Sharon Kendrick: Monarch of the Sands

So, Sheikh week continues. I may need detox soon. Also my husband, hugely amused by the titles of the categories I’m reading, keeps bringing back more of them.

Title: Monarch of the Sands
Author: Sharon Kendrick
Harlequin Presents
Published: February 2012
Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: Okay, first of all, Sharon Kendrick wrote The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl, so I was braced for…pretty much anything. But this one was over-the-top in traditional vintage-Harlequin style, sans lizards.

https://i0.wp.com/www.harlequin.com/media/images/books/0212-9780373130474-bigw.jpg
I love that cover image, possibly more than I should. I like her dress less every time I look at it, but everything else is perfect.
Okay, so: the heroine, Francesca (Frankie to almost everyone) has a huge house, a tiny income, and an obviously greedy-bastard fiance:
And didn’t that only reinforce Simon’s increasingly urgent suggestion that she sell the family home and the valuable land on which it stood? (p.9)

The reason she owns a valuable house and HUGE TRACTS OF LAND is that her now-deceased father, a scientist, was responsible for the discovery of oil in an imaginary kingdom, and the Sheikh of the kingdom rewarded them with the land. So Francesca has grown up knowing the Sheikh’s son (the current Sheikh), whom she adored and hero-worshipped whenever they swung by England to visit her father.

Frankie was a shy, mousy, geeky girl, scorned by her schoolmates and unschooled in the feminine arts of dressing attractively and wearing contacts, so once her father is dead she’s easy prey for Bastard Simon. She also thinks in homonyms:

The peeling of the doorbell galvanised her into life–and as she rushed to answer it she thought that wasn’t the only thing which was pealing. The walls badly needed painting. (p.9)

That’s…kinda weird, but I suppose it’s no stranger than the hero’s ability to check out both her front and back when she’s standing in the doorway and he’s outside on the doorstep:

He wanted to ask when had she developed such an amazing pair of breasts and a bottom which was curvier than a scimitar? (p.11)

Maybe we’re meant to picture her posing kind of side-on against the doorframe, like a teen girl taking a selfie, but that seems out of character for a shy, geeky heroine. Which she still is, inside, even if outside she’s been made over by bastard Simon:

He’d changed her from the geeky young woman who had walked so hesitantly into his life and made her into someone he wasn’t ashamed to be seen with. (p.35)

OUCH. Although the whole thing with Frankie being uncertain of her attractiveness, and having had a scientist father but no discernible job skills, gives this book a very vintage Harlequin feel.

The hero, Zahid–who is now the Sheikh–develops an instant case of sudden celibacy to signal his growing, ahem, attraction to Frankie.

Even when his sometime Russian lover Katya had arrived the other night–wearing nothing but a fur coat and a pair of tiny, crotchless panties–he had sent her away without making love to her? (p. 64)

So if she’s his sometime Russian lover, what is she the rest of the time? His Greek lover? His French lover? Do any of her other incarnations involve less cliched tacky clothing?

I was prepared to be totally on Zahid’s side here. I mean, Simon is a rat-bastard, who hired Frankie (and got engaged to her!) in order to get at her house, plus that whole “she wasn’t good enough until I made her over” thing was AWFUL, right?

Whereas Zahid takes them out to dinner, assesses the awfulness of Simon, has him investigated, presents Frankie with proof that Simon is horrible, and then…offers to create a job for her. Wait.

She initially turns him down and goes stomping off to confront Horrible Simon, but then changes her mind and takes Zahid up on the job offer, whereupon he…tells her he needs to buy her a whole new wardrobe.

Did he protect her from the truth, or did he give it to her straight? Zahid’s mouth hardened. Hadn’t she already been lied to enough by one man? And she would never learn about life’s harsh realities unless somebody taught her. He looked her straight in the eye. ‘There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, Francesca–other than that it’s cheap. He gave her a regretful shrug as he reached out to pick up the phone. ‘And I’m afraid that I don’t do cheap.’ (pp.70-71)

WOW. I get that I’m supposed to be impressed with his honesty in contrast to Simon’s dishonesty, but what’s actually coming across here is that she’s found yet an other bastard to teach her the valuable lesson that she isn’t good enough.

