A Man for Megan

Man in a Million by Darlene Scalera
(Harl. American #807, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16807-1
I am not a stickler for realism in a romance; I can thoroughly enjoy a frothy fantasy. I had hopes that Man in a Million might develop into a contemporary fairy tale of rags to riches. Certainly the hero was dark and dangerous, and the setting -- the "cottages" of Newport, Rhode Island -- was perfect. Unfortunately, both the setting and the hero were defeated by a confusing plot and an annoying and occasionally distracting writing style.

Aimee Rose dreams of designing clothes while working in a Newport boutique. The owner encourages her talent, but he has lost his struggle to compete with the malls. Providentially, the day before Aimee learns that the boutique will close, she is offered another sort of employment. Vivian Tremont, one of the Newport elite, promises to pay Aimee one million dollars if she marries her son.

Hugo Tremont is elderly and ailing, with only two unmarried grandsons to inherit his successful retailing empire. Vivian’s son, Shawn, is blond, charming, a drinker, and a man-around-town with no ambition beyond enjoying the social scene. His half-brother, Colin, is dark, intense, the architect of the success of the Leonard’s of New York department stores, and a bastard. His mother was not his father’s wife.

Hugo wants the more able of the two to inherit the business, either by leaving everything to Colin or -- preferably, in Hugo’s view -- by persuading Shawn to change his way of life. He believes that marriage will steady Shawn, so he is in the process of changing his will to leave all his assets to the grandson who marries first. Hence Vivian's offer to Aimee. Vivian wants her son to inherit even if it means he must marry a stranger.

Vivian invites Aimee to a dance she is holding, giving Aimee an opportunity to meet Shawn, Colin, and Hugo. Aimee's first reaction is to walk away from the deal, but she is strongly attracted to Colin. When she finds out the next morning that the boutique is closing, her mind is made up. She accepts Vivian Tremont's offer, all the while planning to carry out her own agenda.

If there is one thing that all the characters in this novel have in common, it is that they all have agendas. Vivian has still another agenda she hasn’t disclosed to Aimee, Colin has an agenda, and Aimee has multiple agendas that seem to change daily. The author never spells out any of these schemes in advance -- they only become clear as they play out. This is an effective method of building suspense only as long as the reader eventually understands what the characters intended.

I understood Aimee’s original plan fairly well, although I was never certain exactly what she planned the final outcome to be. Once she started making changes, I got lost…and lost interest as well. I did go back and reread a bit, trying to follow Aimee’s reasoning, but I found rereading hazardous as well.

Scalera has a fascinating way with an adjective. “Aimee stood sheltered beneath Colin’s arm, no longer standing alone against the menace barely below Vivian’s constructed expression.” Constructed? Or constricted? When I reread carefully, I could figure out that presumably the author meant “carefully constructed expression,” but should I have to reread? It breaks the flow of the narrative.

Sometimes a satisfactory ending can at least partially redeem a below average book. With this in mind, I read through to the very end, but even the conclusion disappointed me. It wasn't the complete "happily ever after" that I look for in a romance.

All in all, Man in a Million was a disappointment. For the first 50 pages or so, I had hopes that this was going to develop into a romantic comedy of manners. My hopes died, killed by convoluted plotting and a distracting writing style. I would approach Man in a Million with caution.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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