I got a copy of Jennifer Crusie’s The Cinderella Deal recently; Crusie is a great author I discovered in the last year or so, and I’ve been trying to pick up her out-of-print category romances used. This isn’t the best one of hers I’ve read, but I liked it very much.
There’s a bit of similarity to her Strange Bedpersons, which is unsurprising as that started out as a re-write of The Cinderella Deal, but developed into a different book; The Cinderella Deal was eventually published a couple years later. The main resemblance is the protagonists, but I like the ones here better. Linc is a college professor who really wants a particular faculty position, and in a moment of insanity tells his interviewer that he’s engaged. Of course, now he needs to produce a fiancée when he goes back to give a talk on his research. He asks Daisy, his downstairs neighbor, because the card over her mailbox reads “Stories Told, Ideas Illuminated; Unreal but Not Untrue.” (Also, she’s friends with one of his ex-girlfriends, who vouches for her. He hasn’t lost his mind that badly.) Daisy’s broke and stuck in a rut with her painting, and agrees to help to get her back rent paid.
Pretending to be a couple is of course one of the standard ways romances throw together their protagonists, and there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s well done, as it is here. Crusie often paces her stories differently than other category romances (the general rule is, when in doubt, flip to the very middle of the book, because that’s probably where the characters go to bed for the first time), letting the story develop around the characters and their relationship with each other. Linc gets the job, Daisy goes home, and that would have been the end of it, even though they miss each other:
. . . Daisy would have loved the house. As he worked patching and painting the walls, he could see her trailing her long skirts across the gleaming living room floor . . . , sitting on the solid oak stairs and explaining the world to him through the ornate railing. Once he found himself holding an imaginary argument with her as he painted, convincing her that it was practical to paint all the walls white. The really irritating thing about that hadn’t so much been that he caught himself doing it as it was that she’d been winning. . . . And it was his fault; he’d started it with that first dumb story he’d told about his fiancée. Everything Daisy had said about stories came back to him: the stories you told were unreal but not untrue; she wasn’t really there, but she was everywhere.
He sighed and kept on painting, and when he moved his chrome and leather furniture into the big old rooms, he knew what Daisy would say, and he had a feeling she was right, so it was a damn good thing she wasn’t there to say it.
But of course circumstances bring them back together, and they learn about themselves and each other and how to accommodate their differences, and about the power and danger of the stories that people create about their lives. And there’s humor and good friendships and the trademark slightly deranged animals and a happy ending, and it’s all good.