Dear Ms. Probst:
As I read your book, I kept thinking about a phrase my mother uses: “There’s no accounting for taste.” The first two books in your Marriage to a Billionaire series–The Marriage Mistake is the third–have sold like hotcakes. Each book features a self-centered hero, a zero(ine) to heroine chick, a love spell, a meddlesome Italian family, and lots of screaming (literally) sex. I haven’t read the first one, The Marriage Bargain (Jane reviews it here), but have waded through the second two.
Your novels are not to my taste.
The Marriage Mistake features one of the oldest love stories in the book: the ugly duckling turned swan little sister who has forever been in love with her older brother’s hot as hell best friend.
Carina Conte is part of a large Italian family that’s become fabulously wealthy through their bakery business, La Dolce Famiglia. The company is run by her neanderthal older brother, Michael Conte, who is determined to keep his baby sis untouched by any man. Carina, who has recently gotten her MBA in Italy, has been brought to America by Michael to work as an assistant to Max Gray, Michael’s best friend and the CEO of the US branch of the business, La Dolce Maggie. Here’s the condescending conversation the two men have about Carina’s new job:
“I’ve hired a new associate. She’ll be under your direction, and you will be responsible for her training.”
Max cut his gaze to the man seated across the table. His nerve endings prickled at the announcement, but he remained silent. He stretched out his legs under the conference table, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and quirked a brow. He’d worked endless hours and sweat blood to get the family empire of La Dolce Maggie, the U.S. branch of Italian-based La Dolce Famiglia, off the ground, and damned if he’d step aside nicely.
….”So, who’s the hotshot coming in?”
Max snapped his mouth shut. “Excuse me? Carina, your baby sister? You’ve got to be kidding me—isn’t she still in school?”
Michael poured himself some water from the cooler and took a sip. “She graduated last May with her MBA from SDA Bocconi, and she’s been training at Dolce di Notte.”
Michael smiled. “Hardly. They are not looking to conquer the world like us, my friend. But I can trust them to teach her basic skills in the bakery business. I wanted her to train with Julietta but she refuses to lag in her older sister’s shadow. She’s been begging me to come to America and her internship is up. It is time she now join the family company. Capisce?”
Ah, hell. Yeah, he understood. Max was being reassigned to babysitting duty for the youngest sister of the clan. Sure, he loved her like a sibling, but her tendency to burst into tears over emotional scenes did not go well with business. Max shuddered. What if he hurt her feelings and she crumbled? This was a bad idea all around.
“Um, Michael, maybe you should put her in accounting. You always said she’s capable with figures, and I don’t think management is a good fit. I’ve got a crazy schedule and I’m in delicate negotiations. Please give her to someone else.”
His friend shook his head. “Eventually, I will move her to CFO. But for now I want her with you. She needs to learn proper management and how La Dolce Maggie works. You’re the only one I trust to make sure she doesn’t get in trouble. You’re family.”
The attitude of the two men would be even more obnoxious if it didn’t have a twinge of truth to it. Carina is immature, prone to impulsive decisions, and completely nuts where Max is concerned. She may have an MBA but it’s pretty clear she doesn’t really care about the family business; she’s just been unable to stand up to her heavy-handed family. (She likes to paint.) Carina came to New York determined to make her own way but, after one dinner with her brother and Max, she’s agreed to live with Michael and his wife–just for a week–rather than move directly into the loft she’s got waiting for her and to let Max “hone her skills.”
The one skill she really wants honed is how to have a hot no-strings affair. This makes very little sense–she’s been in love with Max forever, she comes from a conservative Catholic family, and, at age 26, is still a virgin. But, she felt oppressed by the limits placed on her while she lived in Italy and now that she’s in the big bad USA, she’s ready for a whole her.
