With the end of my precious holidays and a week of getting back into early-morning-commute mode, I knew my fried brain couldn’t handle reading anything more than an HP. However derided the category, it’s a survivor and, in the hands of its greatest practitioners (ahem, Sarah Morgan), it can be original, fun, and range from witty to angsty all in the same book. I consider Hewitt one of its best. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is HP-typical, less than what I’ve seen Hewitt deliver. Nevertheless, it “hit the spot” during a can’t-work-too-hard to read week. Its trappings will be familiar to the die-hard HP reader. Sheltered, cloistered Princess Halina Amari sneaks away from the Roman hotel suite she shares with her mother and into a party. Halina wants a taste of freedom and adventure before she returns home to wed Prince Zayed al bin Nur, a marriage arranged by her politically expedient father, using his daughter to advance the kingdom. At the party, Halina spends her night of rebellion with Rico Falcone. Two months later, Halina is pregnant and exiled to a desert fortress. Her engagement to the Prince has been called off (see book 1) and the parents she thought loved her have brushed her aside as an embarrassment to the family. When Rico discovers Halina’s pregnancy, he kidnaps her from the desert “palace” and returns to Rome, where they will marry pronto.
I’ve always been pleasantly surprised at how Hewitt can give us the uber-intense-HP reading experience and still surprise with the sweetness and gravitas of her message. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret‘s first half didn’t surprise. Standard fare: naïve, foolish heroine harries off on an adventure with the dangerous, seemingly cold-hearted hero and the consequences are punitive. She loses family, support, and security. Rico enters in classic alpha fashion, impediments melting before his will. Halina and Rico lack the spark, fire, and wit that usually mark Hewitt’s characters. I chugged along with my reader attentiveness at low. Rico turns out to be a billionaire with a loveless childhood, abandoned by his parents, poverty-stricken. Rico’s childhood misery-fest has made him heart-protective. He will never love anyone; indeed, he’s not capable of love, because he’ll never allow anyone to hurt him as he’d been hurt as a child. Does the heroine melt his heart? Does her loving-kindness resurrect his emotional ice? It’s what we would expect from an HP, is it not?
Ostensibly, yes, but how Halina does so makes for the more interesting second-half of Princess’s Nine-Month Secret. Halina is an interesting heroine: she doesn’t bear lovelessness well. It depresses her. She is ill from “all-day sickness” and challenges Rico’s philosophy of a life without that pesky love emotion as better because you’ll never be hurt. I liked how Halina expressed hurt and sadness. She wasn’t feisty and defiant. She was sad. And she told the stark truth to Rico, that she was resigned to a life without love with him. She was alone, ignorant in the ways of the world, and helpless before his competency, success, and arranging, managing, and deciding what her life would be.
What is equally interesting in Rico is that whatever he does for and with Halina are expressions of love. He cares for her physical well-being. He seeks her happiness. He shares experiences with her outside of the bedroom: there’s a lovely scene, for example, at the Roman colosseum. Halina is a heroine who doesn’t have much to offer beyond an understanding that love is the most important thing for a good life: to love and be loved. I thought it was particularly appealing that Halina even seeks her perfidious family’s love. Not in a dish-raggy kind of way, but with an understanding that love isn’t either/or. People are weak and flawed and yet, we must still try to love and be loved within those constraints. When Rico indulges in an either/or gesture, after he realizes he loves Halina, she calls him on it. Neither control nor sacrifice make for love, but abiding with someone, being there day in and day out, for good and bad. I don’t know if Halina’s passivity will appeal to most romance readers. I came to appreciate her and Rico’s story and with Miss Austen, would say that Princess’s Nine-Month Secret offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Kate Hewitt’s Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on August 21st and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.