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?

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