Six Weeks with a Lord—Eve Pendle
Oh boy was this one ever not for me.
Warning: shouty capitals ahead.
Content warning for sexual coercion and mention of rape.
The general plot is this: Everett is an impoverished lord who needs money to pay off his brother's debt and helping to stabilize his herd after a disease has ravaged it. Grace is the daughter of a shopkeeper who is left penniless after her father dies, and who refuses to marry the man her father chose for her, but she needs somebody to marry her so that she can get her inheritance and win custody of her younger brother. They're both essentially looking for a business arrangement, Grace agrees to split her inheritance half and half for such a situation, but when Everett's biggest requirement out of the deal is that Grace go through the motions of pretending to be in love with him for at least six weeks, for the sake of the morale of his people, what results is so much more. Spoiler alert? But it is a romance book, so you could have extrapolated.
The conceit of the novel is totally up my alley. It even started out fairly strong, and then was basically downhill from there for me. Let's start with the things that I did like. In one of their first interactions, Everett asks her her name, and she responds Miss Alnott. He insists that he wants her Christian name because her last name is transient and will change when she gets married. Grace insists, "My name might change, but I will always be an Alnott." Which I really appreciated. I liked the show of precision and also of slight opposition. Add to that the fact that she calls him on being in a bubble of privilege is *chef kisses fingers.*
When Grace at one point blames herself for one of her servants being raped by the man Grace's father wanted her to marry, Everett reminds her that it's not her fault, even if she did encourage a relationship between the man and her servant; the only person to blame was the man who committed the crime. Obviously pretty anachronistic, as was a lot of it, but I'm not opposed to some of that in my historical fiction, honestly.
At the "wedding"—which we know is phony but obvs the person performing it does not—he is told to kiss the bride, which leads to this moment: "It took her a few seconds of him not moving, still holding her hand in his, for her to realize he was waiting for her approval." FUCKING YES! The idea of enthusiastic consent, especially in an historical romance, is my jam.
And then almost immediately after that, she refers to her virginity as her maidenhead.
But honestly, though, despite that initial great nod to consent, Everett spends THE LITERAL REST OF THE BOOK scheming about how to get his fake wife into bed, because he's CERTAIN that if he can do that, she won't want to leave. And here's the kicker: the reason he wants her not to leave is not because he's having feelings for her (yet); it's because he was already completely deceptive and wants her to stay so he can get the other half of her inheritance. The fucker.
Here are some of the biggest red flag statements throughout these moments of Everett scheming that honestly made me want to throw my Kindle across the room:
- "All women wanted to be wooed on their wedding night and initiated into the joys of lovemaking. He might never have a moment when she was more susceptible to being with him." Yeah, generally dudes who are thinking about when women are most susceptible to them? Not good dudes.
- "'That's not part of our deal.' She clasped her hands together behind her back. 'It could be. If you wanted.' It was just a hook and bait that he set out for her. He had five weeks to consider. She wouldn't take the lure now, but in time she would."
- Everett trying to decide when is the right time to tell his fake wife that he straight up lied to her when she asked him if there was more debt, and he actually needs all of her money. "Once they'd made love and she'd said she would stay, that would be the time. He dreaded having to tell her, but desperately wanted to make love to her."
- "With her elevated breathing and blushes, and having asked for a kiss once, he knew he could get her to consent." YIKES.
- "She mewed, on the cusp of release. Everett withdrew his mouth. Immediately, she made a frustrated sound of protest. 'Say you will stay.' He said the words before he knew that was what he intended. 'What?' Her voice was thick and confused with arousal. She thrashed around, trying to get his mouth onto the needy part of her. His own desire throbbed to see her so desperate. 'Promise you will stay, and I will bring you to completion." WOOOOOOOOWWW. NOT MANIPULATIVE AT ALL.
- "A true gentleman would never take advantage of a lady seduced in this way. Holding her to a promise made under coercion would be wrong, but he would do it."
