by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-6754-0
Lord Jarret Sharpe is a gambler who seeks to avoid shouldering responsibilities and getting involved in serious relationships because his parents died under terrible circumstances and he doesn't want to be hurt again, et cetera. Just skip to the third track on the Boring Songs to Wail Your Emo Life Away album. In A Hellion In Her Bed, he decides to manage the family brewery, Plumtree Brewery, in exchange for his grandmother getting off his back about him needing to marry ASAP.
Our heroine Annabel Lake has a bright idea to save her family brewery, Lake Ale. Since there is a current free-for-all for brewers in England to secure a deal with the East India Company to export their goods to India and beyond, Annabel believes that her secret recipe will benefit Plumtree Brewery. In return, Plumtree Brewery will secure a deal with East India Company to sell Lake Ale's brews. Everyone wins in this case, and both breweries will have a chance to recover from the recent collapse of the Russian market. Annabel is doing this because her brother Hugh, who officially runs the brewery, is too busy drinking like a fish - she is the one actually running things all this while.
Jarret doesn't like the idea because it may force him to manage the brewery in the long-term and he doesn't do that long-term thing - track seven of the Boring Songs to Wail Your Emo Life Away, in other words. Annabel then pulls the standard Desperate Damsel trick - she'd wager a card game. If she wins, he'd do what she proposes. He wants her body if he wins. Naturally, because prostituting yourself in the name of Desperate Need is virtue that should be commended, Annabel agrees.
A Hellion In Her Bed starts out pretty promising. There is plenty of sexual tension that is lush and exciting to follow and some witty banters. However, I soon realize that this story takes a really long time to get anywhere. After Annabel wins the card game, Jarret decides to accompany Annabel, her sister, and the sister's son (who is actually Annabel's son) back to Burton. The story takes ages to reach Burton, with plenty of filler drama along the journey, and once the characters reach Burton, more filler drama follows. It is as if the author had run out of ideas after setting up the story and had to resort to mundane little earthquakes to meet the necessary word count.
The characters also begin to grate in how repetitive they are. Jarret is constantly singing the same old song all the way to almost the last chapter of the book. Yes, I know he is damaged, but come on, that's no excuse for being a boring little twerp constantly repeating himself. As for Annabel, she is another unfortunate example of the author's annoying hypocritical heroine. Annabel spends pretty much the entire story judging Jarret to be a useless person. That's fair, as the emo twerp delights in letting her think the worst of him especially in the early stages of their acquaintance. But Annabel isn't the right person to judge Jarret so harshly because she is attracted to him and is willing to be frisked by him even as she thinks so lowly of him. How can she claim to be a better person than he is if this is the case? It really grates, how she is willing to put out to a guy she claims she can't respect, because it makes her taking the higher ground a most hypocritical thing to do.
It's a pity that Annabel is such an irritating sanctimonious hag with no sense of humor because for the most part, her character is an unusual one for a romance heroine. She had a youthful indiscretion with her first crush, resulting in her bearing his child. The man died shortly after they are supposed to get married. Annabel actually has a pragmatic view of her relationship with that man and her reasons for not wanting to get married are valid ones. Unfortunately, Ms Jeffries also saddles Annabel with an amazing tendency to blame herself for everything - and seriously, even the sun rising a little late than usual can cause Annabel to whip herself with remorse. Therefore, Annabel blames herself for shaming her family and for every unhappy incident that befalls the family subsequently, even if her self-flagellation makes no sense. Even the hero remarks on this annoying tendency of Annabel, but alas, this trait seems to be passed off as a virtue to be admired rather than a reason to prescribe Annabel with plenty of sedatives.
What is really annoying here is that Annabel takes action only if by doing so she can become the martyr. Her brother drinks himself senseless and the brewery is in danger of collapsing as a result, but Annabel and her sister-in-law enable his behavior. Annabel has no problems condemning Jarret for every sin imaginable even as she puts out to him, but heaven forbids she stops her brother from drinking. After all, it's her fault that he's drinking, snort. That doesn't stop Annabel from having Hugh drugged with laudanum in order to prevent Jarret from discovering the real nature of Hugh's "illness" though. Annabel also loves offering her body in exchange for favors - in a "I'm not a prostitute" way, of course, because she is desperate - since she does this twice in the story. Seriously, this wretch only does something when it allows her to be a martyr.
In a way, this story has the perfect couple. He doesn't like to be held accountable for his actions while she blames herself for everything, so they make a truly well-matched couple provided that they stay far away from the rest of humanity. But I doubt that is the author's intention, heh.
A Hellion In Her Bed is a padded story moving at the pace of a sedated snail and filled with repetitive whining from two one-note characters. The irritating heroine's hypocritical and contradictory thoughts and actions, coupled to her humorless whining and constant henpecking of the hero, are the cherry on the top. This book is as fun to read as it is to experience a ruptured appendix. What has happened to the author's mojo?
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