Deceived by Desire
Marie Force’s Deceived by Desire, the second in her Gilded series, takes place in Rhode Island, at the turn of the twentieth century. It begins when Aubrey Nelson, having invited his friends to his parents’ seaside residence, arrives first and finds the place unfit for human habitation. The previous staff quit en masse because Aubrey’s mother is a nightmare to work for, and the new housekeeper, Maeve Brown, is desperately trying to whip the place into shape almost single-handedly.
This is an interesting start with a challenge for the hero and heroine, but the book immediately plunges into problematic issues. Maeve mistakes Aubrey for the new butler, and he indulges his insta-lust by playing along, well aware that he can get further with her as a fellow servant than as her employer. Then the butler shows up, but Aubrey is undeterred. He invites Maeve on a picnic, keeps telling her to call him by his first name, and comes to her room at night to offer her some cake. Maeve, who’s hiding a Dark Secret, says over and over that this isn’t appropriate, that she’s not interested, and that if something happens she has more to lose than he does. But by the second day they’ve known each other, he’s in love, because she’s Not Like Other Women.
Readers looking for these tropes might enjoy this book. But for my part, I was extremely uncomfortable with the setup whereby an employer ignores an employee’s boundaries because he claims he’s so attracted to her that he can’t control himself around her. It was difficult to believe this book was published in 2019. Aubrey keeps pushing and pushing for intimacy, for marriage, and for Maeve to do things that embarrass her. She bites her lip and makes token protests (“Please, Mr. Nelson, this is indecent.”) but then does what he wants. He makes all the decisions, including those to do with having children (If she ended up pregnant, that would keep her with him, or so he hoped.), because he has all the power, the money, and the experience.
But at the same time, this is dull to read because the two of them constantly tell each other how beautiful, brave, kind and loving the other one is, which the narrative calls “witty banter”. Their conversations beat the same issues to death. Maeve frets that she won’t be accepted by society, Aubrey says she’s perfect and he loves her. Maeve feels guilty about her Dark Secret, Aubrey says she’s perfect and he loves her. Oh, and the Dark Secret? She defended herself from her evil husband (who was impotent – virgin widow ahoy!) and the force of gravity killed him for her.
Aubrey’s family and friends then turn up, perhaps because Aubrey and Maeve adoring each other isn’t enough to pad out the rest of the book. His friends are the sort of aristocrats who don’t use titles, because this isn’t set in some dystopian hell where class distinctions exist. They describe how they became besotted with their wives in the previous book, while the wives instantly befriend Maeve. Then the hero of the next book hears that his father and brother were killed in the same accident, making him an earl though he’s avoided responsibility all his life.
But Aubrey’s mother hates Maeve for being lower-class and Irish. Everyone – including Maeve’s maid – reassures her and tells her she’s wonderful, but Maeve literally trembles when her mother-in-law glares at her. Finally, the mother-in-law says Aubrey is too good for Maeve, so she should leave him. Maeve, who’s pregnant, runs off without a word to Aubrey, let alone a plan to support herself. So he has his mother dragged away screaming while he finds Maeve…
…and, unbelievably, the story ends. Yes, there’s the blissful baby-logue, the expected cherry on the cliché cake, but the story stops without Maeve having done a thing to stand up to her mother-in-law. I couldn’t believe what a cop-out this was.
Finally, the sex scenes are numerous, but one of them refers to “the soft pouch under his scrotum”. Maybe he has two scrotums? Scrota? Whatever. Between the exhausted tropes, the consent issues, and most of all, a heroine with less backbone than a jellyfish, there’s nothing to recommend about Deceived by Desire.