June 2008, Series Romance
Harl Presents #2734, $4.75, 192 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373127340
I've been on somewhat of a Harlequin Presents glom recently, but Kate Walker's Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife effectively put an end to it. Though I've liked Walker before - Sicilian Husband is my favorite by the author - this one went so far over the top as to be almost entirely ridiculous.
When Raul Marcín appears at the hospital, he discovers Alannah Redfern beside herself with grief after the death of her brother Chris, and can't help but comfort her, even though the two have been estranged for two years. Once engaged, Alannah broke it off with her first and only lover when their failure to actually communicate led her to believe that he wanted to marry her solely as a brood mare. Naturally, she told Raul she was leaving him for another man, and in his pride, he confirmed her worst suspicions about the union.
He himself has come to the hospital because his sister Lorena died in a car crash. It isn't until he takes Alannah home that she is able to get the truth out. Her brother and Raul's sister were deeply in love, and died together in that car accident, with Chris at the wheel. The two argue bitterly when Alannah defends her brother, but to Raul, the accident simply shows him more evidence of the trouble the Redfern family brings to his. These early moments are revelatory in terms of character: She comes across as a weak yet hostile heroine while he appears as an alpha-arrogant Latin hero. When this type of heroine and hero come together in HP-Land, passion is never far behind. Indeed, Alannah and Raul engage in some steamy kisses, then argue before Raul takes his leave. Only, he leaves his cell phone behind by mistake.
Alannah goes to Raul's hotel to return the phone the next day, at which point he drops a bombshell on her: Lorena had been pregnant with Chris' baby at the time of the accident, and his sick father, first saddened when Raul and Alannah didn't marry and make babies, feels even more devastated by the news that he's lost yet another grandbaby. They discuss...they argue...they make love. Raul intends that Alannah make it up to the Marcín family by getting pregnant and marrying him. When he informs her of this solution, they argue, they discuss...and eventually, amazingly, she agrees.
This sort of set-up, as outlandish as it reads, can work in the context of some Harlequin Presents novels. In others, this one included, it doesn't. One can blame most of that on Alannah, whose behavior ping-pongs between weakness and pseudo-feistiness so quickly you could get whiplash. Raul may be an arrogant ass, but at least he's more or less consistent. After they come to their agreement and Alannah moves to Raul's Spanish home, the dynamic changes somewhat and she becomes a slightly more rounded, and actually sympathetic, character. That's what saves this one from being a total failure, but they're still not talking to each other.
Many HP marriages are born of arrangement, convenience, or blackmail. The set-up here combines the latter two. Raul essentially uses his sick father to emotionally blackmail Alannah into marriage, which she believes will be a marriage of convenience because, of course, that's how it's presented to her...and, as a result she can't imagine why the sophisticated Raul would stay faithful ("sophisticated" in HP-Land is synonymous for "philanderer"). Essentially they are at the same place they were when Alannah broke it off with him two years ago, except that now she's been guilted into going through with it. As previously mentioned, the final chapters improve things somewhat, but it's far little, far too late to do much good.
Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife disappointed me so much I don't think I'll be buying Kate Walker again. When I'm next in the mood for Latin billionaires, I'll dig into my tbr pile instead, where five earlier books by the author await me.
-- Laurie Likes Books
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