Her entire life revolved around fighting for her place within the family among her gorgeous sisters and talented brother. It seemed everyone had a special niche, except her. Raw anticipation flowed through her blood at the thought of a fresh slate. Another country. A new job. A place to live on her own. The possibilities were endless, stretched before her like a gift, and she was tired of wasting those minutes on a man who’d never love her.
Marriage and settling down with one man was no longer her goal.
A hot-blooded, no-holds-barred affair definitely was.
Her skin tingled. Finally, she was freed from restrictions and intended to explore all of her sexuality. She’d find a man worthy of her and dive headfirst into a physical relationship with no hope of long-term commitment.
Yeah. About time.
The first man Carina throws herself at backs off from her because Max told the guy to keep his hands to himself. This, understandably, pisses Carina off so she hies herself off to Max’s mansion–much is made in this book about how lavishly Max lives–late on a Saturday night and tells him to back off. The scene is so unbelievable, it’s silly.
“You don’t get to have a say in my life. No matter how far we go back!” She closed the distance between them. Fisting her hands in his T-shirt, she stood on tiptoes and snarled, “I deserve one night of great sex, Max. Would you deny me that? Would you deny what you give to yourself? I’m not a perfect china doll placed on a shelf to be played with in careful moments. I’m flesh and blood and I want messiness and passion and orgasms.”
Oh, yeah, he got it. His cock throbbed in time to her words. The scent of fresh rain, coconut and female swarmed his senses. Max fought the insanity of the moment but she battered him mercilessly.
“You scared the crap out of him, and he was afraid to touch me.”
“Then I was right. No man is worth your time if he can’t even stand up to someone who blocks what he wants.”
“Don’t you judge him, you arrogant ass. You’re his boss, and you made him believe I was some scared little virgin afraid of a little physical contact.”
She pushed at his chest. Temper wrapped around arousal and egged him on.“Isn’t that what you are? There’s nothing wrong with virginity. Do you want to give it away on the first man who tempts you?”
A low growl escaped her throat.“Yes! I’ve done plenty of things, Maximus Gray, things you wouldn’t believe. And I liked them, and I want more, and if I want to screw every cute man in the whole frikkin company you’re not going to stop me. You don’t have the right.”
The words hung thick and heavy in the air. A challenge. The alpha in him rose to the surface, where civility and politeness faded away. She vibrated with a fiery sexual tension that verged on explosive and damn her to hell and back, he was going to be the man to turn it.
He gave her one last chance as he clung to the edge of the cliff.
“Okay, so you’re a big girl who can make her own decisions. Fine. I’ll stay out of your life even if you are making a big mistake. Go home and grow up.”
He held his breath. Those dark eyes met his and some of his madness must have shown in his face. She eased back a precious inch and studied him.
Then smiled. “Go to hell, Max. I’m done with you.”
Satisfaction roared through him. He dropped from the edge and fell into the pit without a regret.
He grasped her around the waist and lifted her up high against his chest. Three steps and her back slammed against the door. His erection fit between the wet notch of her thighs and emitted a shocked gasp from those plump lips. Her pupils dilated.
“You asked for it, little girl. So you got it.”
He bent his head and took her mouth with his.
OK, so she stalks into his house, tells him to let her have great sex with someone else, he says he’ll leave her alone so she can make her own (bad) choices, he mauls her and she, of course, loves it. They are heading toward naked lust slaking when Michael calls and just his voice on the answering machine is enough to stop Max and Carina in their tracks.
One of the hilarious things in this book is that Max is an uber-alpha male who spends most of the book being bossed around professionally and personally by Michael. This is apparently justified by two things. One, Max thinks Michael has the right to direct Carina’s sex life and two, Max isn’t a Conte and comes from a mean dad. Given that Max has the emotional depth of a potato chip, I found his self-deprecation unsympathetic. He and Carina both needed to grow up and act like sane adults.
This, of course, does not happen.
