There were more problematic issues I had with this book then plot. Be warned: I am going to spoil the hell out of this book because I want to dissect just what the hell is wrong with contemporary romance, especially when it is published by Harlequin. This is going to be a long post.
1. This is a novella that is number 19 in a series of (so far, according to fictiondb.com) 30 books. The author throws out so many names of the different characters in this book that you get lost trying to decide if that character actually is part of this story or if the author is trying to lure readers to other books with those characters. It is the same for the little teasers the author puts in about plotlines for those other books. One sentence to allude to another book when this book's plot is non-existent was frustrating.
A jumbled mess that seems more like a cash-grab for both author and Harlequin. After 19 or 30 books, the stories are so redundant that is just replacing names and republishing the same story over and over again. And this particular novella felt very slap-togethered without a plot outline or thought to plot holes (big, gaping plot holes).
2. Let's talk about the hero, Callum Austell. What a douchebag of the 1989 Harlequin era. He has been head-over-heels in love with the heroine (Gemma Westmoreland) since he saw her when she came home to Denver after graduating college in Nebraska. Seriously, he took one look at her and determined right then and there that she was his future Mrs. - she was his soul mate. Hadn't said a damn word to her but just knew. *EYEROLL* Callum is a jealous, manipulative alpha-hole dressed up as the NICE GUY(TM).
RED FLAG #1 - So, because he has found his One True Love, he swears off all other women for three years while Gemma grows up a little more and matures. In the mean time, he stalks her, ensuring that he has a presence in her life, even if that presence comes in the form of her brother's best friend and ranch manager. .
RED FLAG #2 -So Callum decides to make his move on Gemma (three years after meeting and watching her), he first asks the brother for his okay to do so. Creepy and patronizing. The approval includes finding a way to get Gemma to Australia with him and keeping her there after he weds her. Already, his seduction plot includes isolating Gemma from her family and friends in Denver.
RED FLAG #3 - Callum bought a mansion in Australia and hires Gemma to decorate his new home. She agrees and they go to Australia, where he proceeds to introduce her to his entire family on the very first day of their arrival. His family already knows all about Gemma and how much Callum loves her because he has told them of his plan. Seems every body is in on the plot except Gemma. Callum's father is just like Callum and the "love story" of how Callum's parents got together showed that the manipulative gene runs strong in the Austell men.
RED FLAG #4 - Turns out Callum is super duper rich and just throws money and tokens of affection at Gemma all through the rest of the story. Too OTT in every description - for example, he bought all the townhomes on his side of the street in a gated community because he wanted privacy and ownership of the beach. The mansion he bought is over 9,000 square feet - perfect for a large family that Gemma will provide him. Part of the reason Gemma accepts the job of decorating his house is because he put a deposit of 25k down with another 25k at the end of the job or more if she blows the budget. Callum's family is no different - a "girls only" shopping trip showed the women taking Gemma to the high end boutiques and jewelers, prodding her to make outlandish purchases. The family is wealthy, but Callum seldom works - he is a CEO in name only and has a management team to operate his businesses daily.
RED FLAG #5 - The idea of the shopping trip was Callum's mom's idea. The mom did not ask Gemma if she wanted to come on the trip; the mom asked Callum if it was alright for Gemma to spend a little time with her and the daughters. Callum was instantly jealous and possessive of his mom getting Gemma's attention without him there. Then he smiled at his feelings because it showed how much he loved Gemma.
RED FLAG #6 - Callum did not want Gemma to stay at a hotel or with anyone else but him. So she stayed with him at the condo while she worked on decorating the mansion, using one of the rooms in the mansion as an office. Callum felt he could control and direct Gemma better if she stayed only in areas that he owned. He provided an entire office, equipped with the latest gadgets and a live personal assistant that he chose for her. And then he showed up everyday to take her lunch or bring her lunch, plus driving her to and from the office. She had no rental car, no space to herself - everything was provided and controlled by Callum.
RED FLAG #7 - I guess the family was getting too cosy and taking up Gemma's attention, so Callum decided to take Gemma on a trip to India...for no reason other than to be alone with her. Luckily that part of the story ended up being a honeymoon and not another isolation tactic. It was really stupid since Gemma kept saying she wasn't much of a traveler and preferred to stay home in Denver.
RED FLAG #8 - When Gemma realizes she loves Callum (I think it was more a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome than love), she immediately leaves Australia and goes back to Denver to think and have some space. Callum immediately follows her back to Denver and reveals his seduction plot and all the stalker-related experiences they had to prove how much he loves Gemma. He was tipped off by his dear mommy that his prey was leaving the gilded cage he built for her.
RED FLAG #9 - Gemma told Callum that she wasn't on birth control and she was a virgin. Callum failed to use a condom because he decided it would help his plan to get married to Gemma faster if she was pregnant with his kid. The morning after their first sex scene, he had a vision of Gemma being noticeably pregnant and he hardened at the vision.
3. Gemma wasn't much of a character. This was more Callum's story than Gemma's story, even though she was the Westmoreland in the title. She was a business woman who made really stupid mistake (allowing her secretary/office assistant have access to the business' bank account even though Gemma knew her assistant had a shady boyfriend and was weak enough to steal for him).
She was a virgin at 24 because her brothers and cousins were manwhores and broke a lot of women's hearts and she didn't want to be too attached to any man who may end up breaking her heart. So she has little to no experience with men in intimate relationships - making her perfect prey for Callum. I didn't understand why her brothers' and cousins' love lives had to do with her - she wasn't dating any of them, so what was the point of painting every guy with the same brush? I felt that was a dumb way for keeping Gemma a virgin - her sexual purity was another point for Callum's conquest.
She is also a bit judgmental against other women who could be competitors for Callum's affections. I knew more about Gemma's personality through discussions Callum had with the males in her family than was showed to me through Gemma's words and actions. She was basically a cardboard cut out. And the author had her contradict her own wishes (ie, the traveling abroad at a moment's notice even though Gemma said she was a homebody).
4. The writing is amateurish, which was surprising for a traditionally published work that is number 19 in a series. But there was a lot of paint-by-the-numbers typical Harlequin style descriptors. It was also very repetitive for only 140 NOOK pages. I hardly know what either character looks like since I was given any physical description except for the lips - so much writing about each other's lips and tasting lips and licking of lips. The dialogue was so cheesy it was painful to read. The writing bored me when I wasn't wincing at the ugliness of Callum's words and actions.
Bottom line: even though it was a free NOOK book, this is quite an example of the crap contemporary romance is today. The editors at Harlequin should develop better writers and stories and maybe install new beta readers who are honest to the author and not fan girls. 0 stars.