Lush Money

by Angelina Lopez
October 14, 2019 · Carina Press
Contemporary RomanceRomance

All I needed to know is that this book had a billionaire heroine with a smattering of enemies-to-lovers. I began repeatedly stalking NetGalley offerings. I checked daily for weeks before the gods took pity on me. Baby plots aren’t my bag, but I was willing to overlook that for the sake of A FREAKING BILLIONAIRE HEROINE. And honestly, the pregnancy plot doesn’t rank high on my issues with this book. Both the hero and heroine were magnets for exhausting levels of drama and an assortment of garbage people, but that didn’t stop me from losing precious sleep finishing this book.

Roxanne Medina wants a baby. After achieving vast financial success, she wants for nothing save a baby. Rather than going the route of an anonymous sperm donor, she wants to share custody; her child having a father is important to her given her own upbringing. Roxanne wants a man who is desperate enough to agree to fathering a child for money, while also possessing fantastic genes and the social standing to give their child everything he or she could want.

Spanish prince and viticulturist Mateo Ferdinand Juan Carlos de Esperanza y Santos is the prime candidate as his country is failing due to the king’s excessive spending. Mateo has plans for a new crop of vines, but they’ll take three years to fully mature and he isn’t sure he has the finances to hold out for that long. But Mateo isn’t the one who brokered this deal. His father has essentially sold him off to Roxanne (without Roxanne knowing Mateo was not 100% on board).

Being cornered into this arrangement makes for a bitter and angry Mateo, though he sees no other short-term option for his financial troubles. Roxanne and Mateo will hastily marry and meet three times a month for a year in the hopes that she gets pregnant. At the end of a year, they’ll divorce and Mateo will receive a handsome payout.There are scheming family members, public scandals, and oodles of pants feelings that make everything way more complicated.

Unlikable heroines are definitely my jam, but Roxanne was nearly too unlikable at the beginning. Not only is Roxanne and Mateo’s first sexual encounter rife with dubious consent and arousal non-concordance, she frequently makes hurtful decisions for her own gain. There are several incidents where she blatantly ignores Mateo’s requests, like to wait on announcing their marriage, as he has a lot going on and would prefer to be more present once the news hits and paparazzi comes out of the woodwork.Of course, Roxanne apologizes whenever she realizes how much she’s hurt Mateo, but as he reminds her, she hands out apologies so carelessly that they hold no weight. I’m with him on this one.

She defaults to thinking the worst of people and flashing money around to solve her problems. She bribes the media, shaping the public narrative about her background and business dealings. Her hometown is full of people who love the success story she’s become and it doesn’t hurt that Roxanne always finds ways to give back to her community, but in her words, “Greed can look like gratefulness if you’re doing it right.” In her mind, her hometown hasn’t sold her out to the media only because of all the funding she’s given them; that’s how little she thinks of people.

It’s sad and frustrating. At times, I understood that her perspective has been skewed from growing up poor and being abandoned by a narcissistic mother. However, there were moments where Roxanne just seemed cruel, such as when she uses her influence to publicly punish Mateo for making rather reasonable adjustments to their arrangement. I preferred the confident and warm woman that peeked through when she didn’t have to uphold the title of “Roxanne the Billionaire.” Though Roxanne shows emotional growth and mentions going to therapy, her baggage was heavier and more damaging to herself and her personal relationships than Mateo’s. I wanted to see more of Roxanne addressing her childhood trauma than Mateo sparring with his shitty, scheming dad.

Mateo equally flummoxed me. He is easily one of the most self-loathing heroes I’ve ever read and I didn’t understand where it came from. Like Roxanne, he has awful, unreliable parents, but he’s dedicated to his kingdom, reviving the land with a new experimental vine, and bringing glory back to the country’s vineyards. He’s altruistic, cares what his people think of him, and unlike his dad, isn’t afraid of hard work.

Why does he hate himself so much? I have no idea because while these feelings existed prior to the contract he signs with Roxanne: the contract only exacerbates the problem. The notion that he has to “sell his body” to save his kingdom is clearly a decision he isn’t happy about and one that he feels forced into making. He makes frequent derogatory comments to himself and to Roxanne that he’s being treated like a prostitute.

The notion of sex work in general is viewed negatively in the text as well. In another example, Roxanne’s mom was known as the town “whore” with nothing but disastrous consequences for the heroine (Roxanne being bullied, her father’s identity unknown), despite this appearing to be a willing choice Roxanne’s mom made as a source of income. Her mom shows no indication that she regrets being a sex worker. Granted, she’s a terrible person otherwise, but that should have no correlation to her being a sex worker and I felt the opposite was being implied.

Okay, griping over because there were things I so enjoyed about this book, namely the gender-flipped power dynamics.

Morally ambiguous billionaire status is usually reserved for heroes and I liked seeing a woman in that role, despite Roxanne going too far in certain situations. She has agency over her body, over her success and finances, and is quite clear on her ambitions and how to make them happen. She makes no excuses for her wealth and often offers up whatever she has at her disposal to Mateo.

There’s this badass but cheeky moment with Roxanne where she just casually shrugs and proclaims, “I’m a billionaire married to a hot prince. Not sure what else you could offer me.”

Hell, yeah, you are!

This is Lopez’s debut and from just this one book, she’s easily in my top five writers if you want some grade-A dirty talk and hot sexual situations. I’ve read enough romance that reading sex scenes in public don’t really faze me, but this book had me furtively looking around as if everyone on this damn bus just knew I was reading about two people having rough sex in an alleyway.

The large cast of characters has provided some choice sequel bait and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a princess/security guard romance next, if my reading of subtext is correct. I was invested in everyone and I think that’s what was most important to me. I want to want the main couple to succeed, to get their happily ever after, and for the people around them to be supportive in that outcome.

I didn’t stay up past 1am because I was hate-reading or just determined to finish the damn book. The hook was in and I desperately needed to know how things were going to unfold. I can forgive a number of issues if I’m engaged enough and honestly, reading Lush Money reminded me of my General Hospital-watching years. I couldn’t help myself. The plot lines may have seemed out there or a character may have driven me up a wall, but by god, I was going to tune in every single day at 4pm because for that small period of time, nothing else matters except for these two people angrily kissing in secret or someone’s evil twin wreaking havoc while the real Emily Quartermaine has gone missing!

What I’m trying to say with my convoluted General Hospital analogy is that I couldn’t put this book down. I read it in one sitting which, for a person who frequently gets distracted by a laundry list of things, is high praise. The angst is high. The sex is hot. It should be high on your TBR pile if you’re in the mood for an emotional rollercoaster with gender-flipped tropes.

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