I'm in one of those moods where all I want to do is sit around watching campy 1950's horror movies, like Them!, and reading ridiculous melodramatic serial romances. It’s why I spent close to two hours trolling for Harlequin Presents titles that tickled my fancy. (Even though I'm convinced that nothing can beat Lightning That Lingers which featured a male stripper with a heart of gold who owned a pet owl and used his g-string dollars to fund a nature preserve.) However, The Bellini Bride managed to stray spectacularly into crazy soap-opera territory mid-way through the story.
Antonia once posed nude for a painting that became famous and brought billionaire Marco Bellini to her door. When the book opens it’s been a little over a year since they got together and things look to be going a little sour. Marco's father is dying and wants to see his son married before he kicks the bucket, so Marco is trying to work up the courage to either break things off with Antonia or grow a pair of balls and marry her.
Marco, of course, is a douche nugget. The way he handles the stress coming from family and society is to verbally lash out at Antonia. His favorite barb is to constantly remind her that everyone thinks she's a big ole' ho-bag because she's naked in some fine art painting drawn by her ex-lover. His other favorite thing to throw out is that pretty women are a dime a dozen and he can replace her with a snap of his fingers. Such a dreamboat, eh?
For the first half of the book I didn't find Marco's ass-y behavior all that infuriating because Antonia bit back just as hard and made him apologize for being a dick. And for a terrifying moment I thought that I had accidentally stumbled across a Presents title that lacked the wonderful flavor of absurdity that I had been looking for. After all, I had an awesome heroine who was experienced and unashamed of her past despite the fact that everyone around her seemed to want to shame her, including the hero. That was until I hit the halfway point and Reid pulled the rug out from under Antonia’s character.
The crazy hits the fan when Antonia and Marco attend her ex-lover's newest art exhibition. Suddenly it’s revealed that Antonia is not actually the female model in the famous painting it’s really her mother who looks exactly like Antonia. And that ex-lover that Marco has been blowing a jealous gasket over for the whole book? Never Antonia’s lover. He was actually her dead mother's lover and is Antonia's father-ish figure, which adds a lovely creepy tone to an earlier scene where Antonia is practically feeling him up at a party to piss Marco off. Oh and by the way, all that sexual experience Antonia supposedly has is all in your imagination. Marco is the only lover she's ever had. And the ridiculous doesn't end there. Oh no. Antonia's real father magically pops-up at the art showing and its revealed that he's a billionaire (they must grow on trees in Italy) who had her mother as his mistress but cut things off with her when he found out she was pregnant. OH! And even better, Antonia is apparently the one who painted the famous painting and she's been working on one of a nude Marco without his knowledge.
After the craziness that was this art exhibition, Antonia turns into a wishy-washy mess of a woman who can’t seem to dredge up any self-respect and leave Marco’s ass. Even though she does think about it frequently and manages to get to an airport before having a breakdown and fleeing back to him. After this, the plot is basically all about Antonia groveling for Marco’s forgiveness for not trusting him and for making an aborted attempt at leaving him. Seriously? Marco’s sense of entitlement knows no bounds. I love how we’re supposed to believe that Marco deserves Antonia’s trust and commitment despite him never having done anything to earn it. At one point Antonia is close to leaving Marco when she thinks this: “He wanted her. What more could she ask of him, for goodness’ sake?” Uhhh… maybe his respect or, you know, love? But nah, she’ll settle for him just wanting her around. Girl needs to find that self-esteem she lost somewhere around the halfway point.
Honestly, I really enjoyed this one. I was in the right mood for the ridiculousness that this book managed to dish out in spades. The only thing that could’ve made this book better is if Reid had decided to pursue the melodrama that Marco’s catty ex-lover could’ve dished out.