MELJEAN: Hmm…the site seems to be on the blink.
MISSY: Oh, so this is your excuse for being late? You said you’d play with me yesterday.
MELJEAN: Hehe. So I did. I admit it, I’m a dork. The only thing I worry about being late for is a deadline. Oh, and menstruating. That would be BAAAAAD.
MISSY: What would I know about that? I’m only ten.
MELJEAN: Yeah, I know. I remember. It’ll happen when you are twelve, on a trip from Wallowa to Dallas… in a McDonald’s bathroom. Or is it McDonald’s’s? I guess it is being used as an adjective, not a possessive, right? Anyway, Mom says, “You’re a woman now!”
MISSY: Hey, that’s what Caroline told Barrett after he humped her for the first time. So, which is it? Do you become a woman when you menstruate, or when you hump?
MELJEAN: Hell, I’ve done both and got married and had a baby, and I’m not really sure that I qualify for the “woman” title yet.
MISSY: That’s depressing. Do I grow up to be a total loser?
MELJEAN: Pretty much.
MELJEAN: It’s okay, kid. In times like these when the winners are Paris Hilton and Reality TV, being a loser isn’t so bad. Stop crying. Stop before I whack you! … Alrighty then.
MISSY: So, what book is it today?
MELJEAN: The Devil’s Pawn by Yvonne Whittal. And, I must say, after checking out the current AAR At The Back Fence message boards and reading Black Ice by Anne Stuart last night, this is surprisingly timely. (Although, of course, that link won’t be timely once the new ATFB column goes up.)
MISSY: Black Ice?
MELJEAN: Sorry, kid, you gotta wait about nine years before discovering AAR, and seventeen for this book. But AAR is great â€“ it’s one of the things that helps you realize that you aren’t the only romance reader out there, and you stop hiding the books you are reading.
MISSY: Whatever. The book?
MISSY: What’s wrong with her shoulder?
MELJEAN: Well, it was published in 1985, so she’s probably wearing humongous shoulder pads.
MISSY: Mom says they make her waist look thinner.
MELJEAN: They are only good for giving Satan a nice, comfy place to sit while he’s on your shoulder giving horrible fashion advice.
MISSY: Well, I’m going to wear them!
MELJEAN: You little slut-bride of Satan! Don’t embarrass me like that! … Dammit, too late.
Could Cara’s love cancel the debt?
MELJEAN: **mutters** Ah, just lovely. Emotional Value is interchangeable with Money. Fetishism, commodities, oh my!
MISSY: I really wish you’d stop breaking into the back copy with your mumbo-jumbo.
“Marry me, and your father can have twelve months more on his loan.” Vince Steiner’s insolent, faintly sensuous smile told Cara she was as much an object of desire to the South African construction magnate as she was the daughter of the man he despised.
Caran knew nothing of her father’s dealings with the Steiner family. She only knew her new husband’s heart seemed to have little room for love.
Yet somewhere behind Vince’s harsh unrelenting exterior, Cara glimpsed a man who might someday need more than a pawn in a deadly game of revenge.
MISSY: I like the description. It sounds a lot like Carole Mortimer’s Only Lover. She sacrifices herself to help her father get out of financial trouble.
MELJEAN: That’s one reason why I’m groaning. But the other is that this is set in South Africa. Nowadays, I avoid South African romances and Civil War romances.
MELJEAN: I have a really hard time enjoying them. The racial issues bother me too much, and I have difficulty separating the story from the setting. I’m always looking for the ways in which the author handles issues like slavery and Apartheid. And this was published before 1990, when institutionalized racial segregation was finally abolished.
MISSY: So? That doesn’t mean the author thought racism was okay. I’ve read Yvonne Whittal before; I like her.
MELJEAN: I know that, but it still makes me feel icky inside because it is the 1980’s. People should have known better. If it was written in the 1880’s, I could deal with it. Sigh. What do you know about it, anyway? Wallowa isn’t exactly a great example of racial diversity. At this point, you’ve only seen black people on TV.
MISSY: The black people on TV are so funny. I like them.
MELJEAN: You’ve made my point, dork.
“Pick up your glass, and drink to my success.”
“My tender has been accepted for the new steel plant,” Vince continued, his voice triumphant.
Now her father would have to sell everything to repay the loan. This was the final blow.
Their eyes locked in silent battle for interminable seconds before Cara raised her glass with an air of defiance. “I won’t drink to your success, Vince, but I’ll drink to the sincere wish that your desire for revenge will at last be satisfied and you rid yourself of the hatred that is destroying you.”
She swallowed a mouthful of the bubbling liquid. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see my father.”
Cara drew in an anguished breath that sounded more like a sob. She loved Vince, but he was tearing her in two.
MELJEAN: That’s a really uneven excerpt; the last paragraph just doesn’t seem to fit, or maybe it was just stuck in from somewhere else. And, if I remember right, this scene comes very, very late in the novel.
