REVIEW: His Unknown Heir by Chantelle ShawSaturday, February 12, 2011 1:00
I always think long and hard before putting up a review of a book that I didn’t like. If I don’t have anything to contribute to the discussion, I’m likely to shrug and put the book aside. But with this one I do have something to say, and, hopefully, it’s of interest.
Recently, Jessica and Tumperkin did a joint review of Michelle Reid’s latest, The Italian’s Future Bride. Parts of that story annoyed them. Well, this is a new release from the Modern/Presents line and it annoyed me with tropes that were either old-fashioned, insulting to today’s woman, or inadequately thought-out. Perhaps all three. Jessica and Tumperkin had similar issues.
Harlequin books are basically coffee-time books. A book to read when you’re taking a break from real life. But they have to reflect real life enough to make a believable read, even if the world isn’t populated by relatively young, extremely rich businessmen in their early thirties who all know how to dress well and beautiful, put-upon heroines. You buy into that when you buy a book from this line, but this, this was too much for me.
This book is a secret baby book with knobs on. Right at the start in the prologue we are given the moment that Lauren decides not to tell Ramon that she is pregnant, when he makes it clear that he regards her as his mistress, nothing else, and that in the fullness of time he will marry someone of his own station and have suitable children.
While I can understand her anger and humiliation, nothing, in my opinion, gives anyone the right to keep a secret like that from the father. I’ve read secret baby stories that have, despite the odds, worked, but this wasn’t one of them. Lauren has no excuse other than her determination not to tell Ramon about the baby. She acts like a spiteful teenager who wants to deprive her baby of the wealth and privilege that he could have by birth. While at this stage she doesn’t know that Ramon is a Spanish duque, she does know that he’s very rich and influential in the business world, although, considering Ramon is a tabloid favorite, it’s hard to know how she could have been ignorant of the fact.
Oh yes, and later on in the story, when Ramon reappears, it seems to be assumed that the baby, Mateo, is Ramon’s heir after he marries Lauren. As far as I know, Spanish law is like the British variety, and titles of nobility can’t be passed onto illegitimate children, even if the parents marry after the birth. No dukedom, or duquedom, for Mateo.
At this stage in the story, there is not even consideration of a termination. With Lauren so determined about not telling Ramon, and with a demanding career that she’s worked years to attain, it seems like the natural choice for her. But it isn’t even discussed. I can understand that this is a marketing decision by HMB, in that some of the readers might not agree with that, and the anti-abortion lobby is vocal and even violent in the USA, but if they want to avoid it, don’t set up this kind of situation. Lauren isn’t religious, she doesn’t have any convictions, and so for a woman in her position, that’s the obvious solution. It might have made for a more interesting book, although not a long one. Personally, I dislike the HMB attitude to termination. It doesn’t make a woman “bad,” and it doesn’t mean she won’t have children in the future and it annoys me when a woman doesn’t take the rational view, but instead goes off on a I-can’t-possibly-terminate-his-child rant of guilt. It would certainly have solved their problem.
The use of the word “mistress” is something I find confusing in HMB romances. It’s unsuitable for a contemporary, outside the realms of the gutter press who sometimes use it for effect, but in this book the real meaning to the coded word is made more than clear. In this context, “mistress” means “prostitute” or maybe even “fuck buddy” without the buddy bit. Albeit one man at a time.
Despite Ramon’s insulting behavior, at this point in the story my sympathies are with him because of Lauren’s choice. Her reason, that her father walked out on her and her mother, seems petty and even irrelevant. Certainly not enough to merit such a momentous decision.
So they part, and fourteen months later, Ramon seeks out Lauren again. Here’s where he loses my sympathy. Lauren is a lawyer specializing in commercial property, working for a big London firm. She is called into her boss’s office to be told that she will work for Ramon exclusively on a project. So Ramon has used his “tycoon” status to get her back, and at this stage he doesn’t know about the baby. What’s more, she’s expected to work from his penthouse, the place where they used to make love on a regular basis. Coercion and nasty manipulation, he has it.
