Substitute Bride by Margaret Pargeter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am really glad someone recommended Goodreads to me. I used to keep a writing journal, but I think I missed a few entries. This is the third book within a few months that I accidentally reread because I hadn't written down that I read it. I realized on the first page that I had already read it, but it was involving, so I thought, "What the heck."
Substitute Bride was published in 1981 (I was eight when it came out!), and that's apparent when you read it. However, it isn't trite and dated in my opinion. I was drawn into this story of Emma, who is a Cinderella. Her father died and she had to go live with his sister and her promiscuous, scheming daughter, who is engaged to be married to cold and dangerous Rick Conway, a rich plantation owner from Barbados. She's running around with another man behind his back, and makes Emma cover up for her.
When Emma meets Rick, it's instant dislike. Rick isn't a very nice guy, and he's very dismissive of Emma. Also, Blanche has been telling untrue tales of Emma, who is too busy running the farm to do all the running around and partying that Blanche has told Rick that she's up to. Because of working so hard all the time, she's pale and thin, and not looking her best. For a man who with an eye for beautiful women like Rick, she's easy to look through (or so he acts).
Blanche has gown out with her in-town squeeze, Rex, and told Emma to lie about it. But Rick shows up unexpectedly, and Blanche brings Rex home with her. Blanche makes it seem like the sleazy nightclub owner Rex is dating Emma, and Emma is forced to play along with it. This contributes to Rick's poor opinion of her. He says some rude things to her and kisses her brutally, then he stalks off with Blanche. Emma has decided that she wants nothing to do with this guy again, and talked her aunt out of being invited to the wedding (rather easily since her aunt wants to save the money anyway).
Rick is supposed to be in Australia for an extended time, so Blanche goes off to Paris with Rex, and threatens Emma into lying that she's off with their sick and dying relative. However, Rick shows up and spanks (yes he does, hard to believe as it is) the truth out of Emma. Let me tell you, nothing annoys me more than a hero spanking the heroine like she's a child. Emma is too scared of Rick to give him the butt-kicking he deserves. He railroads her into marrying him and going to Paris with him to show Blanche what she gave up. Emma decides that her bridges are burned with her family and uses this marriage of convenience as an opportunity to escape from the farm and start a life for herself. She knows that Rick holds her in comtempt, but she's not too fond of him either. As long as he keeps his distance, she can handle it until he divorces her.
Rick drags Emma to Paris for the confrontation (and a mini-makeover and shopping spree), and then off to Barbados. Emma's health and looks improve as she is able to rest and eat good food, even though Rick ignores her and she's contantly digged at by his mother and sister. He goes out of town a lot for business, as well. Rick's younger brother Ben takes a liking to Emma, which provides some friendship. The trouble is Ben starts to develop feelings for her, which she doesn't return, since she has started to fall in love with her husband. Soon Miles, who is the brother of one of Rick's flames, also takes a shine to her. Rick shows up to see the two men fighting over his wife, and he decides to take her to his remote island for revenge, although Emma likes it there. He also decides to make their marriage a real one, discovering some truths about Emma and his feelings for along the way.
This is standard vintage Harlequin Presents fare. These books entertain me. I feel no shame about it. The writing is good, and the characters are well-developed. I like the sights and scenes, with the exotic locales. These are my soap operas--good drama doses. I thought that Rick was a real jerk initially. He did come around by the end of the book, but he needed someone who was tougher than him to show him how a bullied person feels. It makes you wonder why people can't see what's right in front of their faces. But a proud, hard man like him wouldn't want to fall in love with a simple girl like Emma, and he fought it pretty hard. Emma was a nice person, too nice for him. The good thing is he figures that out before it's too late, and determines to show her that he can love her the way she deserves.
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