Miss Bates is not a fan of the office-romance, even less so of the boss-and-secretary scenario. Nowadays, the secretary is promoted to personal/executive assistant; however, as they exist in HPs, their tasks and challenges are pretty much those of a secretary, which is not to denigrate a position that millions of people, mainly women, have held, hold, and will hold. However, it does not render the romance set-up palatable, given the power inequalities it entails. It’s a rare romance that does it justice by giving the upper hand to the heroine-secretary rather than powerful and wealthy hero. (The only one that comes to mind is Susan Napier’s so-good In Bed With the Boss, with her signature nut-ball, vain hero and peevishly tough heroine. Read it, it’s great.) As for Blake’s What the Greek’s Money Can’t Buy, cut from boss-secretary cloth, well, Miss Bates wanted to give it a fighting chance. It had some good stuff going for it, including an ex-con heroine (more of that later!) and your standard growl-y Greek billionaire. It had a promising start, but went downhill soon thereafter; the chinks in everything that is wrong with the office-romance and an idiosyncratic and ludicrous use of demotic Greek (yes, this is a point with Miss Bates) ran it aground.
” … she’d learned to harden her heart. It had been that … or sink beneath the weight of crushing despair. Brianna Moneypenny, cool and collected as only a blonde woman sporting a chignon can be, works relentlessly and tirelessly for Sakis Pantelides, oil tycoon and shipping magnate. (Hey, the holdings have to be as over-the-top as anything else in an HP.) Sakis is off rowing down the Thames because he’s also an Olympic rower … of course. At least he comes by the broad shoulders and washboard abs honestly. Brianna bears bad news: one of his oil tankers has had an accident and left an oil slick a mile wide. The two work to repair the environmental damage as arduously as they do to repair the adverse PR effects to the company. Miss Bates liked the idea of the environmental struggle and two soon-to-be lovers united in such an interesting endeavour. Sadly, the issue is left in the background to the filling-in of the hero and heroine’s tormented backstories. In Moneypenny’s case, a negligent drug-addicted mother and a clawing-up of her way to success despite all odds. BUT, that’s not all, folks: Brianna Moneypenny, not her real name, had to re-make herself after a stint in jail. She has the scars and tattoos to prove it. Miss Bates could really go for an ex-con heroine. Sadly, her “crime” turns out to be prosaic. As a result of Brianna’s sad history, she has inured herself to love and dedicates herself to her job, peace of mind, and financial security. But who can resist Mr. Ripped-and-Ready, Sakis? Brianna can’t. She falls for him, even though she insists on assuring the reader that “There was no way she was developing feelings for her boss.” What Miss Bates found sordid (other than the most unappealing love scenes she’s read in quite a while) was the 1950s task Moneypenny was given of arranging Mr. Pantelides’ discreet affairs, “Moneypenny knew of his liaisons; she arranged the lunches, dinners, and the odd, discreet parting gift.” Yuck.
“Feelings had no place in his life or his business.” Brianna’s is not the only tormented backstory: Sakis has suffered too, which has made him emotionally cautious. His father ruined the family when he was young; his brother was kidnapped, or ran away, we’re never sure which; and his mother pined away, or attempted suicide, or the pining was the attempt. This is all vague and hinted-at angst. But it doesn’t stop there: Giselle, his previous executive assistant, a piranha-like character who threw herself at him also brought on some kind of nasty legal suit. This has made him doubly cautious regarding women. Really, folks, the anguish is as thick and heavy for these two characters as Miss Bates’ gluttony for an excess of peanut butter on her morning toast. Gluttony that sticks to the roof of the mouth and makes swallowing an Olympian effort. Such is the HP angst when it comes on too too much and does not convince the reader with some wielding of subtlety and humour. Even though Sakis can match Brianna torment for torment, he still exhibits the requisite Greek-billionaire arrogance with lines like, ” ‘I’m the boss. I have the luxury of doing whatever the hell I want.’ ” But when lust and need reign, it’s not enough to have Brianna’s time and expertise at his disposal, “He’d wanted personal.”
Miss Bates wasn’t crazy about these two leads. However, what she found particularly problematic in the novel was a conflation of boardroom and bedroom. In averting the oil spill crisis, Sakis and Brianna have to travel and share a room (because Greek billionaires apparently can’t get two hotel rooms). Sakis insists that Brianna take the one bed, but she takes the couch, ensuring his taller frame’s comfort for the night. His gentlemanly bent foiled, he’s angry the next morning, ” ‘You do my bidding without question when it come to matters of the boardroom. And yet you blatantly disobeyed me last night,’ he said in a low voice. She paused mid-swallow and looked up. Arresting green eyes caught and locked onto hers. ‘I’m sorry?’ He twirled a pen in his hand. ‘I asked you to take the bed last night. You didn’t.’ ” Horrors. Miss Bates really really wished he’d twirled a mustache, but this is the boardroom, so pen it’ll have to be. Okay, you’ll say, Miss B., he was sweet offering her the bed. Here’s the zinger when they share the bed, ” ‘As of last night, your job description includes doing whatever pleases me in the bedroom.’ ” Miss Bates would say that is sexual harassment in the workplace. Maybe (NOT) all of this might have worked, but the romance wasn’t terribly plausible: he’s messed up; she’s messed up; they think about that A LOT; they have sex; suddenly, she realizes she loves him; suddenly, he realizes he loves her. “Why?” asks the flummoxed reader. Though they declare their love and need, Miss Bates couldn’t see why these two should even like each other. The lines they cross only render their romance even less convincing.
[START OF GREEK RANT] Lastly (a pet peeve Miss Bates admits), Blake’s What the Greek’s Money Can’t Buy insists on using Greek words, or phrases incorrectly, or badly: stasi when Sakis wants to STOP himself from thinking lusty thoughts about his employee; Theos as curbing, or exclaiming out-of-control moments when he wants to stem his physical response to his employee; and pethi mou and agapita as endearments for his employee-lover. Stasi, for the record, is to Miss Bates’ understanding, a bus stop. Theos, other than its obvious blasphemous status, is not used informally by Greeks; at most, one may say the mou, which admittedly Blake uses once. Pethi mou means “my child” which, at best, is an endearment a favourite uncle may use and, at worst, implies what the mind would prefer not to consider. Sakis also affectionately refers to Brianna as agapita, which is, Miss Bates surmises, the equivalent of “love” as an endearment. Agapita is not an expression that is used in this way, maybe agapi mou, or more formal agapimeni, but agapita, to Miss Bates, suggests no more than spinach pies (spanakopita) baked in an Aga. [END OF GREEK RANT] Niggling points, yes, and to most HP readers, irrelevant and unimportant; however, to Miss B., they were jarring, took her “out of the narrative,” and gave the coup de grace to what was a less-than-stellar read … quite. Therein, she found, “rubs and disappointments everywhere,” Mansfield Park.
Blake’s What the Greek’s Money Can’t Buy is published by Harlequin Books and available at the usual vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.