At this stage, Lauren could have gone back to her boss and come clean. He already knows about the baby, and if she explains the whole situation to him, he’d have known that he’s in extremely dangerous legal waters and wouldn’t have allowed her to take the job anyway, no matter how hard Ramon pushes for her.
Of course, Ramon soon seduces her and then discovers about Matty, and is, understandably, angry. He then threatens to take Lauren to court for custody, because she shoves him into daycare all day and he can take better care of her (how? By employing nannies? Whoop-de-doo). Double standards, he has them, too. This was where I get angry instead of irritated.
There are plenty of working, single mothers out there who do very well, and this book is an insult to them. Daycare doesn’t equal neglect. Instead of defending herself, Lauren goes into guilt mode. She also shrinks like the proverbial violet from the thought of a court case. This is a lawyer, folks, and although her specialism lies elsewhere, she’d surely know about the legal ramifications. The court wouldn’t give Ramon custody just because he’s richer than Lauren, however much money he throws at the case. She could threaten in return, and she would be highly likely to win because she’s the mother and because she has a good record of care where her child is concerned. Only in areas of neglect would the courts seriously consider awarding sole custody to the absent father, and there is no evidence of neglect here. So why did Lauren decide to go to Spain with him and let him take care of Matty? Here, I think, is where the motivation of the characters is too weak to overcome the trope. If she feels overwhelmingly guilty, then maybe. But although there is a mention of it, there is more mention of Ramon’s hawtness. Oh, yes, and how about a court case for inappropriate behavior while she’s working for him? Sure as hell she’d win that one.
Like many HMB heroines, Lauren loses all her mental faculties in bed. He seduces her and she regresses to teenagerdom, the equivalent of the fangirl squee. Ramon continues to treat Lauren like shit and misunderstands her feelings and her motivations, although he, like her, loses any maturity he might have between the sheets. He uses sex to manipulate her into changing her mind, and he does it with a cold-blooded calculation that made me decide that perhaps he did deserve Lauren after all. It ends with Lauren happy to give up her career, although to do him justice, Ramon does find out the way she could become a lawyer in Spain. That part I liked, but it was too little, too late.
I have other issues, notably the Beautiful Bitch Ex-Mistress, but that on its own wouldn’t have been enough to put me off. And the drunken colleague, who is seen off by the macho hero.
So, a hot mess of a book. I can’t decide whether Chantelle Shaw was pushed for time and just turned out a book, whether her editor destroyed her original intentions, or whether it’s just that the tropes have reached the end of their lives. A good book might have been possible, but the appalling behavior of both the hero and the heroine made me angry rather than entertained, irritated rather than involved in their dilemmas. I’ve read some great Mills and Boon/Harlequin/Silhouette books recently that tell a wonderfully romantic story without insulting my intelligence, but this one breaks all the rules, and not in a good way.
And here’s where an author writing a review might have a different viewpoint. You often see comments by disgruntled authors receiving bad review that miss the point. They will say, “Let’s see her write one!” But in this case, yes, I could write a better story than this one. I’d make Lauren discover she was pregnant after she’d walked out on Ramon, and then not be able to get in touch with him to tell him the news. Very wealthy people can effectively block access to their presence. I’d definitely make her not a lawyer but in a different profession, so that by the time she discovers he’d stepped into seriously actionable behavior, it would be too late and she’d agreed to marry him. I wouldn’t have Ramon take her to his penthouse and a spurious “office” there. That’s totally unacceptable and there’s really no need for it. If she needs to go to his apartment, she could take an important document there, just to deliver it or something similar. The emotions, not the tropes, and the motivations beefed up a bit. I’d also make the bitch ex-mistress come and see her later, and say, well, the best woman won and all that. Just because I’m tired of the irredeemable bitch thing.
She committed a sin. And hides a shocking secret. Ramon Velaquez, heir to the Velaquez winery, clearly stated his cardinal rule to Lauren Maitland – he can’t promise her more than a red-hot affair. Whilst she heard the words, her heart wasn’t listening, and her punishment for falling in love was to be sent away. Two years later, and Ramon still can’t escape the memories of the woman he banished. But when he finds Lauren again she’s independent, strong, and harbouring a shocking secret.
Read an excerpt.