Much as Miss Bates loves the HP line, she’s never been much for the connected HP-series. A few years ago, the line went with a crud-awful interconnected hotel-setting series and it was ugh. So MissB. was leery of trying another one in this “Di Sione” series, but, hey, Jennifer Hayward! woot!, one of the more original, more interesting HP writers (her The Italian’s Deal For I Do one of MissB’s favourite HPs EVAH). The past few books have never reached The Italian’s Deal‘s heights, but they’ve consistently been well-written and absent of the insane WTF-ery that distinguishes the line. Hayward seems to like the idea of the “deal” as a romantic premise, essentially the opening to a good ole marriage-of-convenience romance narrative, in this case, a marriage-deal for Nate Brunswick and Mina Mastrantino. The product of Benito Di Sione’s affair with his secretary, Nate has a huge-o-rama shoulder chip about his illegitimacy, place in the Di Sione family, except in his relationship with his paternal grand-father, Giovanni, his eschewing of marriage and anything that says “feels”. When Nate was a teen, Giovanni gave him a place at the family-company-table, thus saving him from a life on the streets. Now that Nate’s created and expanded his personal fortune as well as the family one, he wants to give dying, fragile Giovanni the gift of the “Di Sione ring,” which seems to have a mysterious special significance for Giovanni. In one of Nate’s Palermo hotels, he meets an adorably curvy, tiny chambermaid who, it turns out, is none other than the possessor of the precious ring.
If outlandish coincidence doesn’t reign, you’re not in HP-Land. Not only is Mina sexy and beautiful, she’s able to sell the ring as long as she’s been married for a year, thus ensuring her future and giving Giovanni his greatest desire. Other stuff “happens” and Nate and Mina amicably agree to marry. The Di Sione Ring is pleasantly free of coercion, near-rape, and alpha posturing. The “deal” isn’t the only motivator bringing Nate and Mina together. Mina has a mean mom who’s forcing her to marry a powerful, abusive man. When Silvio slaps Mina, Nate is motivated not only by his desire to possess the ring, but knight-in-shining-armor syndrome, overcome by protectiveness for the adorable, feisty Mina. And so they marry, jet-setting around the world as Nate oversees his global hotel business. But it wouldn’t be an HP if the deal didn’t possess as many layers as a Vidalia onion. Despite their overwhelming attraction, Mina and Nate keep their marriage out of the marriage-bed. Nate, in turn, promises to help Mina achieve a career in the hotel business and learn to defend herself against aggressive men; or, as Nate tells her, once she leaves his tutelage, she will be a “gladiator”!
One of the many aspects to Hayward’s romance that MissB loved was her talent for trope-twisting, tongue-in-cheek wit. While we’re used to and often enjoy the alpha-hero’s ability to excel between the sheets, MissB loved Nate for his braggy posturing of how he can help Mina be independent. One of her favourite moments occurs on the night before Nate and Mina embark on teaching her how to make it in business, when Nate quips: ” ‘Get some good sleep tonight, Mina. You’re going to need it for the ride I’m going to take you on.’ ” *wink wink*
To give Hayward and her Nate full credit, Nate shows Mina some wonderful things: men can control themselves; women decide the love-making narrative; and everything can be didactically fun; note the following Nate and Mina exchange:
“No one is sleeping on the floor, Mina. But just for the record, is your adamant proclamation we can’t share that bed because you think you can’t restrain yourself? Because I have proven I can be a good boy.”
Her jaw dropped. “Do women actually find this arrogance appealing?”
“Yes,” he murmured.
What a wonderful exchange! Nate obviously wants Mina, but he’s proven his restraint to her, unlike many a coercive alpha-hero. He treats her as an equal of the mind, body, and spirit when he calls her on her sexual hypocrisy. And Mina gives as good as she gets when she quips back. All this to say, Mina is loveable and Nate equally so because they establish a relationship of equals. And kudos to Hayward for so wittily doing so amidst the hyperbolic, even for romance, HP-world, still making her narrative entertaining, funny, and emotionally satisfying.
Emotional satisfaction comes in the form of Hayward’s ability to be both funny and poignant. Nate gives Mina everything: agency, care, friendship, pride, and transferable skills, as your guidance counsellor would say. He brings out the best in her and allows her to soar. He slays her fears and brings her talents into the foreground. What he doesn’t acknowledge is what she does for him: call on his heart, a heart he denies even as it lists towards her. [SPOILER AHEAD] Then, what MissB calls “porous condom syndrome” occurs and suddenly the game changes. It’s Mina’s turn to call Nate out on his emotional hypocrisy and it makes for MissB’s favourite line: ” ‘Let me go,’ she said softly. ‘Let me be the gladiator you taught me to be.’ ” In the end, Nate must learn that gladiators aren’t made only in the business arena, but in the secretest, most vulnerable places of the heart. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says that A Deal For the Di Sione Ring is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jennifer Hayward’s A Deal For the Di Sione Ring is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in December 2016 and may be procured from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.