The Beautiful Bastard in question is Bennett Ryan, a young executive poised to take over his family’s media empire. Bennett is young, ridiculously attractive, and a giant dickbag. He’s a hardass who has a reputation for treating his employees badly. Not like North Korean prison camp badly, but he expects everyone to devote their entire lives to work and to not make any mistakes ever and to have no personal lives or interests.
His intern is MBA student Chloe Mills, quite the badass herself. Chloe is a classic over-achiever. She’s working on a marketing proposal to present to her scholarship committee in order to graduate with honors. Chloe has been working at Ryan Media for a long time, and Bennett’s dad and brother look at her like family. They trust her with a million dollar account for her project. Bennett is the only one who doesn’t like her.
That’s because he’s too busy slamming doors and being caustic and criticizing her handwriting to appreciate the fact that he has an incredibly competent and motivated assistant.
This would have been an F book had Chloe not been able to hold her own with Bennett. She’s downright rude to him occasionally, calling him on his bullshit, and not tolerating any of his unfair criticism. Chloe is tough as nails and not impressed by Bennett’s intimidation tactics. She also finds him super hot, which is why she dubs him “the beautiful bastard” to her friends.
Now, I’m of the belief that Hot + Asshole still equals Asshole. So one night when Bennett and Chloe are alone in a conference room and he starts to fondle her?
This is when my sexual harassment alarm went off full volume. BEE DOO BEE DOO BEE DOO
Instead of punching him in the balls and calling HR, Chloe and Bennett diffuse some of their pent up sexual attraction by fucking against the floor-to-ceiling window. As you do (I immediately thought of the poor facilities maintenance staff member who would be squeegeeing butt cheek smudges off the glass on Monday).
Anyway, the “I-hate-you-but-I-need-to-put-my-penis-in-you” theme continues. They spar at work, cutting each other apart verbally, glaring at each other, and then against their better judgment, start ripping each other’s clothes off. This is definitely a Fight ‘em and Fuck ‘em book or Slap-Slap Kiss-Kiss, whatever you prefer.
As the smexing continues, Bennett starts to see Chloe as—get this—a real person with real feelings. And he gets jealous at the thought of her with someone else, and we all know jealousy is the number one sign a romantic hero is about to fall in love. “I don’t even like your stupid face, but you can’t date nobody but me!” Right.
I really didn’t like the first half of the book. I would have stopped reading it except I used a precious, golden Audible credit on it and I wasn’t squandering that. Also I started getting more into the book in the second half.
Eventually Chloe and Bennett go to a conference together, and away from everyone else they start to open up and like each other more. They each realize they are falling in love, but are terrified the other person won’t reciprocate. By this time Chloe clearly has the upper hand over Bennett emotionally, and his yearning to have her love him back was great. But the last third of the book didn’t make up for all the other things that bothered me.
So why is this a bad book for me? I work in a male-dominated industry, and I am often the only woman in the room. When Bennett touched Chloe’s ass in the conference room I wasn’t thinking “Oh yum, sexy boss forbidden affair time!” I was thinking “PUNCH HIM IN THE NUTS, CHLOE!” I’ve been alone with too many dudes in too many conference rooms to read that scene and not think of how horrifically bad it could have gone.
Bennett has the power in their relationship. If things fall apart with Chloe, even though their relationship was consensual, she’s always going to be the intern who screwed her boss, and he will get by largely unscathed. Even if Chloe were the boss, and Bennett the intern, she’s going to be boss who screwed her intern, and the other interns will be buying him shots later.
EVEN IF THEY FALL IN LOVE AND GET MARRIED the specter of “fucking the boss” is going to cloud her entire career.
Here’s the sad, ranty truth. Women aren’t allowed to have vaginas at work.
If we date our coworkers even our peers, we bear the sexual stigma.
If we’re pissed off or crabby people joke about us being on our periods.
If we have kids, it’s expected we can’t still commit to the same level of work we did before. No vaginas in the office please.
I am usually the youngest person in the room too which makes it worse. I’ll go into conference rooms and it will be assumed I am there to refill the coffee and/or get lunch orders. Over the years I’ve had to learn to put on a “do-not-fuck-with-me-I-am-all-bidnez” front and dress more professionally than my peers so people get it.
Recently I had a male executive—and one of my customers—lecture me on my decision not to have kids. He asked if I had any, I said no. He asked why not and while I wanted to say “because none of your fucking business that’s why not,” I said “We don’t plan on having children.” That’s the appropriate end of the discussion there, but instead I heard about why I’d regret that decision for the rest of my life because kids were the bestest thing ever. I stood their smiling and imagined laser beams shooting out of my eyes and melting his face. He might have had that same conversation with a man, I have no idea. Maybe he really believes children are our future. Who the fuck knows. The point is, I am just too aware of the sexual politics of work to enjoy this book.
Lauren does bring this up occasionally. Chloe knows she’s putting herself at risk by sleeping with Bennett, but she just needs his peen so bad she can’t help herself. Bennett kind of gets it. As he falls for Chloe he starts to realize how much of an impact this could have on her life—but the fact that he had to love her to really intellectually understand that pissed me off.
Also Bennett never really reforms and we’re never given a good reason for him being an asshole. He’s just an asshole. He learns how to be nice to Chloe, but I was pretty sure he’d terrorize the next intern he got. I kept thinking, even if they wind up HEA and he’s nice to her, Chloe will still be making apologies for Bennett being a dick to other people. I’d be embarrassed by him socially, quite frankly.
And that’s the other thing, this book, to an extent, perpetuates the myth that you have to be an assbag to be a great executive/leader/boss. Nothing is farther from the truth. Unfortunately that myth is still so prevalent, people who really need to go back to fucking kindergarten and learn sharing and saying thanking you and not using mean words often get promoted because they’re “tough.” I’ve had amazing bosses who were also just genuinely nice people. They cared about their employees as people, and as a result those employees would bust ass for them.
I don’t know if the authors (it’s two people writing as Christina Laurens) had a lot of experience in the corporate world. Certain details about Chloe’s MBA program or their marketing strategies were detailed and felt very authentic. Unfortunately Bennett was a big, glowing, red stereotype, a throw-back to the early Harlequin Presents boss heroes who were douchebags that later reformed because of the transformative powers of their secretary’s hymen.
I’d be willing to try the author again, especially because the writing is well done (the characters have their own distinct voices), but not an office romance. Beautiful Bastard just wasn’t for me.