Instead, Carina decides Max should be her one night stand–she’s (not really) convinced herself she’s over him and “the image of a naked Max thrusting her to orgasm made her clench her thighs together.” She throws herself at Max over and over–while working with him professionally with limited success–and he keeps saying no because Michael would kill him, fire him, and end their life-long friendship. Oh, and he’s also not good enough for her (those pesky childhood inadequacies.) Finally, after pages and pages of lust, confrontations, arguments, kisses, and descriptions of the expensive clothes they wear, the two are in Vegas and, apparently, it’s not the house that always wins in Vegas, it’s the “night.” In the nightclub of the famous (and oh so expensive Venetian) Max decides to take her.
….He eased himself over to her, grasped her hips, and pulled her hard against him.
Her eyes flew open, and she let out her breath in a sharp whoosh. His erection bulged in his pants and he drew her close so she got the full power of his arousal. His temptress didn’t welcome him into her arms and smile with invitation.
Instead, she sneered and jerked her chin. “I don’t think so. Go find yourself a nice cocktail waitress. Where’s Sawyer?”
He realized then this wasn’t going to be easy, but it would be fun. “Not here. Get over it.”
She snorted and didn’t give an inch. “I don’t need to get over it, Max. Since you’re not the man for the job, why don’t you step aside?”
He grinned. Dipped his head. And bit the sensitive curve of her neck.
A shudder wracked through her. His hand reached out and raked over the hard nub of her nipples poking through the fabric. Dear God, thank you. She wasn’t wearing a bra. “I screwed up. Sawyer made me see what an asshole I’ve been. Denying how much I want you. Denying what’s between us.” His thumb flicked the tip of her breast again. “I’m done running away.”
She refused to surrender. “Liar. You’re going to walk me to my room and tuck me into bed. Tell me I’ll feel better in the morning and pat yourself on the back for getting innocent Carina away from the big bad wolf. Fuck you, Maximus Gray. I’m finding Sawyer.”
She twisted in his arms but he spun her around and lifted her buttocks up hard against him. This time, he caught her tiny gasp as he crushed his mouth over hers.
The music pounded and his tongue dived deep, pushing into every corner and making sure she knew who mastered who. In seconds, her body melted in surrender, and her fingers thrust into his hair. He took his time until his intention was known, then slowly broke the kiss.
Her lower lip trembled. “Max?”
“I am the big bad wolf, sweetheart. Now get your ass up to your room.”
The rest of the book goes downhill from there. There’s a forced marriage, lots of sex with mentions of 50 Shades of Grey, marital woes, spurious drama, and a professional transformation so ludicrous it’s an insult to hard-working artists everywhere. Oh, and one of those irksome epilogues that reassures the reader Carina and Max are living happily ever after and lets devoted Probst followers know who will next work the love spell whammy.
I realize this is a snarky review. And it has recently been pointed out to me by a DA reader that romances like this are intended to be fantasies. (I was complaining about the sudden proliferation of billionaire heroes.) And it’s true that books chocked full of luxury brand name items tend to make me gag. (At one point, Carina is wearing “Ciccotti shoes” made with “real diamonds”; Max wears a “Vacheron Constantin” watch and an ever-changing array of custom-made suits.) I’m sure part of my distaste for this book is I dislike the idea a fantasy life has to be one of such extreme wealth–I miss the days when just being a millionaire made a hero hot. In the same way I think it’s unhealthy to have air-brushed perfect women setting a standard for beauty, I think it’s depressing having a massive bank account is now inherently super sexy. This is my bias and it’s not one readers have to share. I’m a big believer in readers having the right to enjoy whatever the hell they want to. I don’t like the billionaire parts of Probst’s books, but I can see that many do and that’s fine with me.
But, the big bucks thing is not the main problem with The Marriage Mistake. The main problem with this novel is that the characters act like children, their story is implausible to the point of irritation, and their happy ever after is achieved with careless ease. The plot and the prose are pedestrian and predictable. The jokes aren’t funny. It’s just not a very good book. I give it a C-.