Million Dollar Marriage


Too Wicked To Love
by Rita Clay Estrada
( Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7073-X
Too Wicked to Love is full of “too’s”: too many clichés, too familiar, and too many inexplicable actions by the main characters. Sadly, “too enjoyable” is not one of them.

This is the common story of a second born son, in fact, a twin, trying to make his way in the American West and deciding he needs to marry money to make a go of it. I kept asking myself what was wrong with plain old hard work? Benjamin Drake never did figure that out.

Benjamin travels to the small Texas town of Clear Creek to tell his older twin, Anthony, that Anthony is the new Duke, as their father has just died in England. (I never quite understood why the messenger didn’t go directly to Anthony, but, hey, it’s fiction right?) Once in town, he sees widow Sarah Hornsby and likes what he sees. Anthony was supposed to have dinner with her, so Ben takes his place. It is not love at first sight, just indifference. Ben enlists Sarah’s help in finding him a rich wife. His reasoning is that Sarah is a well-respected widow and can steer him towards the single women with money. Sarah agrees because of the promise of a shipment of English fabric and notions for her store.

Sarah is the widow of a man who demanded that she be a quiet, obedient wife. After he died, she set out to make her own life and to fight for what she believes in, which includes women’s rights. In 1889, this is not a popular belief, although no one seems to raise too many objections about it. Sarah is the proprietor of a store that can best be described as a specialty store for women. Sarah purchases home-made items such as doilies, afghans, and quilts from various women, sells them, and then provides the women with either the money or material to make more things. Most of the women Sarah works with are either poor and downtrodden, are wives of abusive men, or are women trying to raise children on their own.

My biggest difficulty with this whole aspect of the story is that we are in a small town in Texas, not a rich community, and yet Sarah makes a good living from selling these things. In addition, she supports a woman, Lillie, which Sarah “rescued” from an abusive husband. Lillie lives with Sarah, helps run the store and acts as Sarah’s confidante. This store also serves as the gathering place for women, where everyone comes for gossip, good desserts and of course, to purchase little goodies for themselves.

There is little to set Sarah apart from other romance heroines. She is trying to act the independent woman, yet is vulnerable inside with low self-esteem. She is audacious enough to start her own business and make a go of it, and yet worries that Ben will not think her pretty.

Ben is a rogue, or so he describes himself, yet is he caring and not afraid to show that side of himself to the world. He has no background or work history, yet when it is time for the town to build their new church, he laments that they are using the old fashioned way of building a foundation and not the new poured foundation. I immediately questioned why he would know this, why no one else questioned how he knew it, and why it even mattered. When they put him in charge of the building crews, the puzzle deepened. This was never cleared up.

The prose used in the love scenes was rather banal. Early in their relationship, after a lighthearted bit of dialogue, note the following incident and reaction:

“ Then, before Sarah realized what he was going to do, he bent forward and kissed the tip of her nose…She stood unmoving. All her senses were centered on the tip of her nose. It felt hot, then cold, then hot again.” All that from a kiss on the tip of her nose? He must be some kisser!

And later, “She craved him like a drowning person craved air to breathe. She placed her hand on the wood [door] and swore she could feel the heat of his.” Lamentably, there was little or no heat in their actual interactions.

Throughout the story, Sarah spends a lot of time denying her growing attraction. Ben, meanwhile, finally acknowledges she means a lot to him, but continues on his quest for a moneyed wife. At one point, he even thinks he may marry and then approaches Sarah to be his mistress. This is love?

The secondary characters are familiar, all with sad stories, so Sarah can save them or at least advise them on the path to betterment. We have the stern businessman who falls in love with a reformed prostitute and forgives her the past. We have the current prostitute who wants a different life. There is even a lesbian thrown in for good measure.

Save yourself the price …Too Wicked to Love isn’t worth the bother.

--Shirley Lyons

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