Honestly, after the wring-my-heart-and-hang-it-out-to-dry of Grey’s The Glittering Hour, I needed a good quick HEA-fix and where better to find it than between the HP’s covers. A Crews too, who better than her ability to write intense drama plus banter and characters who capture you with their humanity. Alas, it was not to be. Secrets Of His Forbidden Cinderella was better in concept than execution.
I’m not terribly proud that I’m a sucker for the accidental pregnancy romance narrative, but I am. It’s not so much the pregnancy part I like, but the protagonists working things out for something more important, more precious, and way more vulnerable than their sorry selves. Inevitably, in the HP’s tropish-constraints, the heroine is seemingly the weaker of the two. Often of humble means, she tiptoes through the tulips of her new-found state with the altruistic idea to do what’s best and what’s fair. The hero, on the other hand, treats the pregnancy revelation with mistrust in regards to the heroine’s motivations, but with a medieval possessiveness for his “heir”.
Crews’s Forbidden Cinderella ran true to form. Four months before the start of the romance proper, American Amelia Ransom dyed her hair, donned coloured contact lenses, and crashed her former stepbrother’s, the 19th Duke of Marinceli’s, Teo de Luz’s, annual masquerade. One thing led to another, yada yada, and voilà, she stands before the suspicious, coldly supercilious, mistrustful Teo, knocked up, but armed with the moral righteousness to do the right thing, tell him about his future son/daughter and return to San Francisco to “enjoy the rest of [her] pregnancy and prepare for life as a single mother.”
Teo has contempt for Amelia because REASONS. Amelia’s gold-digging mother had been married to Teo’s father and ruined him after she divorced him. A larger-than-life beauty with a penchant for collecting rich husbands: how far, after all, can the apple fall from the mother-tree? Entrapment, greed, the besmirching of the ducal bloodline with American peasantry: Teo throws everything at Amelia, but insists, after the paternity test, they marry so he can bring up his son as the next duke. To follow, with at-best muddy logic, Teo brings Amelia to a mountain cabin and compels her, at four and a half months pregnant, to act as his maid unless she agrees to share his bed. So, blackmail, indentured servitude, and an indifference to a woman’s well-being when she’s at her most vulnerable: way to go HP-hero. Now, ole Amelia doesn’t help matters: she enjoys the domesticity, which includes sleeping on an uncomfortable couch, starting the morning fires, and making his Duke-Ship his morning java.
Inevitably, Amelia sees through the arrogance and lack of manners to the vulnerable man beneath the ducal assholery. But lest we give up on Amelia as an abject doormat and move on to the next volume on the Kindle, she shows some spine, nay, in true HP-romance-fashion, she shows CHIN! Instead of slamming the ducal door to the ducal dick, Amelia WILL marry him, WILL love him, and WILL hope he will some day love her back. Is that a crack in the ducal armor? Why, yes, why it is: Teo begins to show signs of humanity instead of smoldering anger and cool contempt.
Normally, I’m all for the HP-WTF-ery, I can take the most outlandish tropish delivery IF the author conveys it with a certain authenticity, nay, delight in its zaniness. Crews can do this, usually with a combination of great banter and emotionally engaging characters. Her strength is in the dialogue’s sharpness and wit. In Cinderella‘s case, however, she traded dialogue for exposition and it didn’t do her any favours: her characters fall flat, banter is infrequent and fleeting. I didn’t care about, or for Amelia and Teo and I was never immersed in the pure romance fantasy the HP offers to the hungry reader-heart. Sadly, Crews’s Forbidden Cinderella “had a high claim to forbearance,” Emma, and I made my way to its baby-filled epilogue if only to see it through.
Caitlin Crews’s Secrets of His Forbidden Cinderella is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in December 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.