Angela Bissell’s Defying Her Billionaire Protector gets a “wow” from the get-go thanks to its cover. While MissB is loathe to try a new author (burned one too many times), she wanted to know what an author, especially in the glamor-puss HP-world, could do with a wheel-chair-bound heroine. Bissell centres on a hero and heroine who have both lost a lot. Drunk, teen-aged Marietta Vincenzi got into a car with an inebriated driver and now, at thirty, lives with the consequences of that decision, as a paraplegic. While Bissell wants to throw a spotlight on the problem of drinking and driving, to her credit, she isn’t judgemental, or didactic. Marietta has regrets, but overall, she’s a heroine who is at peace with her life and living it fully. Marietta is an aspiring visual artist who runs a successful gallery. She lives on her own, but is close to her family, a brother, sister-in-law, and pretty adorbs baby nephew. But, she has a problem – someone is sending her creepy anonymous notes, gifts, and flowers. Marietta has a “secret-admirer-turned-stalker”. Into her full Rome-set life arrives Nico César, her brother Leo’s friend, and owner and operator of a security company. With the bond between Leo and Nico strong from ties forged in the Foreign Legion, Nico will personally oversee and be the primary operative of Marietta’s security detail. Like Marietta, Nico suffered loss when his beloved wife Julia was kidnapped and killed fifteen years ago. Nico is haunted by his inability to save her and, as a result, inures himself to love and commitment. Our hero has never concluded that it is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all.
Nico is cold, aloof, darkly handsome, and ripped. Marietta is fiery-tempered, quick to argue, confrontational, and has a great rack. Miss Bates loves these romance descriptors, combining genuine personality traits with the physicality that attracts the other. Marietta has to be a tad “doth protest too much” to retain her independence from her overprotective brother. Leo and Nico decide that, while Nico puts all his influence and power to identifying and stopping the stalker, she and Nico will travel to Nico’s private French island, the Ile de Lavande. Whoa, the sparks do fly between resistant Marietta and brooding Nico and they’re marvelous. Nico in particular is ruthless regarding Marietta’s defiance; he overrides her. What Bissell achieves is a heroine who is not TSTL and hero who is both brooding and witty, respecting Marietta’s needs and boundaries until he doesn’t for good reasons:
Marietta could be stubborn. Resolute. Headstrong. No doubt those qualities had served her well through some difficult times, helped her overcome the kind of obstacles most people, if they were fortunate, would never have to face in their lifetime. He respected those qualities, admired them, but right now he’d settle for a lot less lip and a great deal more acquiescence.
Miss Bates quotes to give you a sense of Nico’s and Marietta’s great characterization: making them more than the alpha-protector and poor girl in the wheelchair. She also quotes to show you how Bissell is an adept, captivating writer. Nico’s sense of Marietta is serious and balanced and then that great detail appears about “less lip”.
Bissell’s great challenge in writing her HP romance with these characterization parameters, given the line’s profile, was the sex scenes. Miss Bates thought the love scenes somewhat successful. Bissell doesn’t skirt the issue of Marietta’s paralysis, but MissB’s not sure if she’s true to reality. Does she have to be given the HP’s spirit? Maybe the nature of the HP beast is, by definition, hyperbolic? But Miss Bates appreciated what Bissell did and enjoyed reading the novel. Marietta thinks about her attraction to Nico and isn’t reticent or overly modest that he’s attracted to her. She has doubts, natural ones, but they’re not exaggerated:
The truth was she had wanted to provoke him – because a reckless yearning had been building in her all day. A yearning to find out if a man like Nico could be attracted to a woman like her – a woman whom society largely viewed as disabled. She knew the wheelchair frightened most men. Some wrongly assumed she couldn’t have sex …
It turns out that Nico doesn’t make that assumption and the love scenes are as charged as a reader would expect an HP’s to be. But there are also great moments of realistic conversation between Marietta and Nico and some painfully honest confrontations:
“Marriage is fine,” she said. “It’s just not for me.” … “When push comes to shove, few men want to tie themselves to a cripple for life.” Nico’s brows slammed down, his face darkening. “Don’t call yourself that,” he said tersely. “What? A cripple?” She affected an air of indifference. “Why not? That’s how most people see me.” Which wasn’t strictly true. She was fortunate; she had people in her life who saw the woman first and foremost and not the disability. But equally there were those who never saw beyond the wheelchair. Never saw her.
Romance, of course, proves this true irrespective of wheelchair, until that one person comes along who sees the hero and heroine purely for themselves and how those selves are imbued with value for being themselves. Marietta and Nico’s road is rocky: they make mistakes and misjudge each other. They share passionate love and become really good friends. Lastly, Bissell never holds out for Marietta to get a sprinkling of magical-cure fairy-dust. The epilogue, as a result, is one of the best Miss Bates has read. With Miss Austen, Miss B. says that in Defying Her Billionaire Protector is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Angela Bissell’s Defying Her Billionaire Protector is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in December 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, via Netalley.