My pleasure reading disappeared in December of last year. After posting my 2015 Favourites at the beginning of the month, though I planned on continuing reading, my physical self took a big long sigh, caught a summer virus that left me in bed for 3 weeks during which I didn’t pick up a single book. So, just like bike riding and swimming, when I reentered my reading shallows I did so with my favourite type of reading – category romance novels by the venerable Lynne Graham which luckily also matches the “We Love Shorts” theme for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge 2016! I read Graham’s interconnecting novels The Greek Demands his Heir and The Greek Commands his Mistress, featuring the consecutive romances of two Greek half-brothers Leo and Bastien Zikos and their English rose heroines Grace Donovan and Delilah Moore.
The Greek Demands his Heir
“Don’t be silly, Leo. Strangers don’t get married.” Leo Zikos should be celebrating securing a perfectly convenient fiancée, but it’s left him cold. Instead it’s stranger Grace Donovan’s impeccable beauty that fires his blood. So he decides to pursue one last night of freedom… But that night and the two little blue lines on the pregnancy test that follow blow Leo’s plans apart. Now he must break with his fiancée and marry Grace. She might resist marrying a man she barely knows, but Leo will claim his legacy and has all the riches and influence he needs to ensure his demands are met!
Grace Donovan, a medical student who is indebted to an uncle and aunt who gave her shelter (but not much love) from when she was eleven, has been coerced to go on a holiday to Marmaris Bay in Turkey with her spoilt cousin Jenna. She is a tagalong and once her cousin hooks up with a guy, Grace finds herself sleeping in their hotel’s foyer. After several nights of this, her cousin insists they go clubbing where she catches the eye of club owner and Greek billionaire Leo. The sparks fly, Leo (unbelievably) claims that he cannot dance but hells yes he is up for one last hook-up before he marries Marina, his betrothed. The reader meets Marina in the opening chapter and already knows that their engagement is a business agreement between two friends who have agreed that having intimate liaisons with others until they actually marry is fine. Leo, considering his hook up with Grace as a one-night stand doesn’t mention his engagement to her. The two of them get down and boogie and oooopsies! the condom they are using breaks. (In classic Lynne Graham dry delivery) Leo accuses Grace of “straining it” because…you know…her virginity was so tight the latex couldn’t take it.
Their night of fantasy is just that: sex, banter, ridiculous riches and smartmouthed heroine putdowns before they go their separate ways. Then the book’s action starts when Grace discovers that she is pregnant and her aunt kicks her out of her home. Abortion, we find out, is not an option for Grace. Not that she condemns it but she is keenly aware that her own mother refused an abortion and she is grateful for her life. She chooses to keep her baby but this does mean that her own studies are put on hold and due to her unhappy family circumstances she finds herself marrying Leo. But then she meets Marina and Grace is despondent to discover that she slept with a betrothed man. Where for Leo the line was marriage, for Grace the line was commitment.
Silly, sentimental, romantic dreams, utterly inappropriate dreams for a woman of her age, intelligence and background to have cherished: the dream that a man could be decent and honest and trustworthy
It is from here that Leo has to recover. Grace’s dreams were not those of riches and an attractive partner, they were not of material belongings but of integrity in one’s partner.
Leo is horrified at himself. Having considered himself to be a better person than his father who had maintained both a legitimate family and an illegitimate son and mistress, Grace’s lack of respect for him and refusal to marry him infuriates him but also cuts him deeply for what else are romance heroes but men of honour. When Grace and Leo had their one-night stand, there were clean cut boundaries placed and Leo did not feel he was betraying Marina. Leo finds that he has to build himself up in Grace’s eyes.
Through fumbling and tripping over himself in his care for her, Grace discovers a man who has been struggling from a young age to reconcile himself with his father’s two families. He does not want this to be his own story. He refuses to be caught between a (business) marriage and a woman who has mothered his child. For him, integrity is building upon a relationship that he did not expect to have. In doing this, he discovers that he dislikes that Grace herself was treated as secondary in her aunt and uncle’s household and for the first time feels challenged as to his attitude towards his half-brother, seeing him from a different perspective for the first time. Leo does everything he can to give Grace a sense of family and this is how they build a deep love for each other.
My only issue with Leo was his claim that he could not dance and had no rhythm (yet I have no issue with the believability of a self-made Greek Billionaire in the last 5 years – hmmmmm). May I just point out, and I do this with strong Greek cultural knowledge, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HOT GREEK GUY THAT CANNOT DANCE, DAMMIT! Greek men pride themselves on their dance skills. Those who don’t dance are those who don’t score with the chicks! Masculinities in Greece are performed on the dance floor. It’s all about the rhythm method *cough*. No rhythm on the dance floor = no rhythm between the sheets. Despite this, I really enjoyed this book.
The Greek Commands His Mistress
“I always get what I want…and I want you.” Making billions and bedding beautiful women couldn’t make Bastien Zikos forget the lustrous dark hair, haunting eyes and outrageous defiance of Delilah Moore. So Bastien has gone to great lengths to ensure that the one-and only-woman to have ever turned him down returns to him. If Delilah wants to save her father’s ailing business, she must agree to Bastien’s commands: be his mistress, wear his diamonds and wait for him in his bed! But what will this exacting tycoon do when he discovers that his sassy mistress is a virgin?
I really liked fumbling, bumbling Leo. I like those billionaires who trip all over themselves messing up the relationship that really matters. However, I disliked Bastien. Where his brother Leo is an alpha male, Bastien is an alpha brute. Having been first introduced to him in Leo’s book, some of his backstory explained his ruthless, arsehole ways, as he was the illegitimate son living with his father’s “nuclear family” home with a half-brother who despised him. This doesn’t excuse his horrid machinations to gain complete control of the heroine, Delilah’s life.
