May Contain Spoilers
I’m glad that I didn’t read the synopsis prior to reading Wife by Contract, Mistress by Demand (and wow, that is a mouthful, like too many Harlequin titles!), because it doesn’t make any sense. What’s a money-grubbing mare?? Anyway, like most Presents, the hero is an alphahole, but the story, thanks in part to the art, wasn’t bad. I prefer my heroes to not be such enormous jerks, but, hey, I guess the conflict has to come from someplace.
Gabriella’s mother married a wealthy businessman, and she’s hugely attracted to her stepbrother, Rufus. Rufus is 12 years older, and after enduring an unpleasant divorce, he has sworn off women, especially fortune hunters. In order to keep custody of his young daughter, Holly, he was forced to give half of his fortune to his ex-wife. Now he views all women with suspicion, and Gabriella and her mother are on the top of the do not trust list. Since his father gave her mother a hundred thousand pound loan, and then she promptly married him, Rufus is positive that she’s only pretending to care for his father. Never mind that James, his father, is completely smitten with his new wife.
An unpleasant encounter five years ago has made enemies of Rufus and Gabriella, and both have avoided each other ever since. Rufus has gone so far as to keep Holly away from his parents, so she doesn’t fall under the evil influence of his stepmother. After she passes away unexpected, followed not much later by his father, Rufus thinks he’s finally rid of Gabriella and her money-grubbing mother.
He’s in for an unpleasant shock, for one of the terms of his father’s will is that he and Gabriella must live together for six months as husband and wife, or the entire fortune will be handed over to Toby, their despised, money-grubbing cousin (do you sense a theme here?). Toby really is a money-grubbing ass, and his plotting causes numerous headaches for both of them. They agree to the terms of the will, fully intending to divorce as soon as the terms of the will are realized. Unfortunately for both of them, Rufus can’t keep his passionate mitts off Gabriella, and they quickly enjoy a relationship that has everything to do with sex and nothing at all to do with love and respect.
One of things I didn’t enjoy about the book was Rufus’ dismissive behavior toward Gabriella. He accused her of trying to seduce him when they were younger, and then he had the nerve to accuse her of trying to do the same to Toby. He really did have me enraged more than a few times, but part of the formula for the Presents line is a jerk hero and a heroine who does little but act like a wet blanket. Sometimes this works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t really work for most of the story here, but things did improve near the end. Holly became less of a hateful little brat after spending time with Gabriella, and she bluntly makes Rufus reexamine his behavior of both Gabriella and her mother, proving once again that children see so much more than adults give them credit for.
The art is quite lovely. Clean, crisp illustrations graced every page, with dramatic page layouts that telegraphed all of the occasionally unsettling emotions blazing through the panels. Rufus really needed a time out, and I was so glad when Gabriella finally gave him one.
While Wife by Contract, Mistress by Demand didn’t have me jumping with joy, I did find it entertaining. And of course, all of the pretty pictures made it easy on the eyes.
Grade: C+ / B-
Review copy provided by publisher
About the book:
Gabriella fell in love with her stepbrother, Rufus, on the day her mother remarried. However, her love for him was shot down by Rufus’s words: “Don’t try to seduce me for my money.” Since then, hatred has flared between the two. Five years later, Gabriella’s stepfather has passed away, leaving behind a strange will. Gabriella and Rufus are to live together for six months as husband and wife in order to inherit the fortune! Gabriella will live with a man who accuses women of being money-grubbing mares?