Ruthless Tycoon, Innocent Wife by Helen Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Honestly, the name is unfortunate. It is like a 'kinda, sorta, nutshell' version of what the book is about. But considering that this is a fairly deep story, I think the title shortchanges the story. This title is a vestige of that time period when the Harlequin Presents titles were pretty ridiculous, and even staunch fans joked that Harlequin used a title generator algorithm or computer to come up with them. Fortunately, that's in the past, and we have moved into a period of much better titles that are poetic and they also touch on the themes of the stories and capture the sensibility of the Harlequin Presents line.
Wow, I totally digressed there. Let's get back to the review. Helen Brooks writes stories about mature men and women who have grown-up relationships, even though they struggle with some of the issues you might expect in this genre of romance. She manages to give the stories a credibility because she doesn't resort to tactics. Instead, the drama is dealing with human emotions and relationships. I like that Marianne is a whole person with a thriving career long before she met Rafe.
Marianne has no idea about the history between her mother and Rafe's father, until he explains it to her in cynical terms that she refutes from the bottom of her heart. She insists he has her mother all wrong, and they have to agree to disagree and put it aside in order to go forward with the deal to convert her family's house into a hotel (a way to save the house and keep it in the family). However, there's no way that either can settle for being merely business partners, not with the attraction and deeper emotion that simmers beneath the surface of every interaction they share. The problem is not just that Rafe has misconceptions about her mother's past relationship with his father, but the fact that Rafe has sworn off marriage and serious relationships, happy to settle for sexual affairs, and Marianne would never settle for anything but a relationship that leads to marriage.
There are things I didn't love about this story, but the quality of writing causes me to rate it four stars. I respected the depth of the characters and that they actually talk to each other and work through their issues, and not settle for drawn conclusions and decisions based on misunderstandings. I think my least favorite kind of hero is the man who goes through women as sexual playthings. I can understand that Rafe was going through a phase and acting out because of the way he was so wounded by his marriage, and I had to take that into consideration. I do like that Marianne didn't settle and didn't try to change him. Instead, she made it clear that she wouldn't change to accommodate his relationship style, and they didn't have a future together. Since Rafe had to face the fact that he had strong feelings for Marianne, he had to decide if he wanted to be with her bad enough to reevaluate his ideas about casual relationships.
So I guess this book is not really my favorite kind of story, but it was well-written and the characters were complex and well-defined. I have to give the author props for taking a tried and true theme and giving it a maturity that gives the story an appeal that is more than face value.
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