The Lady's Proposal

A Gentleman’s Bargain by Patricia Waddell
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6994-4
When I was young and reading love stories (there weren’t any “romances” way back then), I enjoyed novels with a young heroine and an older hero. It didn’t bother me that Arabella was 18 and Mr. Beaumaris was 35 or that Venetia was 25 and Damerel was 37. But as I matured (I refuse to say got older), I found this particular pairing less and less attractive. Unfortunately, Patricia Waddell’s new romance has an innocent 21 year old heroine and a hero in his mid-thirties. Thus, perhaps I was not predisposed to enjoy the novel.

Claire Aldrich has come to San Francisco to live with her brother. Her employer had died and left her enough money to make the trip so she writes that she is coming and sets off, her first less than intelligent act. When she arrives, she discovers that her brother never lived at the address he gave her. Her money is running out so she decides to look for a job. She walks into one of the city’s better hotels, thinking to apply for a position as a maid.

Garrett Monroe, one of San Francisco’s wealthiest citizens, is at that moment regaling his best friend, the hotel’s owner Christopher Landauer, with his need for a woman. His beloved grandmother’s health is becoming fragile and Grams wants Garrett wed. Her doctor seems to think that if her grandson were to marry, her spirits and health would revive. Garrett has no interest in wedded bliss, but has the idea of hiring a woman to pose as his fiancée. Then Claire walks into Christopher’s office asking for a job.

Garrett proposes that Claire pretend to be his fiancée. In return, he will pay her well and set one of his men to find her brother. Claire is reluctant to agree, but really has no choice. Before she knows it, she is outfitted in fashionable clothes, moved into the Monroe mansion on Nob Hill, and introduced to society as the woman who has finally captured the elusive bachelor’s heart. Needless to say, Grams is delighted.

There is a term used frequently and disparagingly on one of my lists: “mental lusting.” This refers to an all too common practice of some authors of spending lots and lots of time in the heads of the hero and heroine as they long for each other. Frankly, much of this book consists of Claire and Garrett “lusting” after each other.

Claire falls immediately for the handsome banker, but she just knows that her feelings won’t be reciprocated so she has to hide them. But she is always thinking about Garrett. Garrett had promised on his word as a gentleman that this would be simply a business relationship, but the more time he spends with the lovely innocent, the more he lusts after her.

Of course, all this “mental lusting” leads to some real heavy petting and a real hot love scene or two. I just couldn’t warm up to either of the main characters. Garrett is the prototypical “marriage avoidant” male of wide experience who is charmed and attracted by Claire’s innocence. So he decides to save her from the dullness of bourgeois marriage by making her his mistress. Gotta love a guy like that.

As for Claire, well, she’s young, very young, even younger in experience than her age would suggest. She is no match for Garrett’s practiced skill. She keeps on telling herself not to respond but she just can’t help herself. I kept telling myself, remember, she’s very young. Which is part of the problem. I prefer my hero and heroine to be a good match.

Waddell introduces a “heroine in danger” theme at the end of the book, which requires Claire to act foolishly. The villain’s motivations and identity provided a bit of a surprise, about the only one in the story.

It is not a good sign when I take a week to finish a book. Those familiar with my reviews have heard of my “pick up, put down test.” If I find it easy to put down a book, but don’t mind picking it up, then it’s an acceptable romance. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble making myself pick up and finish A Gentleman’s Promise. Hence I must say, “think twice.”

--Jean Mason

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