Luckily now that I hate Zahid it doesn’t come as a shock when, after they have dinner with his brother, he goes off on her for having had 1.5 glasses of wine and wearing a dress that he bought but which he now finds inappropriately…attractive.

‘Is this the way you behave when you go out for dinner with a man?’ he demanded. ‘Quaffing wine by the glass and wriggling around in the back of a car with a dress which looks at least a size too small?’ (p.84)

I absolutely HATE HIM but I am still amused by ‘quaffing wine by the glass’ because dude, what the fuck is she meant to drink it out of, a thimble? Also, she “quaffed” exactly one and a half glasses before he stopped her. Plus the “wriggling around” she’s doing? That was her attempting to rearrange her skirt–which, we are told, is ANKLE-LENGTH–after he barks at her to cover her legs. Which bewilders her, because only her ankles are showing. Which brings me back to my main point: I HATE HIM.

But he can’t help it, you see, because he is experiencing lust. No, really, here’s his explanation for how cruel and insane he’s been all evening:

‘It’s just that you have grown up into a beautiful and very desirable young woman–and I’m finding it difficult to know how to react to you.’ (p.91)

Also he thinks she isn’t a virgin, because she was engaged. Everyone knows you can treat non-virgins horribly, right? OMG I HATE HIM. He’s so MRA/PUA-ish that he’s got a metaphorical fedora on.

‘The trouble is that you’re no longer the innocent little girl I remember,’ he observed. ‘You’re a beautiful and experienced young woman who’s just come out of a bruising bust-up.’ (p. 93)

So he takes her away to his imaginary kingdom to give her a made-up job transcribing his father’s journals. She gets to see him in white robes, and suddenly is hit with the reality that he is a Sheikh. Then it gets even more weird because gosh, he has a cellphone!

–and beside her sat Zahid, his powerful body swathed in white silk, incongruously speaking into a mobile phone in his native tongue. (p. 99)

This is the second book I’ve hit now where the heroine finds it strange that the Sheikh hero has a cellphone. Memo: you can find freaking cellphones ALL OVER THE GLOBE, and the richer the guy you’re with, the more un-surprising it should be that he has one. Really. Get over it. I once saw the wife of a Band Council chief step outside after a funeral to take a call on her cell, in traditional-ish dress, and that was TEN YEARS AGO so your time for being startled that other people have cellphones is officially over, okay? Please.

He’s still on about the not-a-virgin thing:

She was wearing white–pure and virginal white–and he felt his body clench with instinctive jealousy. Did she not realize the bitter irony of her choice–she who no longer had the right to wear the traditional hue of innocence? (p. 103)

Creepy AND hypocritical, since he’s wearing white robes and whoring it up with women who’re sometimes Russian, but whatever. In its favour, the book is aware of the horrible double standards. The heroine is perturbed that her maid can’t go to university (women aren’t allowed to, in the imaginary kingdom) and that she can’t drive a car (ditto). So the book is trying to come to grips with the rampant inequalities.

But the hero, being horrible, takes Frankie’s interest in expanding the rights of women in his country as–wait for it–a sign he should bone her.

Who was he trying to protect by not making love to her–when she was clearly a feisty woman who had made it plain that she despised inequality? (p.120-121)

I’ll just wait here while you reread that a few times and let the sheer awfulness sink in. This man is the HERO.

So, they have The Sex and he realizes he has made a mistake.

