The Kept Woman
Okay, I’ll admit the premise is straight out of Harlequin Presents: A single mom struggling to support her three kids by working as hairstylist is hired to pose as the fiancé of a millionaire Senatorial candidate. Hackneyed, no? But in the hands of a talented author even the creakiest of premises can result in an enjoyable book and I’m happy to report that’s primarily the case here.
What elevates The Kept Woman above most of the rest is the author’s undeniable ability to write smart, always likable characters and fantastic dialogue. Add in a cast of vivid and memorable secondary characters and Susan Donovan’s latest merits a recommendation, if not an altogether enthusiastic one.
Life is a constant struggle for Samantha Monroe. When her artist husband suddenly realized he was gay – hello, after siring one last child – then disappeared off the face of the earth without paying a dime in child support, he left Sam’s self-esteem in shreds. With a toddler fighting tooth and nail against giving up his diapers, and an older daughter and son, Sam is moving perilously close to the end of her proverbial rope. When a night out with the girls (including Kara DeMarinis, a powerhouse political operative and one of Sam’s devoted clients) leads to a drunken declaration that Sam would happily be a “kept woman” in exchange for the money that would ease so many of her problems, the ever-resourceful Kara gets a bright idea.
Her client, one Jack Tolliver (of the Tolliver political dynasty), is in danger of loosing his campaign to be Indiana’s newest senator largely due to his playboy image. What better way to make voters forget about the string of bimbos he has squired around town and at least one major faux pas than by announcing his engagement to a wholesome working woman complete with a ready-made family?
Not surprisingly, desperate Sam is persuaded to take on the task Kara proposes to her and, after some tough negotiations, move her children into Jack’s currently vacant family mansion. Despite her determination, however, keeping her emotional – and physical – distance, from charming Jack isn’t quite so easy.
Within the admittedly absurd confines of the plot, The Kept Woman is a thoroughly charming and fun romance. Despite her difficult personal circumstances, Sam is never a Victim, but instead is a forthright woman who gives as good as she gets. To the author’s credit, Jack – in the first half of the book, anyway – is a spoiled rich boy and serial womanizer who, quite frankly, isn’t that easy to like. But as the author skillfully peels away the layers, Jack becomes ever more irresistible to Sam – and, I think it’s fair to say, to readers as well. Still, there is that creaky premise – one it’s hard to completely ignore.
Still, Ms. Donovan does a great job in surrounding Sam and Jack with a cast of lively secondary characters (I’d like to see a book featuring Sam’s best friend Monte) and a villainess who manages to be pretty darn despicable without ever straying into romance novel e-e-e-e-e-v-i–l vixen-land, and those qualities in themselves weigh on the positive side.
So, why a B grade and one not any higher? This is a tough one to explain without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the intelligent and resourceful Sam doesn’t behave either that intelligently or resourcefully in the book’s final chapters. Still, despite the frustrating nature of her actions and what necessarily follows them, I enjoyed the book so much that even a less than stellar ending added up to only a minor quibble for me.
I also have to admit that I also grew more than a little bit tired of the author’s relentless – and Harlequin Presents-esque – descriptions of Sam’s natural beauty. Yep, she’s a big-chested, skinny-waisted natural beauty who only needs that proverbial dash of lip gloss and swipe of mascara to put those painted skanks to shame!
Ultimately, however, despite my quibbles, The Kept Woman is easily Susan Donovan’s most enjoyable book since the utterly fabulous Take a Chance on Me. If you like your books smart, fun, and sexy, then this one might well be for you. Still, I can’t help lamenting the fact that this author can do better – as she has certainly proven in the past. Here’s to hoping for the future.