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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

#TBRChallenge 2024: Expecting a Royal Scandal

The Book: Expecting a Royal Scandal by Caitlin Crews

The Particulars: Harlequin Presents #3438, 2016, Out of print, Available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I have an autographed copy, which means I picked this one up at an RWA conference.  Over the years I've gotten a bit more selective with grabbing freebies at conferences, except when it comes to category romance. I'll grab any that aren't tied down. 

The Review: It was pretty much a forgone conclusion that I was going to read a Presents for this month's Bananapants theme. As the old adage goes, Bananapants in Presents is like shooting fish in a barrel. Even when an author is somewhat "restrained" in the Presents universe, a certain amount of eyebrow raising shenanigans will creep their way in, and let me tell you, this book by Crews did not disappoint on that score.

His Serene Grace the Archduke Felipe Skander Cairo of Santa Domini is the last of his family line, the exiled King of a tiny alpine country lost thanks to a military coup. He is also a man in want of a wife. Not just any wife, but a wholly unsuitable, scandalous wife. Having spent years proving to the world how ill-suited he is to take back the throne with his playboy antics, Cairo has decided that marrying a laughably inappropriate woman will drive home the final nail in the coffin, thereby keeping him and his loyalist subjects safe. Or something. Frankly our boy is operating solely on what I call Presents Hero Logic, so just roll with it.

Brittany Hollis is damn near perfect for the job. Poor white trash from Mississippi she's made herself over by becoming a reality TV villainess and then marrying a much older, fabulously wealthy man near death just so he could tweak the noses of his grasping children. Oh, and he was Husband #3. To add to Brittany's unsuitable qualities, she's a stripper, now performing a show at a rundown Paris nightclub after Hubby #3's children ensure she got absolutely nothing after his death. Now all Cairo has to do is convince her to accept his proposition, which proves difficult to do as Brittany is surprisingly resistant the idea.

“Maybe I dislike spoiled rich men who waste my time and think far too highly of their overexposed charms.” The edge to her smile and that glittering thing in her gaze grew harder. Hotter. “I’ve seen it all in the pages of every tabloid magazine every week for the last twenty years. It’s about as thrilling as oatmeal.” 

“I must have misheard you. I thought you compared me to a revoltingly warm and cloying breakfast cereal.” 

“The similarities are striking.”

Brittany resists the proposal, at first, mainly because Cairo scares the hell out of her. The instant attraction, the intense need she feels around him - she's never felt like this around any man ever before. The proof?  Our girl, despite growing up poor white trash, whose mother had a series of unsavory "boyfriends" and who has been married THREE times, is still a virgin.

Because of course she is. She's a Harlequin Presents heroine. 

Have I read wackier? Yes. Is this still pretty damn bananapants? Also yes.

But you know what? The banter is rip roaring fun, especially in the first half as Cairo and Brittany are circling around each other like a pair of feral alley cats.

“I’d say I’m flattered,” Brittany was saying coolly, “but I’m not. I’m not interested in being any man’s mistress. And not to put too fine a point on it, but your charms are a bit...” She raised her brows. “Overused.” 

He blinked, and took his time with it. “I beg your pardon. Did you just call me a whore?” 

“I’d never use that word,” Brittany demurred, and though her voice was smooth he was sure there was something edgy and sharp lurking just beneath it. “But the phrase rode hard and put away wet comes to mind.” She waved a hand at him. “It’s all a bit boring, if I’m honest.” 

“Do not kid yourself, Ms. Hollis,” Cairo advised her quietly. “I’ve had a lot of sex with a great many partners, it’s true.” 

“That’s a bit like the ocean confessing it’s slightly damp.”

Eventually, of course, Brittany accepts his proposal because he can give her the one thing she's truly been working towards - money and security. Her plan has been to gain enough notoriety, make enough money, to eventually retire to a tropical island and never be bothered again. Agreeing to Cairo's transactional marriage gets her to the finish line that much quicker.

“You don’t actually want to get married, then. You want to inflict your wife on someone—the world, perhaps? As any girl would be, I’m of course delighted to be considered an infliction. It’s all my dearest fairy-tale fantasies made real, thank you.” 

As fun as the banter is and even though I fell a little bit in love with Brittany, the story isn't perfect. Too much repetition on some of the internal dialogue and not enough deep dive scenes showing Brittany and Cairo truly getting to know the real people behind the masks they wear for the public. We're "told" this is happening, but it's hastily sketched out on the page. A couple of emotionally angsty heart-to-heart scenes were all that was needed to really put this romance over the top, but as is it barely scratches the surface.

In the end I'm going to remember this one for the fun banter in the beginning that had me chuckling more than once, and while I zipped through it in one sitting, it felt a bit too much like empty calories in the end. Cotton candy over a decadently creamy slice of cheesecake. As a reader I always seem to prefer the latter.

Final Grade = B- 


Whiskeyinthejar said...

Presents Hero Logic

This needs to be a college seminar.

“Maybe I dislike spoiled rich men who waste my time and think far too highly of their overexposed charms.”

This made me swoon. lol

who has been married THREE times, is still a virgin.

WENDY, WHAT???? If this genre has no fans, then I'm dead, and all that.

Yeah, cotton candy is good and all but I feel you on not quite getting that satisfaction. At least fun and off the tbr!

azteclady said...

Okay, I need to know that there's at least some attempt to make her virginity make some kind of sense? pretty please?

And also, I love how she essentially turns the usual slut-shaming bullshit on him. Oatmeal indeed!

Jen Twimom said...

Your review had me LOLing. I love it! This sounds like it was worth the read. The fact that she's still a virgin just tops it all!

S. said...

I no longer read harlequin books, but I still have a few on the shelves and some I remember quite fondly.
Your post reminded me of the silly fun of some of them... ;)

Wendy said...

Whiskey: I read other reviews where readers were complaining the hero's motivation made no sense and I was like, "He's a Presents Hero - are you new here?!" 🤣

AL: The Still A Virgin After 3 Husbands makes no sense for Hubby #1 who is your garden-variety abusive skeezeball she married (as a teenager!) to get away from her dysfunctional home life (he was her ticket out). It makes more sense (well "Presents Sense") for Hubby #2 (they both wanted fame and the reality show was looking for a married couple and it's sort of hinted he might have been gay?) and Hubby #3 (old man knocking on death's door who wanted to annoy his children).

And she is glorious with turning his bullshit back on him. The banter is truly amazing in the first half.

Jen: The exiled King thing was bananapants enough but then the Thrice-Married Virgin just fell right into my lap. Truly an inspired choice for this month's theme even if it was sort of by accident. God Bless Presents.

S: Oh yes, this was complete silly fun. It wasn't perfect but I had a good time reading it.

willaful said...

Wow!I would have been impressed if the thrice-married heroine had been a gently-used heroine (ie, no sex with more than two men and she can't have enjoyed it!) but still a virgin is true bananapants realm!

Wendy said...

Willaful: Right?! You would almost expect "has had sex but husband(s) labelled her a 'cold fish' and blamed the lackluster sex all on her." And then you remember it's a Presents and no, it has to be more bananapants than that - of course she's still a virgin 😂