The Marriage Bargain
by Jennifer Probst, contemporary (2012)
Entangled Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-62061-279-8
Jennifer Probst's The Marriage Bargain gets many rave reviews and sells like nobody's business, so naturally I have to pick this one up despite my reservations about the idiot plot. There is an unpleasant stench of eau de dumb-dumb as I read the first few chapters, strongly suggesting to me that this one has been fished out from the Harlequin Presents reject bin after languishing there for the last ten years. I should have heeded the warning stench and run for the hills, sigh.
Okay, brace yourself, people, because this is a marriage of convenience story set in contemporary times. It is very hard to pull off this plot believably, and Ms Probst doesn't even try.
We have our heroine, Alexa Maria McKenzie, who wants a man and $150,000. Oh, don't worry, she's not a money-mad whore or anything - she needs the money to save her mother's home from being foreclosed by the bank. Her own bookstore is already mortgaged to the hilt and she has no savings of her own, so Alexa is... a typical romance heroine who needs to be financed by a hunk. So, she decides to cast a love spell to bring her the money man she wants, although because she's a virtuous heroine, the money thing is ranked last on her list of "must-have" qualities in a man. She is a typical Harlequin Presents heroine - despite offering some lip service about her personal wants and desires, she has no problems going all out to be everyone's favorite discounted doormat. She takes in stray dogs! She volunteers at the animal shelter! Hmmph, and here I am thinking that she should take a job that actually pays money in her free time if she wants the dough that badly. Back to Alexa, she is so giving and selfless, so much so that the only thing she wants from a man is for him to be a Mets fan (it makes sense that she'd root for losers, being one herself) and he'd love animals so that she can play with her dogs forever and ever.
The hero is Nicholas Ryan, another one of those young billionaires that somehow managed to make all that money without resorting to arms smuggling or flesh peddling. He has a comfortable affair with a supermodel with quick wit, but he doesn't want to marry her because he knows that women become moody, clingy, possessive, and icky when they fall in love with him, and heaven knows, he is confident that these women would fall in love once he has shown them what it feels to be ravished by a real man. So, when he's stuck with that Marry or Else Will of Plot Contrivance thingy, he decides to marry Alexa. He's doing this to gain control of some company, but it's fine. We all know that men can whore their dipsticks out for personal gain, but any woman who chooses to sell that honey for dollars is a whore that must be tarred and feathered out of town.
So, in accordance to the double standards of all that is good and virtuous in romance novels, Alexa agrees to be Nicholas's wife of convenience but refuses to accept a cent more than $150,000 because, you know, it's all about honesty and love and other crap. If I were her and I have to sell my body to a Harlequin Reject Twatwaffle Hero, you bet it'd be for more than $150,000, but that's why I am not a romance heroine. And, of course, Alexa won't tell Nicholas why she needs the money - never mind that she's selling herself for money, she wants to walk away with her pride intact - so Nicholas rationally assumes that she's in this gig for the worst reasons possible.
Now, I have no idea why Nicholas is so bothered that Alexa may be a greedy slut, because his initial plan is to marry an ugly woman who will not make any demands from him, will not want his love, and will let him sleep with other people while being celibate herself (so that he won't be embarrassed by people thinking that he can't control his woman, you see). So what's the big deal if Alexa is a greedy whore who wants him for his money, right? But expecting Nicholas to be rational is like King Canute standing before a tidal wave and demanding that it stop for him. He goes through the whole nine yards of idiot male stupidity here, as he accuses and berates Alexa for everything under the sun and more - Alexa is a slut, a cheating whore, a greedy money-grubbing harlot, and on and on. Really, this fellow is a misogynist pig who thinks of women as little better than soiled tissue paper, and he treats Alexa pretty badly here. Since he's hot and Alexa's womanly bits tingle with electricity when he touches her, however, what the heck, it's true love and a happily ever after, the end.
I personally think Alexa'd be better off marrying one of her dogs, because at least they won't treat her badly, but I guess she really does need that $150,000 - for her mother's sake, of course - and Alexa debasing herself to Nicholas must be the author's efforts to show me that she is good enough for a twatwaffle pig like Nicholas.
To make things more fun, the rampant idiocy in this story is predictable to the point of being boring. Sure, these idiots are annoying and dumb, but they are also going through the motions like every annoying and dumb idiot couple had done in way too many Harlequin Presents books out there. Add in creepy children that speak like demon-possessed adults, old flames, and a bizarre treatment of our main characters' teenage interactions as the foundation of a love of a lifetime, and The Marriage Bargain is indeed a bargain - if I am looking to undergo a lobotomy for cheap, that is.
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