Bastien, having been rejected by Lilah 2 years earlier, in mwahahaha evil billionaire fashion, takes over her father’s company and threatens to have everyone fired if she doesn’t agree to sleep with him. Lilah, though calling him out at his suggestion for sex slavery, decides to be a martyr not only for her family but for her village too because, hells bells the closure of their factory could send their whole social circle into poverty. Lilah is given some Graham chin, its tilt getting higher each time she encounters Bastien the Brute. Bastien’s reaction when he sees Lilah flinch at his (creepy) suggestions is that “women didn’t shrink from him: they wanted him” (Italics are the author’s not mine). His arrogance shitted me off. Damn it. This is not a perceptive man, he certainly would not have noticed any other woman flinching. Later in the book when he slams into her bedroom there is hint of what every woman recognises – threat. He wakes her abruptly, she can smell alcohol on his breath and he is temperamental. His “Stop looking at me like that” and “I have never hurt a woman in my life” was small comfort for me the reader. Lilah may have bought it but his constant intimidation of her was unacceptable. As Lilah says he was “volatile” and volatile does not equal Hero in my opinion.
Lilah is funny though. Bastien’s whole revenge plot is based on her turning him down 2 years earlier when she called him a “shameless man-whore”. This upsets Bastien who pulls her up on this and points out that he had never been unfaithful to a lover nor indiscriminate and “While my values may not be the same as yours, I do have standards.” At this point Lilah softens her stance against him and the two start to talk rather that sneer and then sizzle with every interaction.
Somehow, Lynne Graham drags Bastien out of his horridness with the magic of caring Lilah and the revelation of his messed up childhood – a mother who did not care for him, being beaten up by one of her boyfriends as a child resulting in some deep wounds for this man. His rejection by his father’s family furthered his isolation, as did his short but powerful liaison with the ever-present Marina and you start to realise that he is like a cornered, fierce animal that attacks and protects the little that he has by scaring all around him. Lilah though is not cowered at all. She takes his behaviour and diminishes his rage, she stands up for him where others had never spoken up for him, she becomes as fierce in her protection of him as he was in his diminishment of her. It is this protection that changes him. For no-one had ever protected him before in his life. Respect for each other is a big thing for these two but sadly, Bastien will never have it from me.
I reallllly disliked Bastien. Even right at the end when all is lovey dovey and the power of Lilah has turned him into a (halfway) decent human being, I was not convinced that he would not turn alpha brute again sometime in their future. And why would I say this? Well, at the begininning of the book, Lilah tells him that she dislikes being called Delilah and to please use her shortened name but nooooooo Bastien knows best and at no time does he take to using her preferred name – not when they are having sex, not when they have their grand love declaration and sadly, not even in their 2-years-later-look-at-how-happy-we-turned-out-to-be epilogue. This one tiny sign, conceding to using her preferred name, would have changed the course for me with this book but it didn’t happen. Lilah deserves better. I hope she hooks up with someone nicer later in her life.
The Notorious Greeks series
Lynne Graham imbues her stories with an understanding of family and belonging. She may outwardly show billionaires and successful businessmen, innocent yet feisty young women but she underpins this with characters who come from troubled families and troubled childhoods, with worries that transcend riches and poverty. Her stories continue to shine a light on both the strengths and the weaknesses of adopted, foster and blended family dynamics. Where Grace and Bastien suffer from being the outliers in their adopted homes, Lilah’s conciliatory and loving blended family provides a counterbalance. Lilah brings understanding to Bastien that blended families can work and Leo finds discomfort in seeing his treatment of Bastien as equal to the rejection and manipulation that Grace suffers at the hands of the family that gave her shelter. Though Leo is unable to change her situation with her uncle and aunt, by the end of Bastien’s novel, the Zikos family dynamic has changed through the understanding that love brought to Leo.
The epilogue in Bastien and Lilah’s story is one that furthers the story beyond the two romances in this series. It is in the epilogue that we discover that Leo and Bastien have finally forged a friendship, giving their father his long hoped for family unity (of sorts) and as readers we discover that the overarching story is about these two half-brothers finally accepting each other.
Marina Kouros [SPOILER ALERT!!!!]
I would absolutely adore for Lynne Graham to write Marina Kouros’s own romance. Marina rules this series despite being a secondary character in both novels. She is confident, sophisticated and sharp alongside sympathetic and friendly. Though she is annoyed at no longer marrying Leo, she still helps out Grace in a way that is neither an “evil-other woman” nor a “best-friends-forever”. Marina’s reasons for helping Grace arrange her wedding are not selfless but a need to save face by being graciously involved. In Bastien’s book, we discover that she had a short affair with him and chose to have an abortion. Though her decision devastated Bastien who took her decision as a personal rejection, he remains protective of Marina, defending her and admonishing Lilah who spoke harshly to her. I did not feel that Marina was demonised for her decision, Graham’s power and longevity as a romance author show her ability to broach topics that few others dare to mention and perhaps the only way that an author can test these waters is through their secondary characters. Marina was my absolute favourite of all the characters in these two books as her complexity is slowly revealed through small glimpses. She too has her own romance albeit off the page and only mentioned in passing. I hope her romance is one that finally goes to print as I would love to read her story, her deep thoughts, her reasons for aborting, her nuances and how she finally finds love. Romance fiction is a space that should represent the many stories of all types of women finding love and it is well beyond time that Mills and Boon had a heroine who has had an abortion.
Both copies of these books were purchased as new releases from a department store in Sydney.