Lush Money has a whole lot of fun playing with romance tropes. Featuring a confident, smart alpha heroine who’ll do anything to get what she wants and a beta hero seeking romance, it’s a fun, sexy, strongly written read – but one I had to downgrade due to some uncomfortable consent issues.
Mateo Ferdinand Juan Carlos de Esperanza y Santos – just Mateo for short – is the only male heir to the tiny Spanish principality of Monte del Vino Real, and he’s a man of the people, preferring to spend his time at his family’s vineyards digging in the dirt. In fact, he arrives, still dirty from the garden, to his meeting with Roxanne Medina, a meeting arranged by his father for reasons Mateo does not yet understand. When Roxanne’s assistant starts plucking hair from his head for DNA testing, he soon learns why. Monte del Vino Real (as the name may have telegraphed) is known for its many vineyards, and is nearly out of money as it tries to cultivate a new type of wine. A marriage of convenience to a rich woman like Roxanne will fix their cash-flow problem and buy Mateo time as he tries to get the grapes cultivated and growing.
Roxanne – a hard worker who built her company from the ground up in total defiance of the racists and sexists who’ve tried to shoot her down – sees the marriage to Mateo as a simple, cut and dried matter. She’ll give him money to revive his country, he – after a testing period – will provide her with a child – preferably a female one – for which she will allow three nightly visitations a month for one year. The marriage will be purely a professional arrangement that will solve everyone’s problems, will end with a divorce, a large settlement for Mateo and shared custody of the future child. Plus she thinks he’s fascinating, and they’ve both been too busy to clean their pipes, so where’s the harm?
But as Heart once sang – what about love? Mateo doesn’t want to bring a kid into a relationship that has none – his parent’s marriage was an affair-fraught disaster and he has multiple half-siblings – and after dealing with her lousy mom and absent father Roxanne doesn’t think love fits into her life. Mateo resists Roxanne, but as he will soon learn, it’s hard to resist the woman for long. So he proposes that one night a week they’ll go on a date and get to know each other, cutting the sex down to two nights a week. There’s nothing more horrifying to Roxanne than emotional intimacy – but to get her “perfect baby”, she’ll do it. Sparring and fighting, mistrusting and trusting, getting caught fucking in the back of a truck by the press and getting into fist-fights at state dinners, Mateo and Roxanne will have to do a lot of work to turn their romance real – or at least make it look real.
The best way to enjoy Lush Money is to take it as a very soapy, over the top truffle. These characters are larger-than-life, shouting, cursing, lying and sobbing. Once you accept it for what it is, it’s easy to enjoy the kinda hooty ride.
I sympathized pretty early on with Mateo, who just wants to do the right thing and then gets roped into The Roxanne Horny Picture Show. He acquiesces quickly enough and then returns fire on the aggression front and Pop Go His Daddy Issues. You still pity his dizziness to a degree – as well as his repeated inability to look before he leaps.
Roxanne was just as hard to love. La hermana has Issues. Just like every alpha, she had an absentee dad and a garish and embarrassing sleep-around of a mom, whom Roxanne now resents and pays off to stay quiet and out of her life (her mom is dug up and used as a secondary villain in the rushed and chaotic final hundred pages). Roxanne’s control issues somehow make her an excellent boss. She’s pushy and aggressive, but has her vulnerable side. Her fantasy about a baby – perfect and female – is a great inversion of the male alpha fantasy of a perfect son. Slowly, her layers are revealed; fittingly, it takes ages to dig to her soft underbelly, though adding a too-sweet backstory about her connection to the small town priest and the orphanage he runs comes too little, too late in the story.
Roxanne and Mateo hate and lust, manipulating one another and the press and using their money to their advantage until they finally bang up against Mateo’s awful father and Roxanne’s worse mother and have to work together. Their romance felt very Jackie Collins to me, colored by Roxanne’s need for control and Mateo’s need to be seen as a well-rounded man; for a lot of readers it’ll be catnip. I enjoyed the sweet parts and raised an eyebrow at the OTT ones.
The best side character is, without a doubt, Mateo’s botanist, ex-rebel Sofia who is still tartly lively and also tries to beat up Roxanne.
But this is one of those romances that’s not going to be for everyone. I had to dock a few points off Lush Money’s final grade for a few reasons, because as wonderful as it is to see all of these tropes be reversed, to see the woman as the tough, aggressive billionaire and the man as the more vulnerable one, dubious consent isn’t cool and fun, and the first sex act between Roxanne and Mateo definitely counts as dubcon. Some tropes still belong in the trash, no matter who’s enacting them. And yes, because this is Romancelandia, Roxanne wants to Do the Do naturally without turkey basters being involved, which I found amusing for a character so calculating and determined to keep herself at arm’s length – and who had Mateo jerk off into a cup for DNA testing. There’s also some overripe dialogue (Example – Mateo, thinking about the dubconny sex he’s had with Roxanne: “She’d treated him like a stud in her stable. And Jesucristo, he had neighed.” Also: “His cock was a hard, happy friend stretched down his pantleg.”).
But if you like camp, high emotion, reverse-old skool romance, you’ll enjoy the heck out of the aptly named Lush Money. Heaven knows I did.