Jennifer Hayward’s Married For His One-Night Heir started out very conventionally HP-ish, but that’s not how it developped, or where it ended up, though I assure you the HEA is front and centre. I like to pepper my reading with the occasional HP, especially when it’s written by a writer as adept as Hayward (gosh, I do miss Morgan’s HPs). And this appeared, at first, to give me the same-same. Warning to those who don’t like’em: heroine Giovanna “Gia” Castiglione, aka De Luca, has been hiding out in the Bahamas with her three-year-old son Leo after her mobster husband Franco was killed in Las Vegas. Leo, however, is not Franco’s son, but the hero’s, Santo Di Fiore’s. When Santo and Gia reunite at a party given by Gia’s boss, Delilah Rothschild, it isn’t long before Santo figures out that Leo is his son, the result of one passionate night with Gia. The morning after that night, despite Santo’s pleas to defy her mobster father and stay with him, Gia left, scared for Santo, scared for herself, and in thrall to her dangerous, powerful father.
Gia’s done some growing up in the interim years; seeing the potential danger for Leo after Franco’s murder and with her mother’s help, she defies her father and escapes to build a life and career in Delilah’s hotel business. With Santo back, however, all of Gia’s sins are roosting like birdies. Santo, in typical alpha-HP fashion, furious, imperious, and dominant, has her and Leo and a marriage in his hands by chapter three. Soon thereafter, they leave for Manhattan and Santo’s billionaire life and business.
After this conventional HP premise, Hayward builds a narrative about two reasonable, sympathetic people learning about each other and making their way to a life that suits them both. They argue, but they also converse; they rip-roaring fight, but they also compromise. After his initial “me-Tarzan-you-Jane” edicts are passed down, Santo turns out to be a man who wants to talk to Gia, to know what she’s thinking and feeling. He encourages her and watches out for her … and the adorable Leo, of course … but he never stifles, or ignores her wishes. They do have quite a refreshing argument about child care and having a career, and though he doesn’t like it, Santo relinquishes his conventional notions of the mother doing the child-rearing to accept Gia’s career aspirations.
As with all romance couples, they individually have inner wounds that prevent them from fully loving and allowing themselves to be loved. I love it that love is the greatest danger to a person’s emotional hidey-hole-ing. The genre does this so well and understand how downright scary love can be: how vulnerable and naked it makes you feel, so much less naked than the genre’s love scenes. In any case, I thought Santo’s inner wound less convincing than Gia’s. Santo, like too many romance heroes, was abandoned by his mother, a mother who didn’t want to mother, who betrayed his father. Hence, why he wants a more conventional wife. What Santo believes because of his mother’s betrayal isn’t how he reacts or behaves, except for the painful betrayal moment, towards Gia. For an HP hero, Santo is what we might just call a pretty nice guy.
Gia’s wounds are deeper and more complex, also more interesting. She is tainted by her father’s criminal activities, but especially by her own need to please him and seek his love. Though he doesn’t deserve it and Gia is a deeply moral person who can see how her father ought to be in jail, she can’t help but want him to love her. Santo isn’t a dick about this and I liked him the better for it. He defends Gia against her father, who makes a dramatically dickish appearance, but Santo also never dismisses her feelings. Gia has to overcome insecurity, guilt, conflicted feelings, knowing what her father is yet loving him anyway and wanting to be loved by him, a withholding of herself from Santo: she carries a lot, but overcomes a lot too. I liked them both. Though I grow impatient with the HPs uber-wealthy protagonists and its glorification of conspicuous consumption, if more of them were as well-written and nuanced as Hayward’s Married For His One-Night Heir (and had less ridiculous titles), I’d be reading a lot more of them. As it stands, Miss Austen and I can vouch for Hayward’s latest with “real comfort,” Emma.
Jennifer Hayward’s Married For His One-Night Heir is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on November 20th and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received a copy courtesy of the author.