The Substitute Wife, by Dallas Schulze

>> Monday, December 13, 2004

I bought The Substitute Wife (excerpt), by new-to-me author Dallas Schulze due to a recommendation on a message board. I think we were talking about books which had positive portrayals of gay characters, and someone mentioned this one had a secondary romance between two guys. That was enough for me to immediately snap it up, even if the main storyline sounded a bit contrived.

What's love got to do with it?
When Luke Quintain's fiancee dumped him, Catherine Lang understood immediately that she was the perfect solution to his problem. Leggy, flame haired and wise beyond her years, she decided that he should marry her instead.

But even though Luke needed a wife by his thirty-sixth birthday or he would lose his inheritance, he had to say "No!" Well, that was what he tried to say, but somehow Cat left with a ring on her finger and a wedding date on her calendar. And Luke could only curse his grandfather's positively medieval blackmailing scheme . . . and count the seconds till the wedding night.

Cat, of course, knows her own mind -- and her own heart -- and she wants Luke. Meanwhile, Luke is wondering how long this will play out, and hoping that it might be a little longer with each passing day. The problem is, he's quite capable of doing something very stupid -- like falling for Cat. Because sometimes love just doesn't take no for an answer.
Well, I did enjoy The Substitute Wife, even though I had some reservations about the main plot. My grade would actually be a B.

The book was a strange combination between a Harlequin Presents plot and *much* more modern sensibilities. The initial set-up, complete with a marriage of convenience forced by the hero's grandfather's demands that he marry before his next birthday, a 20 year old heroine paired up with a very experienced 35-year-old hero, and the fact that our heroine is a virgin, who has had a huge crush on the hero since she first met him, reeked of the worst type of series romance plot, as did some things about the characters... Of course, Cat's motivation in marrying is NOT mercenary... all she asks for is for trust funds for her step-parents, who are typical romance-novel absent-minded professor and artist, and she even tries to negotiate down the intended divorce settlement in the pre-nup... see? she's *good*!!

But, incredibly, I found myself enjoying it all, right until the end. The characters were very pleasant, and their relationship and personalities were very far from those in most Presents books. I didn't really pick up on any pedophilic vibes rom Luke.... no lusting after Cat's tiny child-like body (she's a bit of an amazon, in fact), or her innocence, or anything like that. I really don't see why the author made Cat 20 years old, since she acted as a much more mature woman. I thought she was very likeable, actually, a mix of dreamy and sensible which I found very appealing.

I liked that the relationship between her and Luke was one between equals, not Luke being an overbearing alpha. Both the dynamics of their interactions and of their interactions with their families were pretty excellent. Actually, they reminded me a bit of some Jayne Ann Krentz books.

So, things were going great right until the end. I had a huge problem with something Luke almost did, and would have done if Cat hadn't prevented him from doing, and I thought she forgave him much too easily. It's too bad, since I really didn't see Luke as a jerk at all in the rest of the book. This very late action of his came out of the blue, and added nothing positive to his character. Still, luckily, it didn't succeed in ruining the whole thing for me.

Then, of course, there's the secondary story-line, as I said, THE reason I bought a book with a plot like this one. It features a very sweet romance between two men, one the hero's best friend and the other the heroine's. I confess that part of the reason I enjoyed this storyline so much was simply because of the sheer novelty of finding something like this in a romance novel. However, it was a wonderful love story in its own right. Both Keith and Jack were very well-drawn, and they had a lovely chemistry between them.

The secondary romance alone made this one worth a try, and the main storyline was a (mostly) nice surprise. I'm going to chek out Schulze's backlist, to see if there's anything interesting there.


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