MISSY: It means that we already know her sacrifice was for nothing. That’s good!
MISSY: Because, duh, they are already married. How will they work it out? Her dad’s not an issue anymore, and now we have to find out if her love can cancel the debt.
MELJEAN: …the reasons you come up with are really weird, and make no logical sense.
MISSY: Who cares about logic? It’s romance!
MELJEAN: (aside) Oh, god. I was what I hate!
MISSY: Hey, look at this! Someone wrote “Good” on this excerpt page. And it used to belong in the personal library of “SZ”. I guess the person who used to own this liked it, huh? I wonder why they got rid of it if they liked it?
MELJEAN: Well, check out the handwriting. It screams “old lady”. She probably died, and her kids sold all her books to make a few bucks.
MISSY: Those bastards!
CARA: Hey, dad, who ya talking to?
DAD: No one, Cara, it’s business!
VINCE: He’s talking to me! Tell her what’s going on.
CARA: (aside) He’s so hot…but so ruthless!
DAD: Vince lent me money, and he’s calling in the loan. I might get a contract pretty soon that will allow me to pay him back, but if I don’t get the contract we’ll have to sell the house and we’ll lose our current lifestyle and it would destroy your mother!
CARA: Oh, no! Is there anything I can do?
VINCE: I know of a way for you to help your father. Bwahahaha!
VINCE: **smolders** Yes!
CARA: Alright, you’ve convinced me. Yes!
MISSY: Oh, poor Cara! Vince is so ruthless!
MELJEAN: Her father is a worthless piece of shit to let his daughter pay for his mistakes. And why don’t they ASK the mother if it would destroy her? …hey, look at this! I used this poem in one of my fanfics, but Bruce was thinking of Diana. I never could remember where I first read it; I knew it was a romance, but I couldn’t remember which one.
MELJEAN: **blushes** Never mind.
VINCE: We are married — now get in that bed!
CARA: No! No! (aside) God, he makes me hot. But it is so wrong that he makes me hot, because I don’t love him!
VINCE: Feel my mighty man-sword, virgin!
CARA: No…NO! YES YES YES! Ouch! YEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!
MISSY: I feel all squoogy inside. Like, I’m glad for the sex, because I like the sex, but…I don’t know.
MELJEAN: I know exactly. I’ve talked about this before, but forced seductions are one of my guilty pleasures. She wants him, he wants her — and he makes her acknowledge it.
MISSY: I just read Clan of the Cave Bear. This was different than what happened to Ayla in there, but…how different? I didn’t like that.
MELJEAN: If you had liked it, I wouldn’t have thought any less of you. It’s all fantasy, one way or another. I know you are old enough to tell the difference between fantasy and real — real life forced seductions/rape = bad. In books, people can feel about them however they want. But, no, you probably didn’t like the scene in Clan of the Cave Bearbecause there wasn’t any attraction between the two. But if Ayla had wanted him…
MISSY: Ew, who would like doing it with a Neanderthal?
MELJEAN: You’d be surprised. Hehe. I even wrote a parody of it using Batman and Wonder Woman.
MISSY: You are one sick puppy.
MELJEAN: Woof. And, hey, it’s not so bad. Pretty soon you are going to read The Valley of Horses and meet Jondalar of the Giant Wang Clan. You’ll like him a lot, and caveman sex gets much better.
MISSY: The Giant Wang Clan? Is he a Chinese caveman?
MELJEAN: …god, you really need to get out of Wallowa.
MISSY: Should we get back to the book?
MELJEAN: Oh yeah! Anyway, here’s a passage I found interesting — it’s right before the forced seduction.
This man was not a cold-blooded, callous, sadistic beast as she had berated him. He was an expert lover who knew exactly how to please a woman, and it was this discovery that started a rebellion in Cara. A part of her wanted to surrender to the feelings he was arousing, but a part of her also rejected it. There was no love involved, and if she allowed him access to her body it would be nothing but lust. Her mind was still rational enough to find the word abhorrent. It was wrong to feel this way about a man she did not love; it was loathsome and degrading, and her body writhed beneath him in protest.
MISSY: Why is lust so bad?
MELJEAN: See, kid, this is why I like you. It’s not, but it’s pretty widely acknowledged that at this point, rapes and forced seductions took place partly because it let the heroine have sex without becoming a slut or a bad girl. Whittal states it explicitly here: enjoying sex without being in love is abhorrent. So Vince takes that choice away from Cara, and forces her to enjoy it despite her goody little self.
MISSY: I’m going to do it a lot when I grow up. If he’s sexy, I’m going to do him and not feel bad about it at all!
MELJEAN: Aw, that’s my girl.
MELJEAN: What? Oh! Hell, no! I’ll tell you later. In private.
MISSY: You’re no fun.
VINCE: Let’s go to a cabin and do it again.
CARA: YES YES YES! Oh my god, I love him!
CARA: Oh, why must you be so full of hate?
