The Bargain Bride

Lee Williams has flown to Curaçao to marry the man she met last fall. Rash? Perhaps, but she was so sure it was the right thing to do! But things are a mess now, since he’s nowhere to be found, and his cynical former boss, Max Van Breedan, has made a most improper offer: Marry him so he can inherit, and he’ll help her go back, after his father passes.

A good romance need not have an exotic locale, truly; some of my favorites have been stories that happened in plain little towns all over. But an exotic locale can help a lot, and in this case, being so far from her home is part of what drives this plot along.  Max is a successful businessman in Willemstad, and when she accepts his proposition, he and Lee must, of course, have a “honeymoon.”  They spend some time with his relatives (including his irascible father, who thinks Lee hung the moon once he discovers she plays the guitar), then fly to Aruba.

The agreement all along is, naturally, that they’ll present the public face of a whirlwind romance, and being deeply, madly in love, but at night, it’s hands off.  Even after that part of the arrangement is…erm…mooted, Lee still wonders a lot what happened to Adrian, the man she originally had come to see.  She learned to like Max along the way–turns out he’s an accomplished racing sailor, and she enjoys very much going out on the little sailboats with him. But with her thinking that Max wanted it to end shortly, and her wondering about Adrian, she just wasn’t going to say what she was feeling.

The dénouement, when Lee finally sees Adrian again, and discovers what a rat-fink he truly is, kind of settles things, but she still thinks that Max wants a divorce, so she prepares to go to Amsterdam, while he’s away on business…but he gets back early, and he’s not a happy fellow about this turn of events.

This was an era in Harlequin romance when the type was large, the prices were low, and the books (and plots) tended to be thin; this one is only 187 pages, so it’s a very fast read. But don’t let that description make you think this book is not high-quality! I enjoyed the exotic setting and somewhat out-of-the-ordinary plot here, and our protagonists are easy-to-understand, entertaining people. We get a good look inside Lee’s head in this story, as she admires her “husband,” yet tries not to admire him too much.

For all it’s lack of wordiness, this book gives us a nice story, with clean, concise descriptions that nonetheless make Willemstad jump off the page at us a little, and secondary characters that we can believe and enjoy. There’s enough of a Caribbean feel, without getting into stereotypes, that you get a little sense of the Antilles. The chemistry between Lee and Max builds steadily, and the descriptions, while not explicit, are sensual and entertaining.  I enjoyed this well-crafted little story very much, and will be keeping my eyes open for other works by Flora Kidd.

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