Sometimes you need a shot of pure romance and the HP delivers. I went for one of the many TBR ARC HPs I have knocking around, Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride and got what I was looking for; the HP recipe: eye-rolling premise and plot, standard-fare hero and heroine, and heart-tugging romance experience.
Personal assistant to billionaire Matteo Combe trudges through a Hungarian forest in high heels and red cape to lure a beast out of its lair. Said beast is Matteo’s long-lost half-brother Dominick James, the product of their mother’s foolish youth, abandoned to the miseries of an orphanage, the Italian streets and eventually the army. Though Dominick is wealthy in his own right (the ubiquitous security company having earned him $$$$$$$$), he chooses to keep his own counsel and company in this forest. When Lauren pounds on his cabin door and is granted entry, the inevitable visceral lust-response follows, “lust at first sight”. (Except for the niggling sense that neither Lauren nor Dominick has ever reacted to a man or woman this way before! *gasp*) Lauren tries to convince Dominick to return to England with her to take his place in the Combe family and claim his inheritance. In the interim, she’s going to give his wild, rough, gorgeous ways, a make-over. I must say I did get a kick out of this HP role reversal: it’s usually the heroine who gets the grooming and clothes update.
But Dominick isn’t convinced and little does Lauren know that he’s wealthy. What else could induce him to leave his forest-lair? Acceptance, family, connection? As we learn along the way, Dominick craves these, but he’s angry, resentful, and cynical about their reality/possibility. What he does know he wants is Lauren, in all her glorious prissy, high-heeled self. He strikes a bargain: he’ll come on this make-over/family reunion if she grants him kisses on demand. Lauren, in turn, has made her work for and loyalty to Matteo Combe her entire life and agrees to this Mephistophelian bargain all the better to serve her “master,” as Dominick refers to him. Except she secretly craves this hermit-looker and the lust-promises flashing in his eyes. She’s curious and physically hungry for his touch. Again, I appreciated the role reversal: workaholic heroine, devoid of any personal life and, as a result, to keep in line with HP-uber-trope, virginal! When Matteo, for “PR purposes,” tells Lauren and Dominick to “marry” for the sake of quieting the media hullabaloo, hero and heroine have the means and reason to explore their attraction, their singular attraction. You can guess the rest.
Like most HPs, Crews’s latest operates on the level of the characters’ premonition. The mood is gothic; the conceit is fairy-tale, and the characters’ spidey-sense tell us the readers and not them — YET! — what is to come. Crews plays with the Little Red Riding Hood tale and Dominick’s wolfish smile and sexy ways dominate Lauren’s world from their meeting onwards. ‘Tis true, however, that Lauren stirs the wolf as well. I enjoyed the Red Riding Hood references and the sexy banter they elicited in Crews’s protagonists. A snort-guffaw from me when Dominick looks at Lauren “as if she were a meal, not a messenger.” At times, the conceit becomes mannered and the delight it can evoke is erased. But then it returns and Crews would win me over again. I thought Dominick as Cinderella was a hoot, for example, and again the hero-heroine role reversal was clever, witty, and entertaining:
“Are you suggesting a makeover? Have I strayed into a fairy tale, after all?”
“I certainly wouldn’t call it that. A bit of tailoring and a new wardrobe, that’s all. Perhaps a lesson or two in minor comportment issues that might arise. And a haircut, definitely.” Dominick’s grin was sharp and hot.
“Why, Lauren. Be still my heart. Am I the Cinderella in this scenario? I believe that makes you my Princess Charming.”
“There’s no such thing as a Princess Charming.” She sniffed. “And anyway, I believe my role here is really more of a Fairy Godmother.”
“I do not recall Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother ever being attached at the lips,” he said silkily. “But perhaps your fairy tales are more exciting than mine ever were.”
Cleverly done, at times overdone, but if you’re going to read one HP this year, this might be it. Miss Austen and I agree that Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride speaks of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on May 21st and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.