I am back on my Lynne Graham kick. I finished reading her latest about 2 weeks ago but work commitments have kept me from writing about it. The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain (I do love an alliterative title) blurb:
To love, honour…
Cesare Sabatino never intended to marry. But if his thoughts did ever stray in that direction, the lucky woman’s answer would have been a resounding ‘yes’. Imagine his surprise when Lizzie Whitaker turns him down on the spot!
To get his hands on her Mediterranean island inheritance, Cesare must wed innocent Lizzie…and ensure she’s carrying his heir! Luckily the formidable Italian is legendary for his powers of persuasion. With Lizzie desperate to save her family’s farm, it’s only a matter of time before she gives in…and discovers the many pleasurable benefits of wearing this tycoon’s ring.
Cesare “Not Caesar. We’re not in ancient Rome. It’s Chay-sar-ray” Sabatino (oh Ms Graham you made me giggle when you gave me instructions on how to pronounce your hero’s name) is a bit of a silly buffoon however he is a rich silly buffoon with a manservant called Primo to boot. Though he was betrayed by his first love, Serafina, and despite swearing off love and marriage (the hurt runs deep in this one), Chay-sar-ray loves his paternal Greek grandmother, Athene (I am annoyed that he calls her Nonna and not Yiayia, seriously – nonna in Greek is Godmother and I don’t care that the woman was married to an Italian – we need more culturally correct names in romance fiction) who has given up hope in ever visiting her birthplace because of a watertight will (yep – a top notch inheritance lawyer said so) stipulates that her family cannot visit the island unless there is a marriage that joins her family and the island’s owners. His grandmother, who brought him up after his mother died and his father remarried, is also giving up her will to live. Chay-sar-ray decides to be the sacrificial lamb for his beloved nonna/yiayia and says he will marry one of the two women who stand to inherit the island. He chooses the frumpier, older daughter as the younger, prettier girl is still at university and our hero is from the 21st century and not from the 1970s. Aside: I am not being rude about the 15-20 year age difference in many M&Bs of that time. It was also a reality – see Chuck and Di and their 13 year difference when they were betrothed when she was just 19.
Change scenery and you meet Lizzie Whitaker – who starts the book in gumboots and ends it in sparkly glamour high heeled sandals – who is running her father’s farm. She has been publicly shamed and rejected by former friend and fiance Andrew the boy next door (nay! jilted) for a prettier woman called Esther. I love that Lynne Graham allows Lizzie to think of Esther with humanity rather than an evil other woman:
Esther opened the door and her look of dismay mortified Lizzie, although she had always been aware that Andrew’s last-minute exchange of would-be wives had cause Ester almost as much heartache and humiliation as it had caused Lizzie. People had condemned Esther for sleeping with a man who was engaged to another woman. They had judged her even harder for falling pregnant and thereby forcing the affair into the open and some locals had ignored Esther ever since.
I love Lizzie’s understanding of Esther and Andrew. In actual fact, I would love to read their romance story as it would be one with deep, moral conundrums. Though Lizzie was deeply upset by Andrew’s betrayal, she also feels that her undersexed ways led him to stray and look for affection elsewhere. It is much later in the book that she even recognizes that she was marrying for the convenience of a best friend and next door neighbour to help with her farm rather than loving him.
Lizzie is browbeaten by her mean father who suffers from Parkinsons and sacrifices her happiness and works her family’s farm to ensure her younger sister is able to attend university. Her family is poor and though she knows she has inherited an island from her mother, her errant mother who had died years earlier hated the place and had given her the impression that it was a useless pile of rocks that was inaccessible. Chay-sar-ray visits Lizzie to propose they marry and have a child. I love how his first visit into her home unfolds:
Cesare’s nostrils flared as he scanned the cluttered room, taking in the pile of dishes heaped in the sink and the remains of someone’s meal still lying on the pine table. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be marrying her for her housekeeping skills, he reflected grimly as the dog slunk below the table to continue growling unabated….
And then she offers him something to drink
‘Coffee,’ he replied, feeling that he was being very brave and polite in the face of the messy kitchen and standards of hygene that he suspected might be much lower than he was used to receiving.
Haha. I love a messy housework challenged heroine.
Lizzie, surprisingly for a romance category, questions the ethics behind his proposal – and to be fair so does Chay-sar-ray. However, ethics begone, in typical romance fashion they marry fast and repent in leisure. Chay-sar-ray receives her acceptance by text while he is out with another woman – which I love – he didn’t stop his wine them and dine them ways just because he has proposed marriage to someone. He decides that Lizzie is a standard gold-digger thus turning himself into a standard romance hero ready to believe the worst of any woman who he is not related to. Unlike many romances, the reader gets to meet Chay-sar-ray’s very normal, middle class family (he may be rich but they are not). His three younger half-sisters are normal young women who take Lizzie out for a hen’s night and get her very drunk and yes, our hero gets to hold the hair of our vomitous heroine out of her face. Lizzie enjoys his “gregarious” family. In fact, Chay-sar-ray enjoys his gregarious family. They are warm and loving and in true Lynne Graham fashion, the sense of family and belonging are the centrepoint issues of this book (and all her other books). Lizzie meets Chay-sar-ray’s devoted grandmother who only after a short conversation says of children “The things that happen when you’re young leave scars”. These words, I believe, underpin every single Lynne Graham novel. She writes stories about people who were harmed, abandoned, unloved in their childhood. She writes of foster children and children brought up by their siblings or grandparents or a kindly friend and how either the children or their guardians go about finding love, acceptance and belonging.
