When I think about how much I’ve loved category romance and how much of that love has diminished, I do thank the romance gods for Marion Lennox. Though I didn’t love her last romance, she’s come back in signature form in Cinderella and the Billionaire. Like Betty Neels and maybe Carla Kelly, Lennox has a set of romance elements that speak to me, never feel formulaic or repetitive, and put romance in the best of lights. There’s a man; there’s a woman, neither of whom are very happy, nor terribly unhappy. There’s a dog, or a child, or a vulnerable need somewhere. They answer the call of caring for another, or the land, or work that needs to be done. Their journey is funny, and touching, and painful, in the way that coming alive and feeling things after an emotional hibernation is. In Cinderella and the Billionaire, Matt MacLennan is “one semireclusive billionaire” who brings one grieving-7-year-old boy to Australia to give him over to his grandmother’s care, after his mother (Matt’s employee) is killed in an accident. (Matt had seen Henry around the office, as his mother worked all hours and grew to feel liking and sympathy for him.) Henry’s grandmother, Peggy’s care lives on an isolated Australian island. Matt needs to hire a private boat to reach it. In comes one skipper fisherwoman, heroine, Meg O’Hara, whose boss hands them a ramshackle boat named “Bertha,” the last of his meagre, dilapidated fleet, with which to reach Peggy’s Garnett Island.
Meg is loathe to travel in Bertha, but Matt’s monetary offer is so good, she can’t refuse … given her tumbling roof and lack of finances to fix it. Besides, there’s more to Matt and sad Henry than dollar signs, there’s bringing a grieving boy to his beloved grandmother and Meg is moved. It sounds sentimental and conventional, doesn’t it? Except for what Lennox can do with it, which is really all a writer can do, bring her voice and take to stories as old as time. And Lennox is a gentle, ruefully humourous and unabashedly, sentimentally tender writer, witness how she describes Meg’s “thawing” regarding Henry:
” … We haven’t been able to track him [Henry’s father] down and no one else seems to care. Apart from Peggy.” And just like that, her bristles turned to fluff.
” … She [Peggy] made arrangements for an escort service to collect Henry and bring him to her, but, at the last minute, I … ” “You couldn’t let him travel alone.” The last of her bristles disintegrated.
Initially, Meg is unwilling and curmudgeonly about transporting Matt and Henry, but Meg can’t ignore Henry’s sadness and vulnerability. She’s kind-hearted and caring. As is Matt.
Lennox writes good-people heroes and heroines. The circumstances that bring them together are often unusual and acute. In this case, Henry. Until Bertha goes up in flames. The three escape in a dinghy and live on a deserted isle till slightly-senile Peggy rescues them before the big search and rescue team. Before Peggy’s arrival, Meg coaxes a smile from Henry and hug thanks to her dog, Boof. Her care and Matt’s begins to heal Henry by offering him comfort, affection, and safety. Peggy does no less. As for Meg and Matt, their liking and admiration, especially Matt’s for Meg, and love of nature bring them close. Meg and Matt are lonely, not alone and not miserable, but in a lull of loneliness. Their closeness is also physically reciprocated.
Matt and Meg also from two different worlds: Matt, a billionaire, is Manhattan financial wizardry and Meg, well, Meg, is a high school drop out, with a “career” driving fishing parties on ramshackle boats. Her backstory and Matt’s make for solid foundations for being who they are and where they are. Lennox makes opening up to love possibly only with personal transformation. This is particularly important for Matt. As long as he’s in Meg’s natural world, their connection is strong. But when he brings her into his, his high-powered, go-go-go life ends their magic. And Meg proves the wiser and stronger one.
Though I am not a fan of the closed door romance, as Cinderella and the Billionaire, Lennox comes closer than anyone to convincing me of its rightness. Though Meg and Matt are passionate lovers, love-making doesn’t fix their problems. The bedroom is like their deserted isle, a way to keep the real world at bay, an important and profound respite, but just that, a respite. When their worlds collide and love comes knocking on their emotional door, their tender emotional spots ache. Lennox shows us how important it is to experience an emotional reckoning, an inner transformation and realization before love and family are possible. As for the HEA, it’s as magnificent as Meg’s Southern Ocean, as beautiful as Matt’s Hampton beach, as precious as Henry’s growing love and confidence, and as delightful as Boof’s bark. As always, Lennox is happy-sigh Lenox. With Miss Austen, we agree Cinderella and the Billionaire proves “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Marion Lennox’s Cinderella and the Billionaire is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on July 1st and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.