunt the whole time. The guy is a total dick.

Oh My Word Caroline has all the signs of Battered Woman Syndrome. She stays with her husband even after he beats her half to death AND THEN the guy she ends up with at the end is emotionally and mentally abusive. There are strong indications that he is also physically abusive. He is fond of grabbing Caroline’s arm “painfully” and at one point, even gives her a rough shove. I realize that this book was written in the early 80’s and most of the romance novel heroes were total dicks (dickishness was hawt) back then, but there’s a different between being “cold” toward someone and being outright hostile. I couldn’t believe the number of times Nick man-handles Caroline. This whole book could have been told in a few pages if Nick had only stopped being a stubborn asshole for TWO minutes and listened to Caroline. SIT DOWN AND TALK, people.

But even with all of my complaints, I found this story compulsively readable. I read it in one sitting. Like, I get so mad when I read books like these, and yet I love reading them. Maybe the person I’m really mad at… is myself.

TL;DR Caroline and Nick were attracted to each other from the very beginning, but Caroline was married to Nick’s cousin, who was an abusive dick. Caroline moves away, but Nick goes to fetch her after Peter dies in the guise of his elderly aunt wanting to see Caroline and her child. Nick proceeds to “punish” Caroline because he was in love with her all along and couldn’t admit it to himself, because she was married to his cousin. Nick realizes at the end (when Caroline almost dies) that Caroline is not a whore and therefore worthy of his love, so they say “I love you” to each other in the last two pages. The end.

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