I seriously doubt that any summer experience can possibly be more delightful than sitting on the beach while reading The Pirate’s Secret Baby. It’s not a deep book but is sure is a lot of fun, especially if you read it while sitting on bath towel in the sand.
In The Pirate’s Secret Baby, Captain Robert St. Armand wakes up from a lovely evening at his favorite brothel only to be greeted by a dowdy governess, Lydia Burke. Lydia tells Robert that he had a child with his mistress, and that mistress is now dead, and therefore he is to raise the child. The upshot is that the pirate’s secret baby is secret for approximately five seconds of the book, since to Robert’s credit he never doubts the child’s parentage or tries to duck his responsibility towards her. The cover makes it look as though Robert is a zombie or possibly just really stoned, but he’s human, sober most of the time, and very intelligent, although not so much when he first wakes up in the morning. This would be a great cover (love the boat) if it didn’t have a stoned zombie man in the corner.
Basically, Lydia (the governess) quits, and Robert has to take the plot moppet, who he promptly nicknames Marauding Mattie, on his ship back to England. Robert wants Lydia to stay on as governess and she refuses because she says she can’t return to England, ever. So Robert kidnaps her, as one does. Incidentally, Mattie is described as being eight in the book but she acts more like a six year old. As a six year old she’s quite well written. I enjoyed her antics greatly.
This is the kind of book in which all the prostitutes are happy (when they are with the dashing Captain, at least) and all pirates who are not command officers are big old teddy bears (metaphorically). While there is much cold-blooded discussion of theft and murder no one ever does anything violent. The book is utterly ridiculous and utterly fun. It’s completely insane but you could do far worse than immerse yourself in a fantasy in which pirates have tea parties with plot moppets while they sew you gorgeous garments that you are too proud to accept but ultimately cannot resist. The weather on the ship is almost always fair and you cabin is filled with luxurious throw pillows, as though you are on a cruise sponsored by Pier One Imports. You could easily replace the words “Beach Read” with the words The Pirate’s Secret Baby.
Despite the high level of escapist whimsy here, Lydia and Robert both have depth, which grounds the story. Even though the set up of the story is pure fantasy, they have real issues to work through and somewhat to my amazement they ended up working things out in a pretty realistic way. When the payoff finally comes, when Lydia finally gets Robert to respect her autonomy, it was absolutely thrilling, especially since by that time in the books I had given up on it ever happening. Robert is one stubborn guy, with an undercurrent of insecurity and an overlay of entitlement. What keeps him attractive is that he really does tend to do, or try to do, the right thing. He is responsible to the people in his care, children and adults, and that goes a long way towards making him a loveable rogue as opposed to a stubborn pig.
I could complain about how this book is not historically accurate, but that would be missing the point of the book, clearly. This book obviously takes place in an alternate universe and I was perfectly content to enjoy it. I had a bigger problem with the old school elements of the story. I am so, so over heroines being grateful and having warm fuzzy feelings towards men who don’t forcibly rape them. You don’t get extra points for not meeting the lowest possible standards of human decency, even if you are a pirate captain. I hated the lower level sexual harassment (Robert steals Lydia’s ugly caps so that he can look at her hair) and the more egregious sexual harassment (he walks in on her when she’s in the bathtub and refuses to leave).
I did enjoy Lydia’s comebacks, though. When she finally gets out of the bathtub to get a towel, she points out to him that the water is quite cold now and he may wish to make use of it. When he growls, “I have sailed to the Orient. I know sixty different points on your body, my dear little governess, where I can bring you to screaming fulfillment using only my mouth and my tongue”, here’s what happens:
Her eyes widened and her hand fluttered up to her throat. She slowly licked her lips, the tip of her own tongue darting out wetly. He hardened further at the sight and he schooled his face so his triumph would not show. He had her now.
“Really?” she asked throatily. “You can count to sixty?”
HARRRRRR! I heart Lydia so very much!
The reason that I’m giving this book a pretty high grade despite the harassment is that there is a fine line between what is sexy fantasy and what is infuriating and icky, and this line is different for every person. I hate, hate, hate the “I will keep pushing you until you finally say yes, which will totally count as consent even though I pestered you for weeks” style of seduction, but as I understand that it’s a pretty standard old school thing. This story is quite clearly PRETEND. If your fantasy is that a hot guy will pursue you because you are too lovely to resist, then fantasize away, and I recommend this book to you for all your fantasizing needs. If anyone pulls that kind of crap on you in real life, get a restraining order or, if it’s an actual pirate and you have a galley available, I’d suggest making strategic use of a frying pan. If you’re saying, “Well, he could have raped me but he didn’t”, then you are setting WAAAAY too low a bar.
Although the seductive elements left me either cold or irritated, there were plenty of sexy times in the book in which boundaries were respected, and they were emotionally moving, sometimes very funny, and sexy as well. Lydia is not a virgin, nor is she ashamed of meeting her own needs. She has toys! For herself! There’s no slut shaming – neither Lydia nor Robert’s late mistress is ever judged for having engaged in sex and having liked it. I thought I knew for sure why Lydia couldn’t return to England and the truth defied cliché and led to several absolutely delightful scenes. There are also a lot of moments all through the book in which Robert and Lydia drop the power struggle that consumes them and they simply enjoy being together. Robert doesn’t respect Lydia’s boundaries, but he has great respect for her as an intelligent, strong, resourceful person. Lydia is clear-headed about Robert’s flaws, but she always sees the best in him. That’s what made me root for them as a couple. I love this line:
She’d never believed a good woman could change a bad man, but a flawed man could change himself into a person a flawed woman could stand behind.
Grading this is an exercise in futility, because it’s quite clearly a love it or hate it book. It shoots for an escapist fantasy and on the whole I think it excels, especially if you can tolerate the slightly old school seduction scenes. Sometimes I wanted to give it an A+ and sometimes an D, and they tended to be based on subjective criteria. I'm rounding to a mileage may vary B. For best results, read it on the beach!