VINCE: You don’t know anything about it!
DAD: (sweating) I really need to get that contract.
CARA: Dad, you’re a weenie asshole for using me like this. And why don’t you tell Mom? She can handle this!
MELJEAN: **stunned** That’s what I said! Whoo hoo, Cara, I’m impressed.
VINCE: Hey, Cara, this is my friend Chantal Webber.
CARA: She used to be your lover, right? (aside) I could never be that cool and sophisticated and beautiful. Oh, why oh why do you hate my father so?
VINCE: That’s right. I hate your father! **kisses Cara punishingly**
CARA: **sobs** Then go to Chantal if you hate me so much!
VINCE: Okay, I will.
CARA: (hears Vince go to Chantal’s room) **sobs** I didn’t mean it! **sooooobbbbbsssss**
MELJEAN: Okay, so obviously he’s just trying to make her jealous.
MISSY: Ack! Don’t ruin it for me. He’s treating her so badly! It makes my heart hurt for her. She loves him and thinks he’s gone to the other woman — that she’s pushed him to another woman. **sniff**
VINCE: I hate your father because my dad ended up killing himself when your dad blamed him for some bad construction job!
CARA: My dad’s not that evil! I’m sure there’s some mistake!
VINCE: No mistake â€“ and he’ll be ruined and in the same place my father was once I get this contract!
CARA: No! My father needs that contract!
MISSY: But we already know her father doesn’t get the contract. I wonder what happens next?
MELJEAN: Are you being sarcastic?
MISSY: No way! I love this so far.
MELJEAN: I’m surprised that I’m enjoying it so much, too. All of my real complaints about Cara’s character have been answered — and Vince is an ass, but that doesn’t bother me as long as the payoff is good.
VINCE: I got the contract! Bwah ha!
CARA: Oh, poor daddy!
DAD: **clutches chest and falls over**
CARA: Are you happy now, Vince? You don’t hate my dad as much as you hate your own for committing suicide!
VINCE: I would not say such things if I were you!
MISSY: Hey, that was a gratuitous The Princess Bride reference.
MELJEAN: Nothing about that movie is gratuitous. I heart Westley. And doesn’t Vince kind of look like a ruthless version of Westley?
MISSY: Hey, you’re right! But he doesn’t have eyes like the sea after a storm.
MELJEAN: Aw, damn.
MOM: Cara, I can’t believe you sacrificed yourself for such a stupid reason!
CARA: Oh, mom!
MOM: In any case, what really happened with Vince’s dad was all a big misunderstanding — by the time your dad found out what had happened, Steiner had already killed himself.
VINCE: **looking all hunched over and sad** Cara…
CARA: Don’t talk to me! This marriage is over — I’m going to help my mom and dad, and then I’m leaving this town.
VINCE: Please don’t leave. Please. I can’t let you go!
VINCE: Because I lo —
VINCE’S SISTER: Yo, Vince! You’ve got a phone call. You’ve got to go see Cara’s dad and make amends in case he croaks.
VINCE: Damn, I have to go! Wait for me until I get back. Pretty please?
CARA: Oh, alright.
MELJEAN: Haha! That’s right, asshole — get on your knees!
MISSY: Oh! This is so sweet. He’s torn apart at the thought of her leaving him. **sniff**
MELJEAN: When he gets back from talking to the weenie, I hope she makes him suffer a little more **rubs hands together gleefully**
VINCE: I’m going to let your dad be a subcontractor, and I’ve forgiven the debt.
CARA: Oh, that’s good — bye now. (aside) I’ll love him forever, but I can’t stay if he doesn’t love me!
VINCE: I can’t let you go — but I know you must hate me!
CARA: I don’t hate you.
VINCE: What do you feel then? I must know!
CARA: Why, so you can humiliate me?
VINCE: You love me! I love you, too.
CARA: Yay! **kiss**
MISSY: **sniff** Do you have that tight, achy full feeling in your chest?
MELJEAN: The one that says, “Oh, I’m so happy and I love this book?”
MELJEAN: ….yeah. It looks like the dead old lady was right, it was pretty good, even if only as a guilty pleasure. God, I’m such a loser. I may have sneered at the inclusion of the black butler who calls Vince “Master”, but the romance worked for me.
MISSY: The butler? I didn’t even notice him. He took up all of, what, three sentences?
MELJEAN: Those three sentences say volumes. You’ll learn, kid.
UP NEXT: Missy’s first Nora Roberts book.
MISSY: Hey! I read that book a year or two ago. Why are we going backwards?
MELJEAN: Because I’m a loser. And because it shipped later. It might be a while before I talk about it, though.
MISSY: Aw, man!
MELJEAN: Yep. Into the closet you go, little girl. Until I have a bit more time.
MISSY: Cripes. Can you at least give me some magazines to look at in here?
MELJEAN: ….you really were a freak, weren’t you?
MISSY: **snort** Look who’s talking, schizo.