A Mistress for the Taking is Annie West‘s debut Harlequin. It was published in 2006, and she’s written two or three a year since then. The titles suggest she consistently works with a similar theme: Wealthy man needs woman for some scheme, and what starts as an a business arrangement turns to love.
In A Mistress for the Taking, millionaire businessman Ronan has professional and personal reasons for defeating a business rival, Charles. Marina is also unhappy with Charles. Thanks to a recent unfair deal Charles made with her brother, she is faced with losing her home and her family’s trucking business. When Ronan sees Marina go after Charles at a public function, Ronan suggests she pose as his mistress. His somewhat convoluted plan is that Charles will be so distracted trying to seduce her away from Ronan that he won’t notice a poisonous deal Ronan is setting up. In exchange, Ronan will make sure she gets her home and business back.
On the plus side, West does a great job of building passion and sexual tension between her characters, and creates great tension during sex scenes. Marina is introduced as an independent and successful business woman, and Ronan respects her ability in her area. However, in Ronan’s plan to bring down Charles, she is a pawn, required only to be attractive bait. Ronan tells her nothing of the plan, leading to a needless climactic confrontation, and Ronan also withholds his true feelings from her, leading her to suspect her attraction is not reciprocated. His justification is that he does not want to take advantage of her, which I’ll admit could be read as respect. West makes a point of showing how decent a man Ronan is, by things such as his taking the time to thank a valet parking driver by name.
It annoyed me that Marina was a virgin, or rather that she was a virgin with almost no explanation. I have no trouble accepting the notion of a 24-year-old virgin, but in the context of this story it undercuts the equality and confidence of Marina. My pet peeve of characters who have mind-blowing sex on their first encounter, which happens here, doubles when there’s a virgin or two in the scene. In the stories I am working on, the characters’ sexual relationship grows as their emotional one does. It takes time to get to know another person, both mentally and physically.
There are several issues in this story that I’m not sure how to interpret. For example, on the one hand, Marina undergoes the plain Jane to fabulous babe transformation, thanks to Ronan’s money, and his wish that she look as hot as possible to be bait for Charles. The notion that Marina needed a makeover is disturbing. On the other hand, Ronan was attracted to her from the first time he saw her, despite her shapeless suit and wrong hair style. Is Ronan shallow for his opinion of her appearance, or is he true for being attracted to her before her makeover? Then there’s the matter of her work. We are told she works, and is good at her job, yet in the story we never actually see her working. On the one hand, scenes of her at work would not advance the story. On the other hand, with so little attention paid to it, her job seems unimportant, which undercuts her desire to seek revenge on Charles for taking over her company.
This is one for the guilty pleasure category. I wish Marina had played a more active role in the plot to defeat Charles, and generally been a more powerful person. I’m a little uneasy with the story of rich man rescues working class girl from bad man, and when they meet he literally sweeps her off her feet as she faints. But it’s hard to object to being rescued by someone as decent as Ronan, he does have some vulnerabilities, and the sexual tension was delicious.