|Ever since I read Grace Livingston Hill’s The Best Man (c. 1914, and no, I’m not that old. The book was my grandmother’s. I come from a long line of romance readers.), I have enjoyed stories about the hero stepping in at the last moment and marrying the heroine. Hence, I found the title of this book, The Stand-in Groom, absolutely irresistible. I guess I should have checked the credits before I plunked down my $7.99. Had I done so, I would have realized that this book is a reprint of one of Brockmann’s Loveswept romances from the 1990s. Not that The Stand-in Groom didn’t provide me with a couple of hours of enjoyable reading. But I guess that, given Brockmann’s more recent works, I was expecting a story with a little more depth. There is a dated feel to the book.
The set-up is a familiar one, although more common in historical than contemporary romances. The heroine, Chelsea Spencer, needs to get married to receive her inheritance from her grandfather. She needs the money to support her struggling computer consulting business. Chelsea has an aversion to marriage. She has seen her mother and her older sister lose their own identities and aspirations in support of their husbands’ careers. So she had made a business deal with an Italian banker, Emilio Santangelo, who wants the green card that marrying her will get him. Her family is delighted, both with Emilio’s noble antecedents and with the fact that Chelsea is finally marrying. A huge society wedding is planned.
Three days before the wedding, Chelsea is mugged by three toughs. She is rescued by a hunky guy, driving a Meals on Wheels truck. Giovanni (Johnny) Anziano, had seen Chelsea in the neighborhood and admired her from afar. When fate brings them together, he invites her to dinner, only to discover her imminent wedding. Chelsea finds Johnny attractive, but easily rejects his advances. Then she discovers that Emilio has fallen in love with another woman and is breaking the engagement.
Desperate, she tracks Johnny down and offers him a deal: pretend to be Emilio at the wedding on Sunday, head off to Vegas for a real marriage ceremony, spend four days with her in the Virgin Islands on a “honeymoon,” and agree to annul the marriage once Chelsea’s inheritance is in hand. In exchange, Chelsea will pay him $75,000
Johnny is tempted by the bargain, both because the money will bring him closer to his dream of opening his own restaurant (he’s head chef at one of Boston’s most exclusive restaurants) and because Chelsea once again needs rescuing. That she is beautiful and desirable doesn’t hurt. But, of course, the best laid plans and all that.
Chelsea is a real 90s heroine: bright, ambitious, and marriage resistant. She wants to prove to her family and to herself that she can succeed on her own. Her previous romantic experiences had left her wary of men. But when Johnny kisses her at the wedding, well, bells go off. The last thing she wants is to let the undoubted attraction between them to interfere with her plans.
Johnny is a paragon among heroes. I mean, he spends his mornings delivering meals to the elderly and spending time with his clients, for heaven’s sake. And, though Chelsea doesn’t realize it till close to the end of the book, he is highly successful in his chosen career. And he’s honorable to a fault; he promised Chelsea that nothing would happen between them till the annulment goes through, however many cold showers that takes. This sure does build the sexual tension.
The Stand-in Groom began life as a category romance and remains exactly that. The large type (something my old eyes appreciate) can expand its page numbers, but the story itself suffers from the limits of its type. I certainly do not object to authors like Brockmann (and Delinsky and Brown and even Nora), repackaging their earlier books to take advantage of their current success and popularity. But I, for one, will be sure to check the copyright date henceforward.