If this book had started as it ended, it would be a much higher rating from me. But I had major issues with the genesis of the relationship between the hero and the heroine.
James, the hero, is quite frankly a gaping asshole in the beginning. There is no other word for it and worse, no real excuse for it. He sees Noelle (the heroine) likes her, and wants to set up her as his old fashioned kept woman, complete with a penthouse he uses for that sole purpose and the use of his (whatever is the latest, coolest most exclusive color) Amex credit card. Oh., did I mentioned he has just ejected his most recent mistress out of the Penthouse because he was dunzo?
Noelle immediately likes/loves James. But Noelle's judgement is not the most reliable thing. It is very clear that she has self esteem issues. Her entire childhood was one of constant belittling and verbal abuse by multiple members of her own family. She has no yardstick by which to judge healthy relationships, clearly.
It was pretty uncomfortable to read as she fell into a relationship with James that frankly bordered on the emotionally abusive. A pattern that she was all too familiar with.
I have no issue with a heroine of a romance novel feeling comfortable with living in a house of apartment provided by her lover and using his money. I prefer
my heroines to be more of the type who would have with Destiny's Child's Independent Woman Part 1 (do we even care about Part. 2 btw?) and Destiny's Child Survivor as their personal empowerment anthems. But I kind of like the idea of a full on Capital 'M' mistress as the heroine sometimes.
But the early relationship with Noelle & James:
He not only sets her up as his mistress, he wants to control her. And not in the sexy D/s way. But in the "you can't go and enjoy a night out with your friends because I say so and oh, by the way, I bought those really expensive clothes so you're wearing so yeah, I own you" way. And Noelle whimpers and begs and let's him use his Magic Stick to bring her to quivery compliance.
So yeah, Ass. Hole.
But Noelle has a fairy godmother and godfather. Her cousin Simone (obvious the one who has gotten all the rationality in the family) constantly urges Noelle to see how unhealthy her relationship is with James and to leave him. And then there is Paul. James' assistant and Mistress Wrangler. Noelle actually is sweet and nice to Paul and they strike up a friendship. Paul too begins to pep talk Noelle. These two poles of positive reinforcement prove to be the self esteem builders Noelle needs to break away from her destructive relationship with James.
And then the book shifts.
What the author did rather effectively, was to take the second half of the book to redeem two characters that I really did not like. Noelle was really quite pathetic. James was terrible. They both have issues although Noelle's are more apparent. James' don't become apparent until Noelle stands up to him in what signals a tonal shift in their relationship and the better, stronger second part of the book.
The second half of the book much more engaging. The characters felt richer and more nuanced. James wasn't just a jerk for jerk's sake. Noelle built a back bone. There were also some really interesting secondary characters. James' society ready fiancee was a stand-out. And his half brother has some surprising layers as well.
I think if some of the more nuanced storytelling from the second half of the book had infused the flatter more infuriating first part, I would have enjoyed the whole thing more.
Not a slam dunk, but still worth the read just to see the growth of the characters.