The Billionaire's Fake Fiancée
The Billionaires of Manhattan are a mixed bag of above-average (Breaking the Billionaire’s Rules), good (Most Eligible Billionaire), and great (The Billionaire’s Wake-Up Call Girl). I enjoyed the humorous, borderline ridiculous set-ups of those three, and The Billionaire’s Fake Fiancée evokes a similarly ludicrous, just-go-with-it vibe. Martin does an excellent job keeping the tone of the series light and frothy (exactly what I like from my billionaire romances), while subtly incorporating powerful messages about female agency, empowerment, and misogyny. Her couples are well-suited with great chemistry, and together they learn important lessons about themselves and each other. Unfortunately, Rex – our newest bachelor billionaire – is a rare off-note. I wasn’t convinced of his redemption, and he’s awful for so much of the story, it spoils the sticky sweet happily ever after. The Billionaire’s Fake Fiancée isn’t nearly as enjoyable as its predecessors.
After watching her mother abuse prescription drugs as a way of coping with her father’s abandonment, playing the pawn in her father’s schemes for women and attention, and getting dumped by her fiancé while hospitalized after a serious accident, Tabitha Evans is determined never to let another man define her fate. Tabitha’s romantic life is exclusively friends-with-benefits, and her girlfriends are her family. Her mobile hairdressing business has slowly and steadily gained a loyal clientele, and she’s been able to hire two employees. Unfortunately, a repetitive motion injury threatens to derail all her hard earned success.
Facing a six-week sabbatical while she rests her wrist, Tabitha hopes her employees can keep her clients happy and satisfied until she can return to work. Her biggest challenge is Rex O’Rourke, her weekly Friday night appointment. Intimidating, grumpy, dismissive (folks: he acts like a selfish dick), and predictably irritated by either Tabitha’s clothing, colorful hair, obsession with Hello Kitty and soap operas, and/or conversational gambits, Rex is capital D – Difficult. He’s also sexy and hot (of course he is!), and Tabitha’s had a crush on him since their first meeting. Worried about his reaction to her ‘vacation,’ she’s come along on this Friday night appointment to introduce her temporary replacement and ensure a smooth transition. After overhearing him angrily berate his employees, her employee seems poised to flee. Tabitha placates her with funny Rex stories of her own – laughing when the employee suggests she might be a masochist – and then marches her in at the appointed time. She downplays Rex’s interest in her ‘vacation,’ and laughs at Rex’s rude comments, never letting her composure slip. Later, at home with her girlfriends, Tabitha tells herself everything will be okay; surely she’ll be back to work – and Friday nights with Rex aka Captain Sternpants – before her savings run out.
Rex is predictably annoyed by Tabitha’s sartorial choices, peppy personality and distracting mannerisms, but surprised by his own curiosity about her vacation. On Friday night she deflected questions about it, and it’s not that he cares either way… but for some reason, it’s now Tuesday, and his busy mind keeps returning to her evasions. It’s a relief when right-hand man Clark distracts him with a real problem: losing out on an extremely important client. The Driscoll family controls a huge portfolio of funds, and although Rex manages a small portion of their business, he wants the rest, too. Unfortunately, a recent Sunday feature painting Rex as a playboy, didn’t go over well with Driscoll family matriarch, Gail Driscoll. Clark suggests Rex go on the annual Driscoll private cruise and hire a fake fiancée to go along with him. Poor Rex. He has concerns – namely, can he spend an entire cruise working with a beautiful woman nearby without wanting to have sex with her (God forbid he has to keep his hands to himself!)? So he tells Clark to hire an attractive, annoying nobody, whose personality is so abrasive he won’t want to touch her with a ten-foot pole. He then makes an oddly specific list of qualities he hates, and the only person surprised when Tabitha shows up at the marina is… Rex. Am I too subtle, reader? TABITHA EMBODIES EVERY SINGLE THING HE HATES. Here’s my hate list: REX.
Tabitha couldn’t turn down the money. Or the opportunity to go on an all-expenses paid private yacht vacation. Or the chance to spend time with the AMAZING Rex (eyeroll). Or the shopping spree with a private stylist. She’s poor(ish), not dumb. And EVERYONE EXCEPT Rex (and maybe Clark) knows that Tabitha’s sparkly, ‘everything is perfect,’ facade masks an intelligent, self-aware and self-made businesswoman beloved by friends and less self-absorbed clients (even Gail gets this right away). Since it’s apparent Rex isn’t happy to see her, Tabitha sternly reminds herself she’s there for the money, and not to let it get to her. But things get off to a rocky start after she’s introduced to the family, and Gail’s nephew Martin – who gives off weird, villainous vibes. Rex is dismissive of her suspicions (big surprise), and instead mocks her for making a soap opera out of real life… but Tabitha isn’t so sure.
Oh friends, Tabitha is unbelievably ALREADY head over heels for Rex, a supercilious jerk who alternately insults or grudgingly admires her. She’s attractive, great with people – especially Gail – upbeat, kind, intuitive, and most importantly to this story, loyal; but she can’t help her attraction to Rex, or stop lusting after his super hot body. She even digs his growly version of speaking. Of course, these are totally normal feelings for a workaholic, constantly glued to his phone/computer screen jerk with poor interpersonal skills, who alternately demeans or disparages the one woman who’s managed to capture his attention for longer than one date. Look, Tabitha is an appealing heroine, and I wanted to like her… but she likes Rex! And he’s a straight-up douche who cares more about his business and money than the people around him. Any good feelings he has for Tabitha are so begrudgingly doled out, I just wanted her to tell him to fuck off and marry his business already. Oh, hold up. He’s also deeply attracted to her hot body, and has to force himself not to touch her. But we know that’s not happening; and since Tabitha is unable to resist him, they go at it passionately whenever one or both of them can’t resist. Sometimes they use a condom (you’re supposed to notice), but sometimes they don’t. Oops. I don’t think you’re supposed to notice that.
So. I hated Rex, and he ruins this story, but the subplot involving Martin is also poorly executed. We can all see what he’s up to from miles away, and the only purpose it serves in the end is to provide a means for Rex to prove he’s changed and his business doesn’t mean more to him than Tabitha – who dumped him after the cruise because she’s anti-relationship, even with billionaires. Unfortunately, he stumbles right out of the blocks. I WISH she’d stuck to her guns and told him to beat it… except, this is a romance. Spoiler alert: she forgives him.
If Rex were a more likeable hero, this book would have received a higher grade. But he’s a jerk, and even lovely Tabitha can’t redeem their love story.