If Candy can’t bring herself to read it, I’m in such deep trouble.
And yup, this book pretty much irritated the shit out of me right from the get-go.
Calantha, Duchess of Clairborne is the reclusive and quiet widow of what had to have been a right bastard of a husband. She was monstrously abused on an emotional and physical level by her late dickhead of a Duke, and he effectively isolated her from everyone who might have helped or befriended her.
Jared, Viscount Ravenswood (and how is THAT for typical “Animal + Item found in Nature” aristocratic title?) is asked by his childhood friend Mary to bring Mary’s daughter to Calantha. After making this bizarre request, Mary dies. Jared would rather cut off several key parts of his anatomy than deal with Calantha, because Calantha’s late husband was responsible for Mary’s daughter. He raped Mary while she was a servant in his household. Jared assumes that Calantha knew of the assault and did nothing to help Mary. And of course, doesn’t every hero in an annoying romance leap wide valleys of misconception in a single bound?
But don’t stop there with the assumptions. Society as a whole, and thus in the beginning Calantha as well, all assume that Mary’s daughter is Jared’s child, since, well, the child does call him “Papa.” Easy misunderstanding to create. And he does nothing to correct the situation, and allows people to ostracize him, and potentially the young girl, because of the rumor. He’s definitely putting that on his “Father of the Year” application form.
You can see where this is going: hero beset by over-developed sense of honor and duty brings exceptionally precocious and saccharine child to heroine, assuming she is a monstrous person and of course His Dick cannot deny His Attraction to The Harlot Slut Bitch Queen of Evil. Abused, socially reticent heroine tries to balance fear of men with Overwhelming and Weeping (and you know where the weeping is going on, don’t you? I thought so) Attraction for the hero, who assumes the worst of her. And since her self-esteem is about yay-big, she pretty much accepts his derision as her due.
As far as the plot goes, the tension was mostly angst and pathos that wasn’t well sustained through the novel. Jared gets over his misconceptions rather quickly and marries Calantha, despite her many protests that she can’t marry again, oh noes, oh noes! The antagonist to their relationship is not as mysterious as one might think, and once Jared and Calantha marry, which happens smack in the middle of the novel, the plot of the novel rests on the villain’s attempts to ruin or kill Calantha, and the happy couple’s attempts to discover who the villain is. Sadly, there’s a lack of potential enemies in the ancillary characters, so picking out the culprit was rather easy work.
But what really made this book the pleasurable wall banging experience that it was were some howler moments too good not to share. Here are the items that made me stop reading this book in the middle. Spoilers Ahoy.
1. Writing such as the following:
The duchess was as responsible… for Mary’s desperate predicament. Jared could not forget that, no matter how bloody innocent she seemed.
No matter how much he wanted her.
Just hit me over the head with it. That same sentiment is expressed repeatedly. Just in case you forget. Calantha = scheming whore who caused the death of Mary, and Jared is angry about that, except that he also wants to bone Calantha into the middle of next week. Such a predicament.
2. At one point, Calantha debates with herself furiously because she is jealous that Hannah, the little girl, is Jared’s daughter by adoption: “The child that should have been Calantha’s.”
This is so fucked up on so many levels I don’t know where to start. Calantha just learned that her late husband raped Mary, begetting Hannah and prompting Mary to run away from their household to the safety of Jared’s estate. And Calantha has spent many, many pages wringing her hands and attempting to preserve her icy reserve and detachment because the abuse of that late husband has left her unable to trust men, or people in general.
So thus Calantha weeps that Hannah should have been hers… instead of the bastard daughter of her late husband, who raped his defenseless employee. Never mind that her husband HELLO RAPED YOUR SERVANT but the child that resulted from that assault, that child should have been Calantha’s.
Oh holy shit. This woman is batshit.
3. Precocious child alert! Seriously, nauseating child who I felt sorry for, as she’d been orphaned, but had a hard time tolerating when she says stuff like the following passage:
“Papa said that you are going to be my mama, and he is my papa. I want a mama again, but I still love my first mama. Papa said that was all right.”
3.5 And what precocious child would be complete without a Virgin Widow?! Calantha? Untouched? Like, duh. And guess why? Her late rapist husband said she was too frigid. Funny how wood can be frigid.
4. But oh, Lord have mercy, then there’s my very favorite part of this book. Blissfully for me, it came early on, and it was so funny I had to bite my lips to keep from howling out loud on the bus:
Calantha watched the huge man cross the small ballroom toward her with both anticipation and dread. His black and white evening clothes clung alarmingly to his well-muscled, oversized body.
His clothes clung…alarmingly? What the almighty hell? His shirt is screeching at him?
I asked Candy, and she and I immediately identified the need for a terror alert level associated with just how alarmingly the hero’s clothing might be clinging. It really is a pubic, I mean public service, should you, the reader, be unaware of the danger of a hero’s alarmingly clinging clothing. Think of the children.