This week in the Romance readers back channel one of the many tropes that drives us nuts came up: “this whole manufactured conflict of a couple hundred pages could have been solved by a SINGLE DAMN CONVERSATION.” (h/t kdm). In some ways, that describes the entirety of My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway. At the very core of Romance novels, there is often a single fundamental misunderstanding, and in this one it’s the placing of the two main characters as antagonists to each other by an outside, dead, force.
The book is based around the relationship between Lillian Bede and Avery Thorne. Lillian is shocked to discover that someone she is barely acquainted with has tapped her to run the affairs of an exquisite country manor following his death. But, there is a catch, she must run the estate for five years and show a profit in order to keep it in perpetuity. She accepts the challenge, taking the opportunity to put her politics into practice. There’s only one snag: Lily’s inheritance comes with an adult ward, the infuriating, incorrigible globetrotter Avery Thorne who was expecting to inherit from his uncle.
“Dear Mr. Thorne, For the next five years, I will profitably manage this estate. I will deliver to you an allowance and I will prove that women are just as capable as men.”
“My Dear Miss Bede, Forgive me if I fail to shudder. Pray, do whatever you bloody well want, can, or must.”
Avery discovers his inheritance is on hiatus—and his childhood home is in the hands of some overbearing usurper. He handles it in the only gentlemanly manner he can come up with, he leaves with friends on a series of expeditions around the globe. After nearly five years he finally returns, and Avery finds that his antagonist is not all what he expected. In fact, Lily Bede is stunning, exotic, provocative—and impossible to resist. We the reader discover that in truth, this world-weary adventurer comes home in large part by the pull of the relationship that they have developed over years of battle-heavy correspondence.
But back to my original thought, the entire conflict between Avery and Lillian is about the inheritance of Mill House. But as they spend time together the relationship they developed on paper becomes real, and for the back half of the novel we are waiting for the truth of that to be made clear. The characters circle it, fight over it, and walk away from each other over it. And after one final tearful conversation it is put to rights. This should all be terribly frustrating, but in the larger context of the slow burn that Brockway crafted, it somehow works charmingly.
Many thanks to emmalita for pointing me in this book’s direction. 3.5 stars rounded up.