It is not often that I giggle when I read category romance. Occasionally, there is snorting at ludicrous plots (more Lynne Graham), sometimes authors throw in some awkward slap stick (I’m looking at you Jill Shalvis), there is straight out funny (Jennifer Crusie) but tongue-in-cheek silliness is not as common. And what I really enjoyed were these small moments throughout the book that had me grinning and giggling. Here is the typical alpha gazillionaire who seems to appear into every scene with a Mighty Mouse “Here I come to save the day!” thunderousness that ends up being like a disastrous puppy who has trod in a cow pat before entering the house and jumping all over the furniture. In his arrogance, on his second visit to Lizzie’s farm Chay-sar-ray flies his helicopter into her Yorkshire farm in a grand arrival worthy of a Eurovision stage lighting extravaganza. In all his self-importance, Chay-sar-ray terrifies Lizzie’s animals who start running and in the chaos her dog breaks his leg. Lizzie, rather than be impressed by him shouts “You’re the bloody idiot who let a helicopter land in a field full of stock?”.
The man is really full of himself and thinks “…In all his life, nobody had ever addressed Cesare with such insolence”. In the end, the dog does not die (this is a romance novel after all) and ends up being fed and loved and pampered by him. I love that Lynne Graham has Chay-sar-ray bring up the debate about drinking and pregnancy “Kill me now, Lizzie thought melodramatically” which is how I feel about abstinence and policing of women’s bodies especially during pregnancy. I also giggled that Lizzie’s first love was a boy band member and that she had a poster of him in her bedroom. Every girl has at one stage loved a boy band member *cough* Leif Garret *cough*.
Of couse, due to wills, grandmothers, poverty and all other cray-cray reasons Lizzie and Chay-sar-ray marry, they decide to do away with the celibacy decision (but of course) and to have sex (surprise! I’m a virgin!) and they genuinely get along until the woman that he had loved and had betrayed him, Seraphina, turns up and threatens their happiness. This plays out as a weak plot device. The evil other woman didn’t really bother me much here as there are so many happy and positive female representations throughout the rest of the book including Esther. Seraphina vamps it up and undermines Lizzie by saying that she will lure Chay-sar-ray back. Lizzie, who is still lacks confidence, becomes combative and refuses to be with Chay-sar-ray who in alpha style becomes stroppy and runs off to visit his ex-love (to tell her off for speaking to Lizzie we find out later). The next day they go to her island and despondent Lizzie doesn’t know how to react except by withdrawing. She knows that theirs was not just a rocking sex life. It was the
laughter and lots of talking and an intense sense of rightness as well
THIS! This is what romance novels that hit the right balance achieve! This sense of two people being right for each other, laughing and talking together as well as having a sexual connection. At times, I despair at this erotica romance deluge we are in at the moment as it belies why I, at least, read romance. I couldn’t care less about sexual explicitness. It’s presence doesn’t offend me and though I think that sexual connection in romance is needed, I feel as though the intimacy has been taken over by the physicality of sexed-up writing and the deep emotional connections have taken become secondary to the modern romance. I do care to see a relationship build with love and spark and joy and togetherness. This is what I look for in a romance novel. And this is what I got in this novel.
In the end, Chay-sar-ray has no idea how to get through to Lizzie. He doesn’t know what to say and how to behave. And here is the thing that I haven’t seen in a category romance before – our hero turns to his father – who has been in a strong, loving relationship with his second wife for over 30 years and is the only “touchy-feely” man our hero knows – for advice but he feels that he can’t do as his father says. Lizzie, in her sadness, goes on a loooooong walk across her island. Chay-sar-ray is beside himself worrying that she is hurt and says so when she gets home. I love that she pulls him up on his “protector” feelings and says “I’m an outdoors woman, used to working in all weathers and accustomed to constantly considering safety aspects on the farm”. She refuses to be treated as incapable even though “she could not help but be touched by his naive assumption that she required his protection”.
Lizzie is convinced that he loves another and Chay-sar-ray has to bring out the big guns to convince her of his love. He has to beg to her to convince her of his love. And it is during this moment where he has to completely strip back all his arrogance, all his airs and affectation. Lynne Graham goes all meta on her readers, our hero bares his all to Lizzie and heeds his father’s one word advice, and Chay-sar-ray goes the grand “grovel” to win Lizzie back.
Well played, Ms Graham, Well played.
I bought a copy of this book from a local department store. It lives with my ever-growing pile of well-read through Lynne Graham novels.