Harlequin Presents #38
He did not speak but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…MOON WITCH
3 ½ stars
Personal Anecdote Before Reading Moon Witch
Around the time I read Anne Mather’s Moon Witch, I caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I refuse to watch the final season, as that show just devolved into wretchedness. However, the first 5-6 seasons were entertaining with its retro 1970s shtick: a group of teens just hanging out, falling in love, and being stupid. Back then, my 18-year-old daughter was about to graduate from high school. Since watching “That 70’s Show,” I’ve realized something of myself as a parent. I am Red Forman. He was right! 17 – 18 year-olds are dumb-asses.
What the heck does any of this babble have to do with Anne Mather’s Moon Witch? Well, “That 70’s Show” depicted Mid-western American teens doing what normal dumb-ass teens do: obsess over sex, TV, drugs, candy, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not being British nor having been a teen in the ’70s, I can’t attest if that depiction is also accurate for regular English teens of that era. Still, I’m going out on a limb and ass-u-me that in rural 1970’s UK, dumb-ass 17-year-old kids were, you know, at least aware of their own existence! The teenaged heroine of Moon Witch is a dumb-ass, specifically because she has no clue about life.
(For full disclosure, I met my husband-to-be when I was 18, he was 22, and we were both dumb-asses. We’ve been together as a couple for almost 25 years. So some dumb-ass kids can make the right decision when it comes to love.)
In this Harlequin Presents, little 17-year-old orphan Sara’s grandfather has just died. She’s finished her freaking O levels at school and has no one. She’s temporarily taken care of by a cranky neighbor with 7 kids, but fortune is on its way to save our heroine from ending up on social services.
In his will, Sara’s grandfather left her guardianship to his former boss and CEO of Kyle Industries, Jarrod Kyle. Only he didn’t specify exactly which Jarrod Kyle. So in a bizarre twist, Sara is made the ward of the son and new CEO, also named Jarrod Kyle. Instead of being an old grandfatherly sort, this Jarrod is more of a fatherly sort (being only twice Sara’s age). He’s a silver-blond-haired, tanned, cheroot-smoking, sex-god who drives a Mercedes one day, a Ferrari the next, then a Rolls Royce on Sunday. He flies planes and owns and sails a yacht. He has multiple girlfriends (who practically come to a catfight over him near the book’s denouement), in addition to an overbearing mommy who wants to run her son’s love life (but he ain’t listening to her).
That’s the setup. This innocent, sheltered 17-year-old beauty is now the legal ward of a 34/35-year-old guardian. Fortunately, Jarrod’s father, JK (as in Just Kidding readers, I know this plot is crazy!), steps in and takes responsibility for Sara. Meanwhile, Jarrod flies around the world going on trips, both for business and pleasure.
This is not a love story of a middle-aged man paired up with a 20-year-old college student who in the US might be too young to buy alcohol legally, but at least would be armed with some worldly knowledge: how to drive a car, how to read a bank statement, how to type, or do some filing. Sara is 17, and her only skill is how to ride a horse or a pony. Her favorite subjects in school are Art and English. She’s never had any feelings for a man before, no stolen kisses with boys, no harmless dates to the soda shop. She’s just a pink-cheeked little girl who looks nothing like the sophisticated auburn-haired beauty on the original cover.
The first time our hero lays eyes on the heroine, the chick is decked out in a sexy pinafore.
The Crazy Continues
There’s lots of hinting at the attraction between our leads. It comes full force when the kid, er heroine, starts dancing to some of her favorite tunes—hits from Sammy Davis, Dave Brubeck, & Dean Martin.
Mather could have gone with Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Rolling Stones, Elvis, or even freakin’ Tom Jones. Instead, she chose older adults’ music. Harlequin Presents were always anachronistic. No matter what decade they were written in, they were at least 15 years out of style.
(Side note: that’s a reason why I’m not too fond of the recent batch of Harlequin Presents. They abandoned the weird, old-timey fantasy setting in favor of some chick-lit/50 shades/new adult sex fusion. That is perfectly fine for just about every other contemporary romance, but not HPs! Harrumph to that, I say!)
