Friday, August 3, 2018

Book Review: A Deal at the Altar by Lynne Graham

A Deal at the Altar Cover One of Lynne Graham's better romances

A Deal at the Altar by Lynne Graham

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: April 22, 2013
Pages: 189 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Special Releases
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Beatriz Blake is 24 and a virgin, mostly because she's never met a man she trusted enough to become that vulnerable to him outside marriage, and her sole serious relationship ended in her being dumped several years ago, when her boyfriend could not accept marrying her as a package deal with responsibility for her mother. Her mother became a paraplegic after a car accident when Bee was four. Her callous, wealthy father could not hide that he is revolted by any kind of disfigurement or disability, and Bee’s mother gracefully bowed out, agreeing to a divorce so he could marry again. Her father has supported her mother for the past 20 years, purchasing her a disability-accommodated house, paying to maintain it and the salary of a live-in carer. He also paid for Bee’s post-secondary schooling, which has allowed her to have a career as a second-grade teacher. But now her father angrily informs her that he is in major financial trouble, and he wants Bee to marry Sergios Demonides, a Greek billionaire interested in purchasing his hotel chain, so he can get a better price from the sale.

Sergios's beloved cousin recently died and left him guardian of his three, very young children, and Sergios wants a wife of convenience to basically care for his home and raise the children, while he carries on his life as if he were still single. Sergios was married once before, when he was very young, and after that disastrous mistake, he never wanted to marry again, until compelled to do so when the problem of raising his cousin’s children arose.

There is no way that Bee would submit to such an outrageous arrangement except for the fact that her father cruelly declares that if she doesn’t convince Sergios to marry her, he will stop paying for her mother’s care. Bee knows that on her meager salary she can’t afford to pick up the slack, and she would never abandon her mother. So, in desperation, she meets with Sergios and has a very frank discussion with him about what her father has said and what she can offer his children as a stepmother.

Sergios is impressed by her honesty, which is rare in his world, and her good sense and obvious intelligence. But he is surprised, and dismayed, that he is very attracted to Bee’s voluptuous figure as well. Most importantly, because getting into a sexual relationship with a convenient wife would bring all sorts of messy, emotional complications that he has no desire to wade into. But also because a sexual pull toward a woman like Bee is very out of character for him, and he hates anything in his life that is unpredictable. He normally likes primped and polished, rail-thin beauties, and by those standards Bee is plump and, worst of all, to a sophisticated man of the world, she is downright frowsy with her plain clothing, unstyled hair and lack of makeup. Bee is anything but fat, however. Hidden underneath her loose clothing, she has an hourglass, Sophia Loren type figure, and she has kept in shape the past three years since her boyfriend dumped her by pole dancing.

When Bee meets Sergio’s young wards, she is immediately drawn to them. Eleni is a baby girl who seems poorly responsive and whom Bee soon realizes needs to be tested for hearing problems. Milo is a clingy, fearful toddler. And Paris is an angry, resentful seven-year-old who is struggling at school. Sergio soon realizes that Bee, with her training as a teacher and heartfelt tenderness toward his wards, would be exactly what these children need, and they soon strike a bargain to be married.

This book has the usual intensity that is an enjoyable hallmark of Lynne Graham’s romances that draws me back to them again and again, even though there is no other Harlequin Presents author that I enjoy, and the only type of billionaire romance I tend to read (Jill Blake’s Without a Net was a recent exception). This is a well-done redemption romance. Both Bee and Sergios have abandonment issues from difficult childhoods and from each having suffered a previous, bad romantic relationship. But Bee, by personality and due to a loving mother, has retained compassion and an ability to love and nurture others. Sergios has instead withdrawn into himself and given up on love.

While Lynne Graham (LG) does include fairly explicit sex scenes in her novels, she never uses crude language or includes gratuitous sex. It always contributes to the growth of the relationship and/or creates conflict between the protagonists. This particular book is a “slow-burn” romance, one of my favorite kinds, where the protagonists do not instantly leap into bed, but rather they have time to develop a relationship before the sex begins.

I also always enjoy it when LG includes children as the inciting incident for the start of the relationship between the romantic protagonists, and these children are adorable.

I was particularly happy to note that both the hero and heroine in this novel have earned the beautiful, fit bodies that are an expected component of any contemporary romance. Sergios has a gym in the basement of his fancy, London townhouse and, as mentioned, Bee does intensive workouts. I also liked how LG utilizes the unusual type of exercise that Bee engages in to further the sexual side of the convenient marriage in this romance.

It is a very common trope in an LG romance that there is an unplanned pregnancy that leads to a marriage of convenience. This is one of the rare books in her 100-plus body of work in which that does not happen, which is a nice change. I like her work in spite of the unplanned pregnancies, not because of it.

Finally, Bee is one of LG’s more assertive heroines (not quite to the degree of the heroine of Bond of Hatred, my all-time favorite LG novel, but close). She frequently goes toe-to-toe with Sergios, and most of the time comes out on top. This is also not a “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid” type story, which is not my favorite type of billionaire story, as Bee is initially introduced as the heiress to a rich man.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 4

Romance Plot: 4

Children Plot: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 4

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