Any Rich Man Will Do
The recent ATBF column on African American romances motivated me to read one for review, and the fact that Any Rich Man Will Do had an intriguing premise didn’t hurt, either.
Bad Girl gets her comeuppance. That would make anyone gleeful, except when that comeuppance becomes desperate, terrifying, and hungry. Jana Franklin, the man-hunting, man-stealing, Manolo Blahnik-women-stomping bitch from Francis Ray’s previous novel, Like the First Time, has lost it all. Since destroying her husband’s love with her affairs and being ostracized by her now ex-husband and his formidable family, Jana’s life has gone into an inexorable downward spiral. The woman who has always relied on the generosity of men’s pocketbooks and never on useless things such as job skills, has had to sell her expensive jewelry, clothing, even her shoes to survive. She has only 97 cents left, and if she doesn’t pay for the seedy motel room where she lives by tonight, she’ll be out in the streets.
Desperate, Jana crashes a charity ball in an ultra-wealthy neighborhood to do what she does best: find a rich man to worship her and care for her material needs. It doesn’t happen. Jana meets rejection after rejection from the high society to which she once belonged, until her final attempt at seduction leaves her stranded in a ritzy shopping district just closing up for the night. Jana has nothing, no one, nowhere to go, and the near-starvation she has endured for the last three months finally catches up with her.
It is not unusual for a woman to walk into Tyler’s sister’s luxury linen store, but it is unusual when she faints at his feet. One look at the lovely but haggard face of Jana tells him this woman is in trouble. Jana’s reviving, and then fainting again while in the store’s lavatory tells him this woman is trouble. As in litigation trouble. Tyler, who isn’t going to let an unscrupulous stranger sue for injuries occurring while in his sister’s store, takes Jana to the hospital. Kindhearted Olivia wants to help Jana with her troubles; the worldly Tyler wants to show Jana the door. Discovering how truly dire Jana’s situation is compels Olivia to generously offer her an apartment to live in and a sales job at her store. Tyler can see Jana for the hardened manipulator she is, and doesn’t trust her one inch, but he soon becomes intrigued and then entranced by her transformation.
Any Rich Man Will Do is primarily the story of Jana’s redemption. Author Ray chooses to focus on the less explored path to redemption than the usual one of resolutions to do better, followed by constant backsliding. From the beginning, and for the first time in her life, Jana realizes that she has truly hurt people. The humiliation and disgrace she has suffered has starkly taught her that. What petrifies Jana now is finding the self-confidence to forge a new life, when all her past deeds remind her that she doesn’t deserve it. It takes Olivia’s, and then Tyler’s, continuous support and patience to give her the encouragement she needs to become a better person.
Tyler may feel strongly attracted to Jana, but that won’t stop him from protecting his sister from any potential troubles stirred up by Jana. Once he starts believing in Jana’s efforts, he supports her more and more, and cannot help falling in love with the new Jana. Time after time, Tyler never fails to give rock solid loyalty to Jana. His roped muscles, flat stomach, and the way he fits snugly into his jeans aren’t minuses, either.
Olivia deserves a special mention. Olivia is so kind-hearted, so charitable, and so generous in spirit to welcome a complete stranger into her home and her business. It takes a great, great deal of faith to help people based on their inherent goodness, and while I admit I couldn’t have done it, I admire Olivia greatly for doing so. Without her initial support, Jana would have slid into the oblivion of homelessness, a graver punishment than even she deserves.
However, the thing is, Olivia’s incredible generosity is also part of the book’s major flaw. Olivia, her son Griffin, and some other minor characters are drawn carefully and distinctively, yet have one trait in common: they are unrealistic. No one can be this good of a person. No one can be such a sterling mother, sister, businesswoman, churchgoer, benefactor, and alluring siren all in one. No kid can be this darling and adorable. No minister’s wife can be this non-judgmental. My impression is that because Jana’s past deeds were so horrible, Ms. Ray felt she should surround Jana with people who are pillars of goodness, but such paragons makes for less than scintillating reading.
In the end, this is really only a blip in an otherwise nice blend of women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Fans of either genre won’t be disappointed by Any Rich Man Will Do, and they get something extra, to boot.