by Jayci Lee
Series: The Heirs of Hansol #1
Also in this series: Secret Crush Seduction
Publisher: Harlequin Desire
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Much more than he bargained for…
“You want me to find you a wife?”
“No. I want you to be my wife.”
Garrett Song is this close to taking the reins of his family’s LA fashion empire…until the Song matriarch insists he marry her handpicked bride first. To block her matchmaking, he recruits Natalie Sobol to pose as his wife. She needs a fake spouse as badly as he does. But when passion burns down their chaste agreement, the flames could destroy them all…
I’m not a big category reader, but the cover was so gorgeous and I’m such a sucker for contemporary arranged marriage stories that I just had to try this one. I’m glad I did – it’s funny with strong characters and a lovely romance.
“It didn’t matter that he made her blood rush; he was an executive of Hansol and she was its HR director. It would be unprofessional of her to so much as smile too warmly at him.”
Garrett’s grandparents built the Hansol fashion empire from the ground up, and he’s the heir apparent for the CEO position. Garrett’s parents’ marriage had been arranged, but they fell in love and his mother’s death of cancer when he was a teen devastated the family. His grandma decides the best way to secure a new partnership is to arrange a marriage for Garrett, and the only way out is to tell his grandma he’s already engaged. The only problem is, he doesn’t even have a girlfriend, though he does have a thing for the acting HR director. Crazy idea or not, Natalie needs the marriage to bolster her attempt to adopt her niece – it looks better if she’s well-off, married, plus Garrett’s said he’ll give her application the additional bump to get the HR director position in NY, where her niece’s paternal grandparents live. What could possibly go wrong?
“Are you sure about waiting?”
“No.” Garrett shrugged and pinned her with his gaze. “That’s why I need you to ruin me for the Korean heiress.”
“Ruin you?” Natalie was horrified at how far his grandmother would go to control his life. It had to be suffocating to bear so much pressure. Yet, he was risking so much to protect her reputation. “I don’t know… I’ve never ruined a hotshot billionaire before.”
Contemporary arranged marriage, especially one where it’s also a workplace romance, can go wrong in so many ways, but this book navigated the pitfalls expertly, managing to poke fun at the trope while still reveling in it. Natalie’s no shy secretary – she’s bold, smart, excellent at her job, and has very little time for catering to some executive who can’t seem to be bothered to fill out simple paperwork. She’s also still reeling from the death of her sister, and it’s caused her to reevaluate some aspects of her life. Garrett, for his part, is content enough with work, and having been burned by love before, coupled with his mom’s death and watching his father’s grief, thinks he’s immune to love, even if having his grandma arrange a marriage for him is a step too far. Garrett’s family is Korean-American and still follows a lot of Korean traditions, but while Natalie is half-Korean, she admits that all she really knows about the culture comes from K-dramas. It’s not my cultural background, but I enjoyed watching Natalie learn to navigate those traditions.
“A chunk of her heart had been torn from her and buried with her sister. If the pain of losing her sister didn’t kill her, then she could survive anything. Like the end of a fake marriage. Everyone left one way or another. In this case, at least she’d see it coming. She could prepare herself.”
The themes of loss and grief play a role in this book, both Natalie’s for her sister and Garrett for his mom. Garrett’s grief drives him towards logic and reason and away from emotional responses, while Natalie feels compelled to be there for her niece. There’s a particular moment in the book that really struck home for me, when Natalie and Garrett’s phones begin ringing continuously, and Natalie’s transported back to the moment when she got the news that her sister and brother-in-law had been killed in a car crash. It was incredibly well done and rang very true to my own experiences.
As for cons, I definitely felt the length constraints of a category romance – the two weeks between their engagement and the wedding are skipped over, for instance. And given that gaining custody of her niece was the big driver behind Natalie agreeing to the marriage, there wasn’t much about her relationship with Sophie.
Overall, this was a delightful surprise, and I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Ms. Lee in the future. Recommended for anyone who’s a fan of the arranged marriage trope!