by Julia James, contemporary (2012)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.49, ISBN 978-0-263-89119-5
Athan Teodarkis is - what else? - a Greek billionaire with serious Madonna/whore issues with a huge slice of control freak tendencies in the mix. He hates his sister Eva's husband Ian with a passion, but because he'd do anything for his sister, he reluctantly allows Ian to marry Eva. Even so, because he knows that Ian's father is a remorseless philanderer, he is confident that Ian will cheat on Eva. So he watches the man, hovers over him, and then... yes! Ian is cheating on Eva, and worse, he just gave that mistress of his a ring!
Ian's mistress is Marisa Milburne. Well, what can he do? He can't break Eva's heart by forcing her to divorce Ian, so yes, Athan will do what every Greek and Spanish billionaire will do in his expensive shoes - he'd seduce Marisa so that Ian would be compelled to break it off and go back to Eva! Alas, it takes only one dip of his garlic bread into that cheese dip of Marisa for him to realize that he wants Marisa for himself, for reasons that have nothing to do with Ian.
Now, if you think that Julia James will get away with portraying Marisa as an actual mistress in a line such as this one, you must be new to the genre. And that's why this darling has a problem.
The story would work - wonderfully - if Marisa had been a mistress. Because she's not, the whole story boils down to Marisa and Ian refusing to admit the truth, even if they stand to lose everything, for the sake of prolonging the conflict in a manner comparable to a surgery that keeps going even after the anesthesia has run out. The last few chapters of this book are excruciating to read because it's the whole refusal-to-talk nonsense taken to ridiculous new heights.
Marisa is a wretched heroine in that she spends the whole story basically not doing anything. She just reacts passively to circumstances and situations, and even when she is furious, she still won't do anything. She won't talk, she won't come clean, and she won't even give the hero a bit of a hard time when he wants her to come back to him.
It says a lot about her intelligence that she gets mad when she realizes that Athan assumed that she's Ian's mistress. She willingly accepts expensive rings from a married man and lets him maintain her luxurious lifestyle - gee, how can anyone come to this nasty conclusion that she's that man's mistress? Still, I have to admit that she's the luckiest idiot in town, as here she has two men fighting to shower her with expensive baubles and other luxuries we mere mortals can only dream of.
Athan is a standard hero of the Modern line, which is to say, the elevator doesn't reach upstairs and his brain is a storehouse for all kinds of unpleasant prejudice and bigotry towards not only women but the entire humanity in general. It's not surprising that his sister Eva is a doormat where Athan is concerned, as only spineless creatures can live with this man for more than a week without wanting to stab somebody. He also treats Ian badly, showing little respect for that man while expecting the worst from him. At least Ian stands up to Athan in the end. Marisa will probably be content being treated like Athan's personal puppy and sex toy for the rest of the happily ever after, sigh.
But here's the thing: Athan is also the rare hero in this line who is shown to experience an emotional breakdown of sorts when he reaches the point where he has to dump Marisa, only to realize that he's completely crazy about her. He is so lost without Marisa, the poor darling, that I can only laugh at the hilarious contrast between his typical control freak personality and his little lost puppy antics. Maybe it's because I haven't read enough books in the Modern line, but I rarely come across a hero in this line that allows himself to be affected this much by the heroine - and an author that shows me how lost the hero is without the heroine - that I find this whole emotional breakdown of Athan a fascinating novelty.
Also, it's a nice touch on the author's part to have Athan hold Ian accountable for what he believes to be an extra-marital affair. This man has issues when it comes to women, but he doesn't automatically assumes that the other woman is the only guilty party in an affair.
All things considered, this is a story with a hugely idiotic plot that lasts as long as it does because the participants in the idiocy adamantly refuse to talk and open up no matter what. This one is worth a look for that novelty value of Athan's emotional vulnerability, but proceed with extreme caution while doing so.
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