Urgently he thrust inside her–but the warning bells rang too late. It happened before Zahid properly realised what was happening–before his disbelieving senses could piece together all the facts. The brief barrier. The momentary resistance to his deep thrust before he broke through…. (p. 128)

That entire scene is funnier if you imagine literal warning bells going off. It also helps if, like me, you misread ‘brief  barrier’ as ‘barrier reef’ and are temporarily at a complete geographical loss.

So. The Sheikh is displeased that he has de-virginated a woman he cannot marry because she is foreign.

And to make matters worse she had given him her virginity–the greatest gift a woman could give her lover. (p. 137)

Okay then. SO he makes her his mistress for a while, but Frankie–who is in love with him for reasons that utterly escape me–decides she has to end it before they get bitter and jaded, and walks away. Well, flies away really, since she returns to England.

But lo! He realizes he loves her too, and that he can change the laws so that he can marry her after all. He shows up at her house on Christmas Eve to tell her this.

Frankie has enough backbone to hold out until he promises to reform the laws around the whole driving-and-university situation too, because she will not live in a place where women are treated that badly. So I like her for that, even though it smacks of “you need a foreigner to fix your backward country for you.” Because while I don’t know what the solution is to inequalities in Middle Eastern countries, I’m pretty sure ‘marry more Englishwomen’ isn’t it.

Active Ingredients:
British-educated Sheikh
Imaginary Country/Kingdom
Desperately Poor Heroine (Orphaned Variety)
Deceased Scientist Father
Horrible Fiance
Friends to Lovers
A Girl Called Frankie
Not Like the Other Girls
Suddenly Celibate
Hero Insults Heroine by Refusing to Believe she is a Virgin
…Do Sheikhs Wear Fedoras?
Maybe He’s Muslim?
Other People Have Cellphones?!
I Shall Help You FIX Your Backward Land!
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Maisy Yates: Forged in the Desert Heat

Title: Forged in the Desert Heat
Author: Maisy Yates
Harlequin Presents
Published: January 2014
Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One:  The hero was a NON-RAPEY Alpha male. And also a sheikh.
This is easily the best sheikh romance I have read. (Is it weird that I’ve read enough Sheikh romances for that to be a thing?)

https://i2.wp.com/www.harlequin.com/media/images/books/0114-9780373132096-bigw.jpg
Okay. Engaged to the Sheikh of one imaginary country, Ana(lise) Christensen is ransomed by the Sheikh of the neighbouring imaginary country from the thieves who kidnapped her. Got all that? Good.
He can’t just hand her over or let anyone know that the nomadic thieves of his country were the kidnappers, because relations between the two countries are tense to the point of brink-of-war, and he is hugely unpopular in his own country because his uncle–the dissolute and recently deceased former Sheikh–blamed him for the death of his parents, and I guess…everyone believed him? Although not the poorer people; the nomads have stuck by the hero as they jointly defended themselves against the uncle’s attacks.
So the hero, Zafar Nejem, is temporarily stuck with her, and he brings her to the palace while he figures out how to hand her back to her fiance. But not in a rape-y way! Even though they share a tent for a night, his heart is pure
Fiancee or not, a man who would take advantage of a woman in her position was the basest of creatures. (p. 43-44)

That’s from the hero’s POV. I seriously love him. (And we aren’t even at the part where he admits the only book he ever owned was Pride and Prejudice. I may have screamed a little at that point.)

It’s not a one-off, either. He’s consistently non-rapey and also non-seduce-y.

“Sweet young virgins are fine for some, but not for me. I don’t have any interest in seducing women and breaking hearts. It’s not how I am.” (p.75)

There’s the usual blah, blah, desert, blah, blah, flowing robes that goes with the subgenre, including the hilarious moment when the heroine realizes other people have cellphones too:

He reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out…a cellphone.. Ana felt like she’d just been given whiplash. Everything about Zafar seemed part of another era. The man had ridden a freaking black stallion through the city streets, and now he was making a call on a cellphone. (p. 47)

Uh, yes? They have those everywhere now, sweetie.

