Review: Guilty

Guilty by Anne Mather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And yet another hot Italian stud saves a prematurely middle-aged English rose wasting away in the countryside, just waiting for the right man to come along and water her garden and fill her womb with his virile seed, so she can have Miracle-Gro babies.

Laura Fox is thirty-nine years old and teaches high school English in northern England and lives in a tiny two-bedroom cottage by herself, since she has a grown daughter who moved away to London to become a model a few years ago. She lost her virginity to a man in a party at sixteen and when the man–who was married and a lot older than her, by the way–found out how young she was, he freaked out and disappeared. Laura never saw him again. She had to live with the stigma of being a young, single mother in a small village and raised her daughter with the help of her parents. Having to put herself through school, taking her care of her daughter, and working to make a living, Laura looks up twenty years later, only to realize that life had passed her by and she’d somehow become a dried-up old spinster.

Laura has convinced herself that she is somehow content with her existence, occasionally going out with a man she deems non-threatening: he is a fellow schoolteacher called Mark, who still lives with his mother and takes her out to dinner and to the theater sometimes. She has friends. She sees her daughter Julie, too, when Julie remembers she exists, which seems rarer these days and it suits Laura fine, since Julie resents her for not giving what Julie deems a proper childhood and because Julie is a proper monster and a bitch.

But One Fateful Day, Julie calls Mother out of the blue and announces that she has found herself her a Man to Marry and would like to bring him around for Mother to take a gander at him. Laura is surprised at this because Julie has never cared about her approval on anything and now here she is, demanding to be seen and bringing along some strange man with her.

Jake Lombardi is thirty-two years old, Italian, wealthy, ridiculously good-looking, and a widower with a cute 8-year-old daughter. And a castle! Well, his parents have a castle. He also drives a Lamborghini because what self-respecting, rich Italian stud doesn’t? When Laura is asked by her friend Jess if Jake a.k.a. “Giacomo” is sexy, Laura basically says of course because he’s “an Italian.” LOL! He’s basically straight out of Harlequin Presents Central Romance Casting. It’s like Anne Mather called them up and asked straight up for him. “Yeah. Give me the Lombardi Special. Sexy Italian, amazing lover, some emotional baggage, maybe a little moppet, and really understanding parents he can conveniently unload the moppet on. Oh, he’s got to be really rich, too. Don’t forget the Lambo. If he’s got a castle, that would be fab.”

Jake and Julie get to Laura’s house and predictability ensues. Laura is freaking out because there’s suddenly a strange man in the house whose virility and sexiness she finds very unsettling, especially since she’s never really had cause to think about her own sexuality for more than twenty years and now her own young, beautiful daughter is in her face, reminding her how old, decrepit, and lame she is. As if that’s not alarming enough, Jake decides she’s far more interesting than her daughter, a vapid, bratty girl whose plan in life is to marry a wealthy guy and live in the lap of luxury (not a bad plan–nice work, if you can get it).

Laura’s tiny cottage gets a little bit smaller because Jake has taken to hovering around her and eating up her personal space, trying to get to know her in a way that no man should try to acquaint himself with a prospective mother-in-law that I’m aware of. Laura’s attracted to him and it’s obvious to her that he’s up to something, though she can’t tell what because she don’t got the right amount of know-how of what’s on a man’s mind, on the account of she’s practically a virgin and all. It’s been so long since anybody’s been down there that it’s practically sealed itself factory-fresh. I’ve read this to be the case with some Harlequin Presents heroines, especially the older ones.

After that weird, awkward weekend to which Laura’s daughter Julia was oblivious due to her own self-absorption, Laura sets to castigating herself and mental flagellation, calling herself a bad mommy for daring to lust for a man that her daughter wants to marry. Because not a lot of talking and catching up was done during the visit due to Laura and her daughter not being close, she doesn’t get actual confirmation on whether Jake actually DOES intend to marry Julie himself, so she gets the surprise of her life when he shows up a few days later at her cottage sans Julie, all bloody and needing to get patched up.

It turns out he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about her since he met her and has been frustrated with himself all this time, so he went to his sport club in London to cross real swords with someone and got sliced (this story sounds really hinky to me–really, who goes fencing?). Anyway, instead of going to the Emergency Room like a sane person, he drives all the way to Newcastle in his Lambo and crashes at Laura’s cottage, asking to be patched up. For real? I bet he got in a bar fight in a pub nearby and he just classed up the story for Laura’s sake. Anyway, Laura’s heart of gold and loins of lust won’t allow him to bleed to death on the side of the road, so she lets him stay the night, and they get several hours to get to know each other again. Jake gets blue balls part one. Awww, Jake. Don’t worry, you’ll get another chance. Laura tells him it’s disgusting that he’s macking on her since he’s supposed to be with her daughter and he’s like, what? I’m here with you, you dingus. I wouldn't be here if I were also boning your kid. You’re weird. I’m outta here. Laterz.

Laura haz a sad.

For two weeks, she doesn’t see Jake and is all, alllllll by myseeeeelf… don’t want to live allllll by myyyyselfff anymore… when all of a sudden, she gets a call from Julie (remember her?), saying she has an invitation from Jake and Jake’s parents for her and Laura to spend some time with them at their palazzo in the Italian countryside so they can all get to know each other better. Laura’s all, like, what… I don’t want go. (But oh, I get to see Jake again!) And Julie is like, Mother, don’t be a spazz. You have to go. And you better not embarrass me in front of these people. Jake calls and says he already got everything arranged, so all Laura has to do is to wait for the limo that will pick her up from the cottage that will take her to the airport, then she, Julie, and Jake will all fly to Italy from London together. Only Julie gets delayed and will just follow them to Italy… then Julie suddenly had to go to California and couldn't go to Italy at all… and all this time, Jake is telling Laura, don’t worry, cara mia, your daughter will arrive when she arrives… Here, have some more grapes and some of my dizzying kissess….

That Jake, he’s a wily one. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he planned this whole thing to get Laura alone and he never intended to have Julie along at all.

This was a nice, little story that I found to be a quick read. I was expecting the daughter to be much more villainous and bratty, but the real villain is really Laura’s neuroses. And the worst-case scenarios she invents in her head as justifications for keeping Jake away. So I guess what makes the premise not too gross is the fact that Laura does worry an awful lot that Jake is supposed to be dating her daughter, not her, so he should be way over there, far away from her, doing just that. Even when Jake makes it obvious to her that he has no intention of marrying Julie nor were they all that seriously involved to begin with, Laura is like, nooooo… you should…not be here. Shoo, go away, hot…Italian man. It would have been squicky if she were all gung-ho about it all after some token protests. I mean, way to stick to your guns, Laura! I would have also liked to see her smack her daughter across the face with a folding chair at the denouement. But you can't always get what you want...

I gotta ask, though: if Jake and Julie were never all that seriously involved to begin with, how did Julie get Jake to go up to Newcastle to see dear old Mum? Jake had no idea Laura was hot or that he was going to fall in love with her at first sight. For all he knew, she could have just looked someone’s Mum, not a hot one. Why would you go drive more than a couple of hours to go see the mother of the chick you’re not even bangin’ or had no intention on sticking around for? That’s just so weird to me.

At any rate, this is just another Anne Mather Older-Woman, Slightly Younger Man thing and these are always a lot of fun. I thought it was funny what a big deal Laura made about being 39. Heh. I remember when 39 was soooo old to me. I don’t think that anymore.

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