by Susan Stephens, contemporary (2009)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.19, ISBN 978-0-263-87201-9
The Ruthless Billionaire's Virgin is pure fantasy because there is very little about it that can take place in real life today, so you have better suspend your disbelief in that hot-air balloon and wave goodbye at it before you read this story. Also, adjust the dial of your tolerance meter to ridiculous emo heroes by setting it to "no limit".
It all begins when Savannah Ross, the hottest sensation in music if you like warbling divas like Sarah Brightman, accepts a gig in Rome to perform at a rugby match. She is a replacement performer and for reasons best left untouched, she is made to wear the dress meant for the performer who couldn't make it. She is too buxom for that dress, so when she takes a particularly deep breath for the high note, a wardrobe malfunction occurs.
Of course, Italians in this story are adorable Marios and Luigis who find such accidents romantic rather than a sign of the collapse of human civilization, so everyone starts snapping photos. Our patron of the match as well as owner of Savannah's record label, Ethan Alexander, rescues her from more embarrassment, dragging her to his private home in Tuscany to avoid the paparazzi who just won't stop chasing them like evil Energizer Bunnies. Along the way, they fall in love.
I find it hard to believe that two high-profile people (a popular singer and a billionaire) can just vanish without being hounded by their handlers and minders, but as I've said, you should be waving goodbye to realism before you start reading the first page. The fantasy is a pretty attractive one, I have to say, since there is, after all, nothing more lovely than a secret getaway with a very rich guy who isn't pushing sixty, in an escapade that turns out to an unexpected romantic interlude. Also, Savannah may be a virgin from a farm in America, but she isn't a complete doormat so she's not too bad.
Unfortunately, Ethan is utterly ridiculous. How old is this guy? Yes, he has scars on his face and he had a terrible childhood, but you'd think he's the only one with such problems. He makes his staff live in utter darkness in his manor because he thinks he's the Phantom of the Opera or something, and when Savannah accidentally switches on the lights, he spends ten pages shouting and treating her as if she has killed his favorite puppy by sitting on it. Then again, Ethan spends half the story shouting, snarling, and barking at her like a rabies-stricken dog, with the other half seeing him in a nicer mood. In this case, "nice" translates to driving her away for her own good because he's convinced that he's unlovable. I agree with him about his dyspeptic state of being utterly unlovable, but Savannah of course disagrees because she "understands" why Ethan is treating her like complete crap.
As for the secondary characters, let's just say that the Italian characters are so stereotypical that I'm surprised that they don't start dancing around while holding a pot of spaghetti sauce as Luciano Pavarotti booms in the background.
The Ruthless Billionaire's Virgin would have been a so much better vicarious fantasy if the hero chokes on a meatball and dies by page 50.
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