I’m often aghast when reading reviews of modern Harlequin Presents that dare to break out of rigid formulas. (I wrote about one example, also, as it happens, by Abby Green.) The hate a book garners when the heroine dares to have sex with someone other than the hero is sickening. So it was embarrassing, reading the reviews of this and having to go… “Yes. True. You’re absolutely spot on.” Liking a book despite the fact that it’s really sexist isn’t as bad as hating it because it isn’t, right?
The plot is a bit of a mix of The Sheikh (sans physical force or brutality), Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom, and Green’s own The Brazilian’s Blackmail Bargain — two of which I really like. (No prize for guessing which two.) Arkim is planning to marry a sweet young girl, as part of a business deal and also to establish his respectability because his dad was — gasp! — a porn mogul. Unfortunately, the sweet young girl has an older, hotter sister who works in a – gasp! – naughty Paris revue. When Sylvie destroys the wedding by proclaiming that she and Arkim had had sex the night before, he decides to take his revenge by stealing her away to his Sheikhy desert hideaway and making her lie true.
Revenge! Misunderstood innocent! Whore goggles! I totally love this shit! But it’s hard to deny that it’s extremely implausible here. The contortions the story goes through to make 28 year old Sylvie a total innocent who barely shows a thing when she dances would fit handily in her revue:
“‘I couldn’t care less if you stripped naked and hung upside down on a trapeze in your show. This conversation is over.’
Sylvie refrained from pointing out that that was actually Giselle’s act…”
Sylvie is the fakest of fake rakes and Arkim is pretty much a fake Sheikh, which is offensive in other ways. Credit to the author for trying to strike a positive note against slut-shaming at the end, by having Arkim accept Sylvie’s job… but it’s gloss. It can’t mitigate the sexism at the heart of the story.
I feel like I should write more about why I enjoyed the book anyway, but there isn’t much to say past, “I like this kind of thing.” The prose is smooth and effective. It’s intense, it’s angsty, it’s cathartic in some way. It hits the sweet spot; I’ve learned to be okay with this.