Does that “a freaking black stallion” sound tonally weird to anyone else? She’s supposed to be a Texan oil tycoon’s daughter, the product of Eastern finishing schools, but her interior thoughts sound…I don’t know, slangier than I’d have expected. For instance, here she is thinking about the fact that her fiance has kept her disappearance out of the newspapers:

 She knew there was probably a reason, and it wasn’t that he didn’t care, just that it was strategy. Like the strategy that Zafar was employing. Greater good and all. She was just one girl. She wasn’t worth uprooting national security over or anything. And stuff. (p.74)

This is a beauty and the beast retelling, so Zafar hits on the idea of having her “civilize” him. He’s been in the desert for fifteen years, so his manners (and tolerance for bullshit) aren’t what they need to be now that he has to claim the throne and carry out diplomatic negotiations. Which is odd, because in spite of that exclusive-boarding-school education she seems to have no idea how to behave around, oh, the leader of a foreign country.

“And yet, I lack charm, you must admit.”

“Yeah, okay, you lack charm a little bit.” (p. 77)

She just blurts out whatever’s on her mind, regardless of his position or the manners of his country:

“It’s just…I name my pets.”

“My horse,” he bit out, “is not a pet. Do you name your cars?”

“No. But I mean…people do. Some men even name their…” (p.78) 

So, anyway. Miss Overinformative there knows about salad forks, so she’s hired. They’re terribly attracted to each other, and their childhood traumas kind of match up, so there’s a lot of longing and throbbing and whatnot. And then this terribly, terribly romantic bit:

Even then, she wouldn’t be for him. All he could ever do with a flower was bruise the petals.

A flower would wither and die out in the desert. And he wasn’t just from the desert; the desert was in him. And his touch would only burn her. (p. 83)

A whole book written in that over-the-top romancelandian language would drive me around the bend, but in short bursts like that I adore it. (Also, dude? Cactus flowers are totally a thing, fyi.)

It’s odd how in Sheikh romances you almost never see words like “Muslim” or “Islam.” It’s like the white robes and horses and camels and tents and sand are all part of the fantasy, and “women are forbidden to do such-and-such in my country” is okay, but it’s taboo to mention this one big reality that goes along with the setting. This book comes closer than a lot of them by hinting that maybe he’s Muslim (maybe it’s Maybelline):

“Fact of life, Zafar, everyone likes bacon. Turkey bacon, by the way, in case you have any dietary restrictions.”

“I am not so devout,” he said. (p. 93)

I wonder what would happen if anyone came right out in a Sheikh romance and said the hero was Muslim?  Would it render the book unmarketable?

Anyway, it ends happily, with the heroine confronting her childhood-induced fears of deviating from everyone else’s plans for her and gently breaking off her engagement. She extracts a very clever promise from her ex-fiance which basically ensures peace between the two countries, and returns to her chosen Gypsy Sheikh (and I am never ever ever given any hint of why he is called that. I mean, presumably it’s because he was nomadic for fifteen years, but…why would you call him a Gypsy if your own culture has nomads? Why isn’t he the Nomadic Sheikh or the Bedouin Sheikh or something?).


Active Ingredients:
Imaginary Country/Kingdom
Kidnapped!
Non-Rape-y Hero
Ransomed by the Gypsy Sheikh
Maybe He’s Muslim?
Circumstantially Celibate
Other People Have Cellphones?!
Extraction of a Clever Promise

Kieran Kramer: Say Yes to the Duke (House of Brady)

I wasn’t expecting to like this one as much as I did. It’s a “high concept” romance–in this case, historical Brady Bunch romance–and I bought it because I was in the mood for something light and fluffy. I’ve read the first one (Loving Lady Marcia), and I remember liking-but-not-loving it, so I expected something similar.
And it was similar, of course, but I LOVED it.