- "Everett had cursed that he'd accepted the bargain that forfeited his ability to go to his wife and ravish her. She must need it as much as he did." Emphasis mine because oofa doofa that's disgusting.
- "They were skin to skin, but not joined. She allowed him to support her, but hadn't capitulated." Words like capitulate make me very uncomfortable.
- "There was pleasure in taking the lead, persuading a woman against her better judgment to come to bed with him, of course. But to feel her will exerted on him was totally different."
- "Part of him wanted to give up the pretense. But there was no way to pay the debt other than the dowry any more than there had been when they'd agreed to their marriage. He was too far into this scheme now, though he would have to tell her eventually. Perhaps when she declared her love, freely, willingly, then maybe she would be caught up enough to accept this." To which I added the note: This is completely fucked.
There were some other pretty abusive relationship touchpoints that were disappointing and honestly surprising after the strong start. When Everett brings Grace to his estate, she asks him what has happened to all of the paintings that, you know, peers usually have filling the halls of their houses. It's literally the most honest question because he hasn't actually told Grace the extent of his money troubles yet, but "he hated her for inadvertently triggering this humiliation." Woof. That's some toxic masculinity if I've ever heard it.
Even after reassuring her that what happened to her servant was not her fault, Everett says, "And I'm sorry for what happened. Not all men, and not all aristocrats, are like that." To which I made the note: Ugh, how did you manage to work #NotAllMen into an historical romance?
ANNNNND when he finally told her about his whole scheme and she understandably got upset, he blamed HER for not following through on her promises and being convincingly "in love" with him for the servants, AND said that she should still give him the money to pay off his debts because she didn't have a chance of winning custody of her younger brother, which is what she wanted her money to do.
Lord Raynor, the man Grace's father wanted her to marry, is clearly meant to serve as a foil to Everett. This is one of the same issues that I had with Kiss Me, Kate: one of the men is presented as a buffoonish monster, so we know who we want Kate—or Grace, in this case—to end up with. Even though, in reality, there are more than two options and all of these ladies should walk out the fucking door until they actually find someone who's not going to coerce them into bed. Even though, at one point Lord Raynor offers that Grace can annul her marriage to Everett and come back and marry him and take care of her brother. She, of course, refuses, because he's a rapist. AND THEN EVERETT MAKES THE SAME FUCKING OFFER AT THE END OF THE BOOK, AFTER SHE'S LEFT HIM.
Then there's the good old "using rape as a plot device," which was actually the entire reason for the creation of the character of Grace's former maid, Anna.
Almost incessant discussion of pregnancy was also quite a turn off. Honestly, this is a trope in many romance novels, but usually it happens in a fun epilogue. From the very beginning of their partnership, both of them have stipulations for entering into it. Everett's third stipulation is phrased thusly: "I will absolutely adhere to your condition that I will not force anything in any way, but were anything to happen, with mutual consent, you must return to give birth to the child." Um, what? I feel like you're missing a step there. It's almost like y'all don't know that pregnancy does not automatically happen any time you have sex. Like you think it's a certainty that you get it on and then, poof, baby. Obvs. It's brought up at least six or seven more times in the book, to the point that I finally made a note that said, "ENOUGH WITH THE PREGNANCY TALK."
If anything good came from it, it was that I started writing down romance tropes—especially historical romance tropes—because I want to do a post ranking them from my favourite to least favourite. And there were A LOT of them in this book, including member of the peerage trying to live up to expectations put upon older brother who was supposed to have title but died so second son can no longer live the life of a layabout playboy; the leading lady is not beautiful in the traditional way, but in a more "quirky" fashion (literally how Grace is described in this book); "emotional" women overreacting to literally every little thing; young woman has been burned before, commits to never loving again; description of dude smell; dude is SO humongously endowed that he'll never fit.
But you know what? Just because it's not for me, doesn't mean it's not for anyone. The book is available beginning June 25, so check it out if that sounds up your alley. Or if you want to feel that sometimes cathartic "need to throw your Kindle across the room" feeling.
Thank you to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.