A Worth Saga Novella
Heat Factor: Just because you’re a woman with wrinkles doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy
Character Chemistry: Excellent
Plot: Salty old ladies take revenge on terrible man, find love in the process
Overall: I laughed out loud, and also cried real tears
Bertrice Martin, misandrist, is feeling grouchy. All the spice has gone out of life.
Enter one Violetta Beauchamps, who is desperate, and approaches Bertrice for money. Specifically, money that Bertrice’s Terrible Nephew owes to Violetta’s former Terrible Boss, only Violetta pretends that she is the one who is owed the debt.
Now, Bertrice has told said Terrible Nephew that she will no longer cover his debts, and she doesn’t plan on starting now. It doesn’t matter that she’s obscenely rich and that he’s her only living relative, he is objectively terrible and has already run through one fortune, not to mention all of her good will. (Note: Terrible Nephew is objectively terrible and deserves everything that comes to him.) But this seems like an opportunity for something new, so she and Violetta strike a deal. They will work together to evict Terrible Nephew, and then Bertrice will pay Violetta the balance.
Hilarity ensues, as the two women work together to make Terrible Nephew’s life as miserable as humanly possible. Their schemes involve livestock, off-key carol singers, and paying all the prostitutes in the neighborhood double to decline his custom, among other things.
But the other thing that happens is that Bertrice and Violetta both find someone who sees them. As older women (70ish) in 19th century England, they both feel invisible. Bertrice is rich and loud and opinionated, but all her ranting is shrugged off by the men in her life – not least her Terrible Nephew, who is just waiting for her to die so her can get his hands on her money. Violetta is poor and has always been plain, so she has spent her life becoming more and more silent until she feels like she’s almost disappeared. With this marginalization also comes self-pity (Bertrice) and self-hatred (Violetta). These women are definitely flawed, but they have also suffered as the social fabric of their respective worlds has failed them.
As they spend more and more time together, they figure out that when they are two, they can be heard – just a little bit. And not only heard, but seen and loved, too. It’s truly a beautiful moment when it happens:
Every part of herself that she was supposed to hate – every fold of skin, ever discolored freckle – Bertrice touched and set alight. Violetta had never felt so seen.
Look, I don’t know why this bit made me cry so much. Maybe it’s because Bertrice and Violetta really deserve love after years of loneliness (or objectionable companionship), and I was so stinking happy for them. Maybe it’s because sometimes I feel insecure about my body as I get older, and the imagery of finding beauty in what society deems better left unseen makes me feel a bit better about things like stretch marks.
Because this is a romance, and the characters obviously fall in love, quoting from the ending is not a spoiler. So I’m going to close with this passage, where Bertrice and Violetta confess their love without using the word itself:
Bertrice shut her eyes. “Just let me be certain you’re well, no matter what happens. That’s all I ask for.”
Violetta could weep. That was as close to I love you as she’d ever heard from a person who wasn’t her parents.
“I have taken care of myself thus far,” Violetta said. “I will take your chocolates. I will take as many boxes of chocolates as you can lawfully give me.” She reached up and set the palm of her hand against Bertrice’s cheek. “But I won’t accept my freedom at the cost of yours.” It turned out that she could say I love you, too.
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