I was looking for just this sort of billionaire laden, extra angsty, bite-sized book when I picked up Million Dollar Christmas Proposal by Lucy Monroe. It met the over-the-top qualifications and nailed crazysauce right off the bat, strangely though, the angsty melodrama was lacking. Is this a newer, gentler Presents?
Harlequin Presents were some of the very first romances I read as a teenager. At the time each book featured a sardonic, deeply tanned hero, a virgin heroine, and usually some of kind of ex-girlfriend or mistress with an axe to grind and really long fingernails. The hero and heroine were at odds till the end, with lots of desperate, punishing kisses and misunderstandings along the way.
I get that the line has modernized. I’m happy about that. What I wasn’t expecting was a sweet romance, which this essentially this is. By the way, by sweet I mean not so emotionally fraught, not sanitized. The Presents sexual content (Hey, they used the word ‘ejaculate,’ yay!) is still here.
The heroine is Audrey Miller, a customer service specialist at Tomasi Commercial Bank. Audrey is 27 years old, and the guardian of her younger brother, Toby. No their parents weren’t killed in the ubiquitous car accident. Toby came out when he was 12, and their parents, who are assholes, kicked him out of the house. He fled to Audrey’s college apartment where he tried to commit suicide. Fuck you, Mr. and Mrs. Miller.
Since that day Audrey has been raising Toby. Their parents have cut them both off, and they’ve formed their own little family. Problem is, Toby is now eighteen which means Audrey isn’t getting child support any more (her dickwad parents even tried to withhold that). Also Toby has gotten accepted to MIT and Audrey desperately wants for him to go, but she can’t afford to send him. She can barely scrape together rent.
She’s in the bathroom at work one day when she hears the PA for Bank President and CEO, Vincenzo Tomasi, talking about how she has to find her boss a wife. Vincenzo, who goes by Enzu, has recently been given custody of his young niece and nephew after their parents died. Franca is four and Angilu just a baby, and the tycoon has exactly zero idea of how to raise them.
Being a billionaire Presents hero, he does the logical thing. He decides to buy a wife. Yeah, sure he could hire a nanny, but she’d be paid to love his niece and nephew and that would be wrong. It makes much more sense to find a decent woman and PAY HER TEN MILLION DOLLARS when the kids turn 18 for raising them.
If you see no difference between paying a nanny and paying a “wife,” then we’re in the same camp. But hey, I’m gonna roll with it.
So anyway, Audrey marches into Enzu’s office and applies for the job. Enzu is impressed by her moxy and entranced by her chocolate colored eyes. When he finds out how she cared for her brother he figures she’ll be a great candidate. Also he wants to bone her. He wasn’t going to require sexytimes with the new Mrs. but after seeing Audrey he’s adding it to the list of requirements.
Audrey also gives him an earful about how fucking stupid his plan is because—sing it with me—you can’t buy me (or the kids) love. She still goes along with it anyway because… I don’t know why. She does.
The rest of the book is more or less Audrey and Enzu testing their compatibility. She meets the children who are precious angels and they all get along famously. Toby and Enzu get along too. She tells Enzu she’s a virgin, even though she’s 27, and he’s even more infatuated (Presents heroes love them some virgins).
It was sweet and charming to see Enzu woo Audrey. I liked how their families came together, even if the transition felt too smooth to be real. Audrey convinces Enzu that the children need a father, not just a mother, and she starts teaching him to be a loving parent.
Then there was the crazy waterfall/jungle swimming pool sexytimes. The pool in the basement of Enzu’s palatial home puts the Playboy grotto to shame.
Lush foliage flourished under a wall-to-wall ceiling of full-spectrum light panels. The air was warm and humid, but comfortably so. A path of mosaic tiles the color of sand and earth wound through the tropical plants.
HE HAS A TROPICAL GARDEN IN HIS BASEMENT.
Also this time “garden” is not a euphuism for vagina. It’s literally a garden.
Anyway, there’s more:
[The waterfall] cascaded over an outcropping of rocks, splashing into a pool that looked at first glance like a natural body of water. Closer inspection revealed the tiled walls and base done in colors to emulate the dark brown silt found in a lake. Muted lighting glowed along the bottom to make swimming safe.
Bamboo loungers covered with thick cushions the color of caramel sat to one side of the pool. One looked like it could be used as a double bed, it was so wide.
One guess as to what happens on that lounger.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The more turned out to be a grotto, it’s manmade cave walls covered in moss, the ground, the small bubbling pool spongy with it as well. More flowers and abundant foliage grew on either side of the cave opening.
I hope that’s fake moss. Is there fake pool moss?
Anyway, if the crazy sex jungle pool scenario isn’t good enough for you, it STILL GETS BETTER.
Enzu has ocicats. I didn’t know what the hell an ocicat was (in fact, even as I typed ‘Enzu has ocicats’ I thought how much it sounds like some sort of ocular disease). An ocicat is not a dysfunction of the cornea or an STD but rather a domestic cat that resembles an ocelot.
He has ocelot cats.
Of course he fucking does.
And they aren’t just any ocicats, oh no, these are traumatized ocicats who were injured when their breeder’s business was broken into and Enzu rescued them or they would have been put down. Because who do you call when you’ve got three grievously wounded ocicats? The CEO of a bank, of course.
Thank you, Lucy Monroe. Thank you for bringing me ocicats and the jungle sex pool, and I mean that sincerely. It was glorious and I will never be the same.
My only issue with this book is that there wasn’t any real conflict. Audrey and Enzu get along from the beginning. Their families blend seamlessly. There are no skeletons in the closet. Enzu believes he’s entering into a marriage of convenience with Audrey, and she believes in love, but other than that, no drama. Presents has to have drama. Tons of drama. Ocicat-grotto-moss drama. C’mon!
The black moment was really just a light gray one, and everything was sorted out with a conversation. It was so easy it could have been a Hallmark movie.
Million Dollar Christmas Proposal didn’t exactly scratch the itch I was hoping for, but it did bring it in terms of crazysauce. If you like your melodrama light and your billionaires with exotic felines, this is the feel good holiday book for you. I just needed a little more angst.