There’s no doubt Miss Bates loves category romance. She believes that in its modest and succinct form lie the genre’s treasures. Many a great (Nora Roberts, Sarah Morgan, to name only two) longer-length rom-writer has her start here – and many a rom-reader, like MissB., often yearns for her return. Category romance is the sonnet-form of the genre, circumscribed and specific, its potential for going from formulaic to treasured a mere trope away.
Christine Rimmer is a category name Miss Bates has watched knocking around the rom awards lists for years and, as a result, someone Miss B. wanted to sample. Christine Rimmer’s The Maverick’s Accidental Bride is as implausible and ludicrous in its premise as non-rom readers accuse the genre of being. At a Fourth of July friends’ wedding, childhood family friends, Jordan Leigh Cates and Will Clifton, unknowingly marry, waking to a morning-after near-naked in bed, without any memory of the ceremony, or consummation. Thanks to spiked punch and subsequent wild wedding reception that took many attendees’ memories, Jordyn and Will find rings on their left-hand ring fingers and the congratulations of friends and family. Before their heads became “hazy,” Will noticed Jordyn by the punch bowl all grown up and looking mighty sexy. Jordyn and Will grew up in Thunder Creek, Wyoming, Jordyn as little sister territory to Will’s older-brother-like protectiveness. Now, with their re-acquaintance at the Rust Creek Falls, Montana, wedding, they see each other a whole lot differently. They flirt, dance, sip punch, and kiss … and the next morning have to agree, for the sake of friends, family, and a possible baby resulting from a blacked-out night of passion, they’ll keep up the charade of their newly-in-love marriage until they can be sure they’re not going to be parents.
Miss Bates took a long while to warm to Rimmer’s maverick and his accidental bride. The set-up, she thought, was silly. Really? *cynical mouth twist* – really, you can’t remember a thing from the night before? Whether you made love? Especially if heroine Jordyn was a virgin? Moreover, Miss Bates didn’t like Rimmer’s storytelling voice: it was distancing, from her characters, from making them believable. There was a kind of American fairy tale quality to the narrative that Miss Bates doesn’t enjoy: a kind of Norman Rockwell wholesomeness to the characters’ values and attitudes, a kind of idealized other-worldliness to the love and sweetness of the town’s denizens Miss Bates finds grating. The opening scenes, however, possessed an element Miss Bates can’t resist and it kept her reading – humour. The hero and heroine’s adorable cluelessness and naivete were endearing. She soldiered on – and, lo and behold, this little critter of Americana romance grew on her, charmed and touched her. What was fey and at best whimsical turned real, believable, and even grave in what it had to say about making a marriage work. And then it knocked her socks off with, yes somewhat idealized, but believable love scene of honesty, affection, condoms and … lubricant!
The second half of The Maverick’s Accidental Bride was charming in its depiction of two innocents discovering desire and affection for each other. When desire and affection transform to love and need, the novel took a lovely turn for commitment’s serious stakes. The journey there, however, allowed the reader views into delightful, believable bickering. Miss Bates will offer her readers a glimpse into one. Jordyn and Will agree their fake marriage would last only long enough to ensure Jordyn isn’t pregnant. Their plan is to put dissolution into motion and part amicably in a few months. Dissolution, however, entails paperwork and, while both go through the motions (sorry, Miss B. can’t NOT pun) of filling out forms, the action of doing so brings their feelings into the forefront, even while they’re not ready, or willing to admit them. Jordyn urges Will to complete the necessary paperwork:
What was her problem that, all of sudden, she had to nag him up one side and down the other about something he’d already told her he would take care of? Would she ever shut up about it?
… “So you need to get on those papers, Will.”
He dropped his fork. It clattered against his empty plate. “How many times are you planning to tell me that?”
She gasped like he’d insulted her. “I just want to be sure you’re on top of it, that’s all.”
“I’m on top of it,” he said, in barely more than a mutter. “You can be sure.”
“Well, terrific, then. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Hey. I keep trying to.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
… That night at dinner, he kept waiting for her to ask him about the forms he’d spent half of last night and half of today completing. She didn’t ask. She didn’t say a word to him beyond “Dinner’s ready,” and “Please pass the green beans.” It was a cold war they were into now. So, all right. He could do that.
Will’s mulish, simmering resentment and unreasonable anger and Jordyn’s coolness and nagging are evidence of how they’re trying to protect their hearts (except they’re already goners for each other). They’ve forged a friendship and had a lot of fun together, especially when, for the sake of keeping up the marriage appearances, Jordyn moves into Will’s new ranch. They work to put a home together; they break bread and confide in each other. In the end, what Miss Bates loved most about Rimmer’s characters is their emotional bravery. For now, Miss Bates will leave you with the resolution to their bickering and their willingness to apologize (a hard-earned and most important lesson of the marriage wars):
She stepped even closer. “I … well, I was feeling bad, you know? For getting all up in your business over those papers.”
He gave it up. “I was a jerk.”
And she admitted, “I was a nag.”
He took her arm. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
Rimmer captures the awkwardness of finding yourself suddenly living with a stranger; whether the stranger is your familiar boyfriend of many years now suddenly husband, or your friends’ younger sister, the strangeness of cohabitation is no less. Though the first half of Rimmer’s romance was loopy and sagged in the middle with too many secondary characters, though her Montana town is too sugar-sweet, the emotional honesty and courage of her hero and heroine, ordinary folk falling in love and laying their hearts on the line, won Miss Bates over. Christine Rimmer’s The Maverick’s Accidental Bride, say Misses Austen and Bates is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Christine Rimmer’s The Maverick’s Accidental Bride, published by Harlequin Books, was released on June 16th and is available for purchase at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.