One of the things that frequently goes unspoken in historical romances* is that all these “good matches” were an economic necessity for women. It’s more of a background assumption than something explicitly stated. Even when the thing keeping the lovers apart is class-based (“Oh, but I am only a scullery maid, and can never marry Lord Thing!” or whatever), the words “money” and “power” seldom cross the heroine’s mind.

Except Janice (of the House of Brady–I am still getting a tiny kick out of the whole Brady thing) that knows that money and power are at the root of her problems. Her reputation–the one source
of power/marketability she controls–has been tarnished, and she sees quite clearly that marrying the Duke will fix that.

And she says so, explicitly.

To the hero.

She dropped her hands. “Because I’m tired of having no power. He’s a duke. He has plenty. And he can share it.” She let a beat of silence pass. “I know you thought I was after him when I arrived this afternoon. But I wasn’t.”

“Then why are you now? Don’t you have a great deal of influence already, as the daughter of a marquess? Why do you suddenly want more?”

Her face took on a closed expression. “I have very little control over my own fate. And as for why I need more power, I won’t discuss it, other than to say that I heard something today which changed everything for me. It made me realize that I have to take my future into my own hands. Which is why I’ll throw my hat into the ring.” ….

…. “What if I am like the others?” She looked at him with accusing eyes. “Who are you to judge? If a woman is scheming, it’s because she’s trying to survive.” (pp. 111-112)

 

I loved that scene, and I was in her corner from that point on.

The Duke is an interesting villain: sexually kinky, worried about having that kinkiness damage his reputation in society, willing to take advantage of women without options to satisfy his urges–and yet ultimately, the damaged product of his own father’s evil actions. You could almost see him transplanted to another genre and offered redemption. Fifty Shades of Duke, anyone?

*Of course it goes Even More Unspoken in contemporary romances, because now it is no longer supposed to be the case that women marry for money–even though for most women, the financial difference between being married and staying single is huge. It’d be interesting to read some romances that are blunt about that. I MUST FIND SOME.

The Prim Nurse’s Helpless-but-Rapey Rich Dude

This was one of those that just didn’t work for me. At all. It was competently written, and I would read this author again (out of curiousity if nothing else), but this one…no.

Title: The Tycoon’s Delicious Distraction
Author: Maggie Cox
 Harlequin Presents
Published: January 2014
Reasons I might actually remember this one: I know I called her a nurse, but she’s really a home health care worker–which is what you’d more typically hire now, I guess. Still, in some ways it had the “feel” of one of those romances from the 60s or 70s where a private nurse falls in love with a member of the household where she’s working.
It didn’t altogether gel for me, because the extended “I am not from the right background to marry this rich privileged dude” agonizing belonged in the past (or the heroine belonged in therapy; one or the other). Also the sheer lecture-y/bossy vibe the heroine gave off was annoying at best, and downright enraging at one point.

All right. So the heroine is a pale, redheaded half-gypsy who has trouble trusting men because her childhood was spent watching her mother get dumped by a series of losers. The heroine, we are told, never talks about her past, keeps her professional life at the forefront of her goals, and has an excellent reputation at the agency that employs her even though she isn’t as well-educated as she’d like. She has had one previous sexing, from a man she found out after the fact was married, so that reconfirmed her determination to steer clear of men, conduct herself professionally with clients, and save up to someday have her own apartment.
The hero was born into wealth, will inherit the family estate, is rich on his own merits anyway as a music producer, and is a “daredevil” who climbs mountains and whatever. (I had to double-check what he was supposed to be rich from doing, because his career plays NO role in this apart from 1) being a source of puzzlement/estrangement from his father and 2) providing a hilariously evil former business partner who shows up ONCE but is my favourite character in this.).
Goaded on by Evil Former Partner he indulged in a skiing race and broke his leg so badly that he is confined to a wheelchair and requires a home health care worker. They’re attracted to each other, whatever whatever.
But THEN, just when I was getting bored, it suddenly turns into a regency for a few pages:

Her eyes were as blue as the brightest delphiniums that Mother Nature could devise, and her rosy cheeks and full red lips would surely tempt even the most devout monk to rethink his vows. Kissing them would be like tasting the sweetest ripe cherries he could imagine.

