Dear Ms. Morgan:
I was thrilled to request this book for review after Jayne wrote so lovingly about the first Highland games book which was another battle of the sexes. Many times those types of stories will deter me because often times the heroine is presented as a ball busting bitch that has to be softened by love but Jayne’s approval made me think this would be different. I asked her whether she was interested and she demurred citing the something in the blurb making her a bit leery. I should have learned from Jayne’s discretion.
This book made me so angry. Rachel Hewitt is an actress who performs in a burlesque Shakespeare productions. Her sister, Molly, performs with her. It’s important to note the physical differences between the two. Molly is ethereally beautiful and small and delicate. Rachel is an Amazon. Tall, busty, and loud mouthed. Rachel plays the older, unattractive Gertrude to Molly’s innocent young Ophelia. Michael finds Molly restful, for example, just minutes after speaking with her.
Michael O’Leary’s best friend, Eric Peterson, is in love with Molly but her overbearing sister won’t let them be so Eric begs Michael to come to a show and an after party to take distract Rachel so that Molly and Eric can…romance each other, I guess. This is obviously because Molly has no ability to stand up for herself.
Rachel has a long history of watching out for Molly because of the aforementioned lack of spine and Molly’s very poor decision making. Molly’s poor decision making has led to Molly’s own injuries and damage to others around her. Rachel has had to step in time and again to clean up after Molly. But Molly thinks that Eric is the one and won’t Rachel just give his friend a chance.
Let’s recap here. Molly is a shit for brains who has screwed up before such that Rachel has had to get Molly hospitalized. Molly still can’t stand on her own two feet but claims she knows what she is doing. Rachel is the bad girl for trying to look out for her sister. Eric has a secret that could endanger him and his feckless brother. Rachel is determined to ferret it out and Michael is there to thwart her.
Michael and Eric show up at the burlesque show and proceed to talk in loud voices making fun of the production and leering at the women. That others in the theatre want them to shut the hell up is evidence of everyone else in the theatre being dumbasses and not Michael and Eric being boorish assholes.
Peterson, who split his time between being a concert security guard and a bouncer at a nightclub, swallowed a laugh. He could have booted this pair with a single glance. “We’ll keep it down, boys. We promise. No need to get rough.”
“It’s not that. We, uh, need to escort you out.”
Michael sat up and crossed his arms. “My friend here wants to see the show.”
“But we’ve had several complaints, sir. You’re disrupting the patrons.”
“If you want us out, you’re going to have to physically remove us.” Michael slapped on his biggest scowl. Between his face and the several hundred pounds of muscle he and Peterson shared, it should have been enough to scare away a whole fleet of knobby-kneed ushers.
And what position of strength do these guys stand upon? After all, they dress up in frigging skirts to compete in tossing pine trees around. To wit: who the hell are they to judge.
When Michael is caught hitting on an actress who is not Rachel only moments after trying to take lure Rachel away from Molly, he is taken aback by Rachel’s insults toward him. “When one door slams in your face, another one spreads itself open?” Michael thinks to himself “He might not know exactly what kind of sticks were up the asses of all these theater women but he could at least put a stop to things before they pulled them out and started beating one another.”
See what he did there? He insults the women and presumes that they are going to fight over him. He’s exactly what Rachel describes – a cocky asshole.
And we aren’t even third chapter yet. But the pattern is set. Michael is a boor but his behavior is excused by every one in the book but Rachel; Rachel is the uptight bitch. Does it really matter that Michael is just trying to pick up and nail a chick on his buddy’s behalf? That’s what a good friend does, for goodness sake.
“I’ll say this, Peterson. You’re one lucky bastard to have me for a friend. I’ve never been a man to back down from a challenge. In fact, my motto’s always been the bigger, the better.” He chuckled. “Let’s just hope she feels the same way.”
Even the theatre director complains to Michael about hiring Rachel and Michael smooths over the dispute and shows himself to have a fabulous speaking voice. Michael, you see, is so full of awesome. Not only is he built, rich, and handsome but he handles tempermental theatre folks with ease, is able to talk down Rachel and Molly’s drunken mother from her hysterical and delusional perch, and likely leads forest creatures in intricate highland reels although it wasn’t shown on the page.
When Molly shows up with bruises after going out with Eric, Rachel comes to a sane conclusion–that Molly’s boyfriend is beating her. Again. But Rachel is shown as an intolerant biddy for jumping to those conclusions.
And as for Rachel caring about Molly? Well, Molly accuses Rachel of being self interested.
“That’s just it,” Molly said between sniffles, looking down at the grave with a kind of tenderness that made Rachel shift uncomfortably. “It’s not about you.”
“I know it’s not—”
Molly held up her hand. “See? You know. You try.”
… “For once, it would be nice if we could keep you entirely out of the conversation. Today.
Later in the book when Rachel tries to explain why she was so protective toward Molly, Molly strikes back:
Rachel shrugged. “Yes and no. Maybe not him, but what he represents. Do you know how much it hurt me when you lost Lily? Do you know how hard it’s been for me watching you falling into the same patterns time and time again?”
“No.” Molly frowned. “How could I? You never said.”
What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck is that?
In the end, Rachel has to go on an apology tour. She has to apologize to Molly, to Michael, to Eric, to Eric and Michael’s team. I’m not sure why she wasn’t made to lay prostrate while they all took turns whipping her. I wanted to cry with frustration at how uneven this story was written. How the “boys will be boys” mantra was reaffirmed throughout the story. How the strong female was constantly viewed as the villian for doing the EXACT SAME SHIT the men were doing (aka Eric protecting and looking after his sibling) and getting praised for it.
What makes this so tragic for me is that the voice is very good. The middle of the story, when Rachel and Michael aren’t at loggerheads and are actually falling in love with each other presents the bones of a decent romance.
Yes the heroine was unlikeable because everything she did, viewed through the lens of the characters was deemed shrill and awful. Michael’s frat boy attitude wears off toward the middle of the book, but the anti bold, strong heroine was really evident here and it was not alleviated by the epilogue that shows her part of the team. D