Harlequin Romance conjures certain images in ones’ head, particularly if you or your mother read them in the 70s and 80s. You probably remember the red header, the schmaltzy covers, and the shamefully ludicrous plots. Harlequin has been desperately trying to put this image behind them by introducing something for every romance reader, (except the queer ones,) with 11 imprints and 21 “series”, each catering to a slightly different demographic. For a fascinating look into the industry, go on their website sometime and look at the incredibly specific requirements to be published under the Harlequin name. (http://www.harlequin.com/articlepage....)
To celebrate their newest series, Harlequin KISS, the publishers have made their first novel under this name available for free on NetGalley, Amazon and B&N, and on tryharlequinkiss.com. KISS is a “NEW contemporary romance series from Harlequin” “Four stories every month of fun, flirty and sensual romances that you will love!” “Harlequin KISS stories are all about the delirium of a potential new romance – where fun-loving heroines and irresistible heroes just can’t get enough of each other.”
In short, glossy, flirty romances, but still with a strong happily ever after. Waking Up Married earns every single star by embodying that ideal...for the first four chapters.
I really liked Megan and Connor’s courtship in Vegas. It may not have been realistic, but it was smart and flirty and I felt a deeper connection between the h/h than just sex. Megan approaches Connor in a bar with a request. Pretend to leave with her to get her friends off her case. Connor agrees, but for added realism, asks her to join him for a drink first. From there, they begin a vodka soaked evening of flirting, gambling, waffles, and eventually a smoldering kiss. The next morning, they wake up, married, and while Connor remembers most of the evening, Megan’s next to a virtual stranger. She handles the situation rationally and far more calmly than I could manage. She wants to call a lawyer, but Connor still thinks they can make this work.
And then the story utterly falls apart. Despite being madly, obviously in love with each other, Connor and Megan both deny the possibility and approach their quickie marriage as a business merger. They agree to a three month trial and if Megan’s not the perfect trophy wife Connor’s looking for, she can leave. First, I had trouble believing a successful software engineer with a plan to become a single mother would even want to be Connor’s arm candy, and secondly, I really struggled with what Connor got out of the the relationship. There was a base inequity to the relationship that the author tried to explain, but never rang true.
Megan tries to push Connor away with bad food and a gross face mask, because she ALSO doesn’t understand why he wants her, while he pursues relentlessly, wooing her with gifts, conversation, and sex. Only after she falls for him does he take a step back and realize that maybe he’s gone too far for a business partnership. At this point he reveals himself to be an emotionally abusive sociopath, withholding all affection while Megan follows him around like a lovesick puppy. His ex conveniently turns up to narrate this and Megan, still desperately in love, flees. Even after she moves across the country, Connor keeps calling and turning up to try and convince her to come back. He refuses to take no for an answer, even after he realises that this behavior from his father is WHAT DROVE HIS MOTHER TO SUICIDE. Please pause and consider this. First he recognizes the fact that his father strung his mother along. He acknowledges that she tried to leave multiple times. He knows that her helplessness in the situation led to her death. He realizes he’s doing the same thing to Megan. HE EMBRACES IT.
In the end, his in-touch-with-his-emotions BFF helps Connor realizes he loves Megan too. He reads her email, because at this point, why not. He realizes she’s been approved for sperm donation. (Oh yeah, the blurb doesn’t tell you this, but the whole “contract” is about her resigning herself to being a single mom, but he’s got a pregnancy fetish and wants to impregnate her himself.) He flies to Denver, after she’s told him to leave her alone, confesses his love, says he’ll love the little bastard baby like his father never loved him, and, surprise! She didn’t go through with the sperm donation! They get back together and their HEA is that they decide to wait to have children.
There’s nothing fun or flirty in the last 175 pages. It’s two people with tragic, traumatic pasts struggling not to let their own marriage fall apart. To twist the knife that much harder, Megan’s ex-stepfather shows up just to not remember or recognize her. Megan’s friends are flat out evil and opening mock her failed relationships. She is so starved for an emotional connection that she would have stayed with Connor through all of the neglect and loneliness, if Caro hadn’t shown up to warn her of his MO. And then she still gets sucked back in. I want to take Megan to a nice counselor to work on her self esteem and maybe get her a puppy. Connor, I just want gone.