Whenever it’s hard to get “into” a book, given a difficult work week, Miss Bates turns to a category, romance especially an HP, and Jennifer Hayward always delivers. In this case, a Christmas rom in Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command, first in Hayward’s Powerful Di Fiore Tycoons series. The series centres on three bachelor brothers who receive their matrimonial comeuppance in the form of formidable heroines. This Di Fiore is CEO of Evolution, the heroine’s, Chloe Russo’s, legacy. Chloe’s parents, dead in a car crash six months ago, left the running of their perfume and personal care company in Nico Di Fiore’s hands. Nico sees his mission as placeholder to ensure that Chloe takes her rightful place in her family’s company. It’s the least he can do for her father, Martino, who acted as his mentor and ensured his family’s future, after Nico’s father collapsed the family fortune and mother abandoned the three boys. As the eldest, Nico’s shoulders bore the family responsibility and now, true to form, he bears Evolution’s responsibility and Chloe’s success. Chloe, on the other hand, has been hiding in the company’s Parisian lab, developing new perfumes, hiding and definitely avoiding the lethally handsome Nico.
Nico summons her back to Evolution’s Manhattan quarters and elicits all of Chloe’s conflicted feelings. Years ago, a 22-year-old driven Nico broke 18-year-old Chloe’s heart, by rejecting her. At the time, yada yada, he was doing the honourable thing and he continues to do the honourable thing now, contrary to what his heart and loins tell him. Chloe is still vulnerable to Nico’s compelling looks and personality. But she’s been burned and heart-broken, not virginal but celibate, still mourning her parents and humiliatingly susceptible to Nico. There is much to Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command that makes it tiredly formulaic: the mention of a nasty Other Woman, the feckless, betraying bad mother, the brooding, emotionally withdrawn self-made hero, the vulnerable near-virginal heroine, and all the HP-esque accoutrements, glamorous life-style, money, celebrity culture, perfect-looking people, and mind-blowing love-making that distinguishes the heroine from all other women for the hero. Typical, yes; and yet …
Hayward does things with her HPs, that set them apart. Firstly, though it’s a world that Miss Bates finds superficial, her portrayal of high-powered business has a real feel to it. In particular, despite the glamour, Nico and Chloe’s context is not complete fantasy and the issues that arise are credible. Moreover and more importantly, what are one-dimensional, conventional HP heroes and heroines turns into well-rounded characters, capable of nuance and change. In particular, Hayward likes her heroines to grow in confidence and her heroes to aid in the process of the heroine’s empowerment. One of the things Miss Bates likes best about this story element? It’s simple, but quite sweet: no matter how emotionally closed off the hero may be, he’s proud of the heroine’s professional accomplishments.
Maybe more typically, but nevertheless still quite attractive to the romance narrative, is the hero’s emotional “unfreezing”. While the heroine grows in professional confidence, her ability to read, understand, and articulate her feelings is unquestionable. The hero’s ability, on the other hand, is aborted by his early woundedness. Whatever the reason, the hero’s feelings aren’t struck-by-lightning, road-to-Damascus flash in the pan; he changes because of his relationship with the heroine. He questions his driven ambition and rigid emotional control and sees it for the lie it is: a protective layer that will see him lonely in the years ahead. Hayward’s heroes don’t grovel, but they do ask for second chances quite nicely.
Hayward’s Christmas romance sees the hero and heroine going their separate ways for a good opening third of the novel. Miss Bates was impatient for the romance delivery. But what she describes above, as it went underway, made up for it. Furthermore, Hayward can certainly set and write some lovely scenes and they’re in evidence in Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command. Chloe and Nico share a scene where she has him try out different scents to develop a personal fragrance: it’s sensual and compelling. Chloe and Nico also share a scene where Chloe’s grieving for her parents comes to a crisis point: it’s moving and believable. In the end, Jennifer Hayward’s Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command, Misses Bates and Austen agree, offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Jennifer Hayward’s Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on December 1st and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received a copy from the author.