“Henry, are you all right?”

The most exquisite little frown he had ever seen puckered Kit’s smooth alabaster brow. She must have put a spell on him. He had a creative mind, but never before in his entire romantic history to date had he thought of a woman’s frown as being ‘exquisite.’ (pp. 68-69)

So now the poor bastard has a broken leg plus a severe secondary infection of Regency Fever. This leads directly to my favourite scene in the book, when they’re having lunch and the Evil Former Partner slinks over, but first, the heroine has to be Briefly Irish:

“So it’s a ‘poor invalid’ you are now, is it?” (p.74)

She never talks like this again, so I have no idea either. None.

Anyhow: on the the restaurant. Hal has Kit make them reservations for lunch. It is either the third or the fourth day she’s been working for him (I lost track). Suddenly, Evil Former Partner shows up. He sneers a little bit about having baited Hal into having a skiing accident, and then Hal’s Regency Fever breaks out again.

Ignoring the slightly pudgy hand held out before him in greeting, he took his time in touching his linen napkin to his lips, then emitted a weary sigh. ‘If your aim was to ruin my day by appearing like this then you’re wasting your time, Simon. That skiing accident on the Aspen slopes confirmed the realization I already had about you…of what a conniving, merciless little weasel you are.’ (p. 84)

Hal is at least semi-aware that he has Regency Fever:

In another era Simon Rigden would have been known as a reprehensible louche, he was certain. (p. 85)

Then, predictably, Simon hits on Kit. You know how in bad Harry Potter fanfiction there are often those scenes where Hermione (or an Original Female Character) says something not-at-all witty to Draco, and everyone falls all over themselves telling her how she’s cut him down? This felt a lot like that:

‘It’s all right, Henry, I can deal with this.’ Calmly taking a sip of her orange juice, with both men staring at her in mute fascination, Kit followed up this remark with another confident assertion. ‘I’d rather take my chances in a pool of  piranhas than waste even a second of my time on an unsavoury character like you, Mr…er…?’ Coolly she picked up the business card that had been so insultingly flung down in front of her and read the name on it out loud. ‘Mr. Simon Rigden.’ Pinning  him with a direct and frosty glare, she finished, ‘You can be sure I’ll remember that, if I’m ever interviewed as a witness when Mr. Treverne takes you to court on charges of harassment. One thing’s for sure–it won’t enhance your reputation.’ (pp. 86-87)

I laughed myself to tears the first time I read that, and I’m laughing again now. She sounds like a really, really indignant fourth-grade student.

But faced with her, uh, wrath, Evil Former Partner flounces, and Kit info dumps her whole background story in Hal’s lap by way of explaining why she’s so good at dealing with horrible men just like the ones mother used to date. And Hal thinks “It explained a lot about why she was so guarded and self-contained…” and I damned near threw the book at a wall. DUDE. She has known you for three or four days. YOU ARE HER EMPLOYER. A woman who spills her innermost thoughts and childhood trauma in her new client’s lap on the fourth day of work is neither guarded nor self-contained. Jesus.

Sometimes the book lapses so far into Retro Nurse Romance Land that the characters start sounding even more insanely unreal than usual:

Flustered, she hurried across to the door and opened it. ‘Oh, I don’t know….Abseiling out of the window, perhaps? One thing’s for sure: if there’s any mischief to be found you’re just the man to find it…intrepid thrill-seeker that you are!’ (p.92)

If I heard someone talking to a grown man like that, I would assume she had a head injury, or had escaped from a particularly bad children’s book. But she sounds like this a LOT, and I have the uncomfortable feeling it’s because the character thinks the way you deal with sick/injured people is by talking to them as though they are six.

