The Italian's Bought Bride
I know, I know. When you’re reading a book called The Italian’s Bought Bride, chances are the hero is not going to be the sweet, sensitive type. Or the Beta type. Or the twenty-first century type. However, it just had “guilty pleasure” written all over it. I thought maybe I was reading the type of book where the hero was a complete jerk – who made up for his many deficiencies later with some high-quality groveling. Unfortunately, he doesn’t even grovel at all. What an opportunity lost.
Allegra Avesti thought her fiance Stefano was the man of her dreams. He swooped into her life, courting her like a prince and making her feel special and loved. Then on the eve of her wedding, she overheard him talking to her father and discovered that her marriage was little more than a business deal. Her attempt to talk to Stefano was disastrous, and her mother manipulated her into fleeing to England, leaving only a note behind. She never looked back, and has had virtually no contact with her family (or Stefano) in the last seven years.
But now Stefano needs her help. His housekeeper’s husband died in a tragic accident, and ever since then their son Lucio has retreated into his own world, rarely speaking to anyone. Doctors have suggested that he has autism (he’s around the age when autism tends to manifest), but Stefano is sure that Lucio’s behavior is caused by grief. A doctor suggests an art therapist who has had success with grieving children, who happens to be (you guessed it) his almost-wife Allegra. Stefano goes to England, “accidentally” turns up at a wedding reception she’s attending, and tries to convince her to help him. His techniques are rather heavy-handed. There are still a lot of emotions between them, and his insistence that they can just function as friends seems a naive at best. But even though she’s not sure close proximity to Stefano is a good idea, Allegra agrees to take the job. She hands off all her cases and packs for Italy.
Even before they arrive in Italy, their relationship starts to become complicated. Stefano has probably always loved Allegra in his own fashion, but he doesn’t know how to express his feelings in a normal way. Allegra realized years ago that she had fallen in love with a fairytale – more the idea of Stefano than the actual man. At the time, their intimacy was restricted to kisses. Now she finds herself responding like the grown woman she is, but she fears Stefano’s high-handedness. Meanwhile, she works with Lucio and comes to love him, but the cure that Stefano seemed to expect overnight is not immediately forthcoming.
There were parts of this story that I found interesting. Though children struck dumb by tragedy are definitely a romance cliche, I liked Lucio and his mother and found the mystery behind his problem fairly compelling (at times more compelling than the romance). The author clearly tries to show that Stefano is a good person because so many people love and care for him, and because he himself cares deeply for Lucio. I almost could have bought it had he not been such a jerk to Allegra.
I liked the idea of their relationship; in general I find “we-messed-up-when-we-were-younger-but-we’ve-gained-some-maturity-so-let’s-try-again” stories worthwhile. From Allegra’s side, it was a pretty good tale. You could see how she’d grown and changed, and accepted her own culpability in the botched relationship. The problem is Stefano. The author shows how hurt he was, and how sincere his emotions probably were at the time. But he never seems to accept that he was still a high-handed jerk, and that Allegra had a good reason to leave him. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a story that practically begs for a good grovel scene. Had Stefano even made any attempt at an apology, my grade would have been considerably higher.
But he doesn’t; because of that, I can’t really recommend this one. Unless, of course, you’d like to write your own apology scene at the end. Mine would start, “No wonder you ran away on our wedding night, Allegra, because I was a major-league asshole and your father was selling you to me. How can you ever forgive me?” But since there are thousands of books out there that already include satisfying endings, I’d probably just read one of those instead.