I was the perfect age to love Beauty and the Beast when it came out.
I was old enough to become completely engrossed in the gothic romance, but young enough to overlook the confusing plot-holes (did the entire village just forget that there was a fucking monarch living within walking distance? Were they drinking ale out of lead tankards and now had dementia? How the hell did she lift him onto the horse? He has to weigh like 800 pounds). (SB Sarah adds: to say nothing of the fact that the entire household of servants, adults and children, were transformed as well because of his bad behavior, and had no choice in the matter at all.)
I mean, the Beast was my first romance hero to rock the whole pants-and-cape-but-no-shirt look as well as the shirt unbuttoned but tucked in look (post transformation).
Clare's beast is Hunter Buchanan, heir and real estate tycoon. Hunter was horribly scarred in a tragic childhood accident–one half of his face is grossly disfigured, as is part of his chest, arm, and he's missing some fingers. Hunter's parents kept him secluded as a child, sequestering him in their home and having him tutored rather than go to school. Hunter didn't really interact with the outside world until he left for college. Somehow, despite being painfully socially awkward, he excelled at business. That one left me scratching my head, but okay.
One day Hunter spies Gretchen Petty from a distance and creeps on her (as Beasty romantic heroes do). Gretchen is telling her friend that she'd rather be with an interesting man than a pretty face, and naturally Hunter is immediately intrigued. She's also smoking hot. Hunter finds out through mutual friends that Gretchen is a ghost writer, and he does the rational thing to set up a meeting with her. He asks her out to dinner like a normal person.
He buys a publishing house and a shit-ton of old letters, and has hires Gretchen to catalogue said letters and turn them into a book. He claims the letters were found at his palatial mansion and that he doesn't want them to leave the property. Therefore Gretchen must live onsite for a month while she works on the project, forcing them into close proximity.
Gretchen takes the job. She's broke and really needs the work. She's been in a career-slump, unable to make deadline because she's feeling bored and disgusted with her job. She's one of the ghostwriters for a series of books about Astronaut Bill, a misogynist hero who travels the galaxy fighting evil and boinking space virgins. Clare pokes fun at the criticism of romance novels by having Gretchen bemoan the books as formulaic and filled with vapid sex.
So Gretchen takes the job in the creepily abandoned mansion and naturally she's curious about the owner, Hunter, who she never sees. She is told explicitly not to go into one wing of the house–another Beauty and the Beast reference. Of course she goes exploring and she stumbles upon Hunter just out of the shower, completely naked. So the first time Gretchen sees him, she not only sees his horrible scars but also his wang.
Hunter shouts at her and she runs away. I liked Gretchen because she's ballsy, and she says what she thinks, even when it's totally socially inappropriate. She seeks Hunter out the next day and confronts him, completely obvious to the fact that he might be uncomfortable about his scarring, not his wang. Excuse the long quote, but I loved this passage:
So this wasn't going well. When he began to stalk away at a pace more rapid than she could sustain in her oversized borrowed boots, she panicked. “Your penis!” she called out. “I saw it!”
He stopped in his tracks and turned to give her an incredulous look.
She stomped after him, nearly losing her balance in a snowdrift. “It's true,” she said, struggling to stand upright, “I was snooping and I saw you naked. All of you. Really naked. That's why you won't talk to me, isn't it?” When he began to scowl again, she continued. “I mean you can sit here and pretend you don't want to talk to me, but we both know it's totally awkward because I saw your dick before I saw your face.”
His scowl seemed to turn even blacker, making the scars livid on his face.
Oh shit, his scars. He thought she was insulting his face. “I, uh, didn't mean it like that. Damn. I'm much better at banter when it's on the page.” Gretchen trailed after him when he began walking away again. “Can we try this again?” She assumed a cheerful expression and made her voice two octaves higher. “Hi there! I'm Gretchen, and I'm working on ghostwriting the project in your library. I'm only going to be here for a month, but I hope we can be friends.”
Throughout the book Gretchen is more or less oblivious to Hunter's scars. She's aware of them obviously, but she doesn't care about them. She finds Hunter to be mysterious and sexy, and the attraction between them sizzles.
Happily for me, this isn't another billionaire dom book (why are they all doms, seriously?). In fact, Hunter is a virgin. He's never kissed a woman. He desperately wants Gretchen, but he's afraid to initiate anything, humiliated by his lack of experience. Gretchen is the instigator of their physical relationship. She assumes that Hunter is virgin when she learns about how isolated he was. She's incredibly sensitive to his insecurity while not making him feel emasculated or coddled. And they have hot, steamy, descriptive sex a lot.
Hunter basically has an erection for 3/4 of the book. After awhile I started thinking, “Doesn't that hurt?” I don't mind lots of sex scenes, but there were so many in this book that at times it was almost frustrating. Instead of suffering from unresolved sexual tension, Hunter and Gretchen were rife with unresolved emotional tension. Sometimes I wanted them to stop humping each other long enough to talk. When Hunter isn't busy being a billionaire real estate magnate, or having the sexytimes, he's growing roses in his greenhouse and sending them to Gretchen (another nod to Beauty and the Beast).
My issue with this book was the fact that all the conflict was based on assumptions and things overheard. Hunter worries that Gretchen is with him for his money, and that she secretly thinks he's ugly. Gretchen is unaware that her sudden financial windfall is a direct result of Hunter's intervention, and when she finds out she's appalled. Gretchen's family and friends are such dicks about Hunter's appearance that it begs belief.
Also, I couldn't figure out why Hunter couldn't get some kick-ass plastic surgery with all his money. Billions of dollars probably buy a nice set of black market fingers.
Regardless, I was willing to forgive a lot because I love the Beauty and the Beast trope, and this really was a fun book. I would have overlooked a singing tea pot, to be honest. If you love fairytale romances or scarred virgin heroes, then this book is a must read. As a side note, this book references events in Stranded with the Billionaire, the first book in the series, so the books may be best read in order, although I read them out of order and didn't feel it greatly impacted my enjoyment.