So, anyhow, Sara’s alone, shaking her butt, dancing to the “latest” sexy beats. Then she turns around, and there he is: Jarrod, lusting after her.
“Turning the volume up she allowed her own inhibitions to melt away, closing her eyes, and dancing with the same abandon she had seen teenagers on television adopt…Sara halted abruptly, conscious of the informality of her attire, the bare feet, and the damp untidy tangle of her hair. She switched off the radiogram, and for a moment the silence seemed as deafening as the music had been. He did not speak but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…”
A car is given to Sara. She starts her driving lessons and gets to go to one measly party where all the boys her age are hot for her. Unfortunately, she gets pneumonia afterwards. She is out of commission, lying around doing nothing for the rest of the book until Jarrod decides to take her with him on a glamorous trip. First to NYC for some wining and dining in the finest Manhattan restaurants, shopping trips, and carriage rides through Central Park. Then it’s off to Jamaica to meet his mother.
Mather introduces another man into the story near the end: a rich, sexy friend of the hero who’s the same age as Jarrod. This confirms that the heroine knows her heart and loves Jarrod, for, like, 4 eva!!!
They share their first kiss a few pages from the end. Jarrod reminds her there is more to male-female sexual relations than just kissing. To which Sara’s eyes open wide with awe and surprise.
I’ve read tons of historicals with 16, 17, 18-year-old girls paired off with heroes in their mid-30s through early 40s. And I rarely ever am bothered by that. Historicals play by different rules.
Yet, in a contemporary, this is a fine line to walk. It should be approached with an understanding of the difficulty such a relationship faces. In Moon Witch, the older man/younger woman thing is …creepy. Even the hero knows it, so he spends half the book avoiding the heroine.
Admittedly, Moon Witch is not a “modern” contemporary. Plus, this is a Mills-and-Boon/Harlequin Presents we’re talking about. So since it’s an HP, which is as far away from real romance as Star Wars is to space travel and history, I eventually got on board. Despite my admitted prejudices, I ended up liking it, even though the book takes a while to get going.
Hey, if Courtney Stodden’s marriage is still going strong, [ETA: Sadly, they didn’t; they divorced.] then the reader of Moon Witch can have hope that Sara and Jarrod will be happy together for many years to come. Until Jarrod gets cancer 15-20 years later from all the smoking and tanning he does, leaving Sara a wealthy widow before she hits 40.
Anne Mather did not write Moon Witch in a psychologically intense way Charlotte Lamb would handle the older man/younger woman trope, as she did in the wonderful Temptation and Crescendo. Anne Mather is no armchair psychologist. Nevertheless, she did write some oddly entertaining books. She was a fan of plots involving older woman/younger man, evil mothers-in-law who’ll stop at nothing to break up the protagonists, and cheating (married or engaged). Mather wrote a lot of controversial romances.
All-Time Favorite Best Seller
Moon Witch wasn’t just a hit with readers. For Harlequin, it was an “All-Time Favorite Best Seller.”
My copy is the 9th printing since the original 1970 hardcover release. Who knows how many times it’s been reprinted or rereleased since 1982?
And of course, Moon Witch is now on Kindle for a new generation to enjoy!
Final Analysis of Moon Witch
Moon Witch reminded me of another book by Anne Mather, Stormspell. That was a full-length novel, with a similar older-man younger woman scenario, although without the guardianship-ward/ temporary daddy “ick” factor. In that one, the hero was a cheating sleaze who “initiated the heroine into womanhood” before leaving her for his fiancée. Still, at least we, the readers, got to see into the hero’s mind to understand him better. Plus, in Stormspell, the heroine spread her wings a little bit before she and the hero settled down.
Even so, I can see why this HP appealed to the romance-loving masses. Moon Witch, you are an awful book, straddling a fine line between romantic and pervy. I hate myself for liking you. Gods above forgive me, but I do.