That feeling was heightened by the most infuriating scene in the book, when she grabs his newspaper from him:

The household tasks completed, Kit moved across the kitchen to where Hal sat perusing the newspaper. Without asking his permission, she plucked it out of his hands. ‘Hey! What do you think you’re doing?’ His expression was furious.

‘You said you wanted to go out, remember? You can read the newspaper when we get back.’ (p. 129)

SERIOUSLY. I would fire her so fast. But the hero is by now attached to her, because they have had a couple of kisses, and also sex.

Their first sexing happens when she runs to his bedroom because she hears him falling out of bed, and by the time she mentions the silk sheets and then that he’s wearing only silk boxers I was in convulsions picturing him slipping around. With that combo he’s lucky he merely fell out of bed; it’s a wonder he didn’t shoot clear across the room.

During sex she is…hilarious.

‘Do you really need to ask? Don’t you think I’d be wary of men after what happened? Being deceived like that made me feel dirty. I never want to experience such a feeling again, and it made me more aware than ever that relationships shouldn’t be a priority–that I should just focus on trying to make a better life for myself. That was and still is my priority. Shall I get the protection for you?’ (pp. 109-110)

I can’t speak for men, but I’d actually expect that little speech to wilt anyone’s boner beyond the point where protection is needed.

I need to back up a bit, though, because before the sex scenes there’s a kissing scene that reads like an example of How Not to Consent. The heroine doesn’t say yes; she just sort of freezes, so he moves in and kisses her. And I understand that she’s meant to want him to, but…that’s not what the actual words say. Plus the context is that she’s been hired to, among other things, keep him company when he watches movies, so it’s not like she’s sitting on the couch with him in some sort of date context. It’s part of her job, and she’s already responded to one kiss (after his bath) by telling him he shouldn’t have done that. Being in close proximity to him–like when she’s HELPING HIM BATHE–is something she has to do, not something she chooses to do, so I would have liked to see more unequivocal consent than this:

Moistening her suddenly dry lips with her tongue, she made herself ask, ‘What kind of experiment are you talking about?’

Hal’s glance was unwaveringly direct.

‘I want to kiss you, Katherine with a K. Properly this time. And I want you to kiss me back. If neither of us enjoy the experience then there’s no harm done. We’ll simply carry on as before. I want to reassure you that there’s no danger of your job being jeopardized. I give you my word on that. You’ll stay until our arrangement naturally comes to an end–when I’m completely mobile again. Agreed?’

The silence that followed this inflammatory statement was deafening. (p. 96)

Silence does not equal consent.

Look, I know when you’re reading a Harlequin Presents a certain kind of Alpha Male comes with the territory, and I generally Set Expectations To Stunned going in. But usually, no matter how much “I take what I want!” dialogue the hero spews, there’s enough of the heroine’s point of view to make it very clear that she’s consenting. I can live with “force me to do that thing I actually secretly want to do” in fiction.

But Kit’s interior monologue didn’t do enough to make me feel comfortable here. She thinks about how he’s like a mirage when you’re in the desert, only maybe the mirage is real; then she thinks about how she has his permission to enjoy touching him now, instead of to “just tend to his practical needs as she usually did,” (p. 97) and the whole thing has more of a vibe of “eh, I guess so” then “yes.”

Then she tells him they’ve crossed a line she never wanted to cross with a client, and so that first sex scene when she runs in to help him because he’s fallen out of bed kind of plays into a pattern of him hitting on her while she’s trying to do her job. It skeeved me out a little. Okay, a lot.

Later they visit his father and there is Reconciliation and then Hal proposes to her while assuring her she’s good enough, but by then I was bored.

Active Ingredients:
Vaguely Medical (Home Health Care Worker)
Retro Nurse Romance Land
Invalid Falls for Nurse
Nurse Knows Best
Unenthusiastic Lack-of-Consent
Hero Estranged from Father
Reconciliation
Seething Class Tensions
Can I Get You a Condom?