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I started this blog intending to review one ebook from each of Harlequin’s lines, but lately I’ve been distracted by laundry room finds. Today I’m getting back on track, at least for one book. This time I’m looking at Married by Mistake, a 2007 Superromance by Abby Gaines. Alert readers may recall that the laundry room find Love In Exile was also a Superromance, but that was written decades ago, when the Superromance line was more distinct. Superromances continue to be the longest and most complex Harlequins, though this one is half the length of Love in Exile.

I don’t like the accidental/forced marriage plot, as it seems too easy a way to bring the couple together, so I was not anticipating enjoying Married by Mistake. I’m happy to report that the forced marriage plot can work in the right hands.

Casey has settled for high school sweetheart Joe, but after seven years they are still not married. She’s decided to appear on the new local TV reality show “Kiss the Bride,” where reluctant grooms are surprised with their fiance and an instant wedding. Unfortunately for Casey and the show, Joe leaves her at the altar. Station owner Adam jumps in, publicly claiming to love Casey at first sight, while quietly asking her to play along with a fake wedding for the sake of his station. The scene sets the playful tone of the book, and, significantly, establishes the couple as equals – they work together to help each other.

To ensure the marriage is not legal, Adam asks a friend to act as the celebrant, not realizing that the friend’s previous government job gave him the authority to marry people. Stuck with a real marriage, Adam and Casey agree to play along for at least a month, until an annulment can be arranged. It seems they both have family issues that make being married, at least temporarily, desirable.

Once together, in a sexless and loveless arrangement, they make the happy discovery that they are a compatible couple. They also challenge each other to try new approaches to life, and support each others’ goals. When they agree to date, for the sake of keeping up appearances, physical attraction and compatibility escalate into a passionate though very discreetly described night. There are of course complications and misunderstandings, and Casey is particularly concerned about the depth of Adam’s affection. After Joe, she wants to be desired, not just accepted. In a nod to romance cliches, Adam is both wealthy and the town’s most eligible bachelor, but she didn’t know that when she met him, he does not try to buy her affection, and his wealth is incidental to the story. By the end, it is well established that neither of them needs the other, but they come together because they want to be together.

I’m always hoping for strong female characters, and Casey is one. Her past consisted of too much time spent helping family members and too much volunteering, but she’s already decided to end that when she meets Adam. He helps her achieve the goals she has set for herself, which is a great model for a relationship.

There is almost an excess of sweetness in the secondary plots and the epilogue, and it’s amusing that Casey, a freelance writer, manages to quickly find a publisher for her book (without any help from Adam). Abby Gaines notes on her website that it took her six years to sell her first book, but she clearly thinks books should be fun, and not weighed down by dreary reality. I like her biographical page, including “Five Things that Annoy me in Fiction.”

Married by Mistake is a fun, contemporary romance, where the characters develop a mutually beneficial relationship based on values and goals. There’s almost no sex, but enough heat to make it clear that physical passion is part of the relationship. The book reminded me of 1930s screwball romantic-comedy films: A little over the top, but sweet and enjoyable. I always like a happy ending, but I especially like happy endings where some of heroine’s happiness comes from her own work and achievements.

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