Coulter Family, Book #4
Heat Factor: He basically rapes her in Chapter 1, and then they very gently make love once or twice toward the end.
Character Chemistry: Some Old Skool Dynamics, for sure.
Plot: When Carly gets pregnant, she and Hank get Insurance Married.
Overall: I read this book fully expecting it to be cringe and ended up getting swept away. But now that I’m actually thinking about it, there was indeed a lot of cringe.
The basic premise of this book is that Carly has lattice dystrophy, a congenital eye disorder that means she’s been blind since birth. When the book opens, she’s just had a major operation that allows her to see for the first time in her life and is taking in the sights at a local bar. Hank is a very very handsome cowboy, one thing leads to another (I’ll come back to this bit), and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Carly is preggers. However, her pregnancy will likely cause her to go blind again, which in turn would cause a cascade of financial setbacks (in terms of her education, her career, and her healthcare), so Hank, with the support of Carly’s BFF, coerces her into a marriage of convenience.
Before I get to the cringe, let’s talk about what swept me away.
First, going in, I was expecting a lot of ableist nonsense, but Carly is a fully realized character whose disability impacts her life but does not define her; the fact that she’s going to be blind again someday (regardless of how the pregnancy goes) is acknowledged as challenging, but not something that makes her broken or unlovable. Anderson clearly did a ton of research on the struggles Carly would face as someone who is only seeing for the first time at the age of 28. This includes some gentle situational humor rooted in things like Carly not knowing how matching works and picking out clashing outfits for herself. I found Carly’s arc both fascinating and poignant.
The love story takes a while to get going—they get married around the halfway mark—but once it does, it’s lovely. Carly suffers from debilitating morning sickness, so we get some heartwarming scenes of Hank caring for her. As the book progresses, Carly’s vision gets worse and worse, so she wants to grab on to as many experiences as she can, and Hank happily obliges, which of course means we have romantic moments looking at fireworks and seeing sunsets and meeting horses. Maybe it’s schmaltzy, but it absolutely worked for me.
One thing that I really liked that I haven’t seen a lot of in accidental pregnancy romance is that Carly knows that marrying and moving in with Hank may not be the best plan. In moving away from town and to the ranch, she would become completely reliant on him. There are no sidewalks at the ranch, so walking around can be challenging. She doesn’t drive, and there’s no public transportation, so she would need someone else to drive her to school or work or the grocery store. This isn’t even getting into how she’d be financially reliant on him, since the financial reliance is the whole point they decide to get married. While everyone else waves away these red flags as silly obstacles, I really appreciated that the text even raised them at all.
Of course, there’s a Big Scary Moment and Carly Runs Away (for legitimate reasons). The result? Grand gestures may be bullshit, but nothing can top Hank making his entire ranch ADA compliant so Carly can navigate her new home without fear (and sprained ankles). Like, that is a Grade A Grand Gesture right there.
But. The cringe is real.
Look, the first chapter is a lot. Hank is really drunk, and methodically proceeds to get Carly drunk too, so she’ll loosen up a bit. He herds her onto the dance floor, out the door, into his truck—all over her protests that she can’t ditch her friend. She never says no, never tells him to stop, but she doesn’t consent to sex either. Rape is not a word that either of them use to describe their encounter, but the text makes it very cearly that this was not a pleasurable encounter for either party. (As soon as Hank breaches Carly’s hymen and realizes she was a virgin, he pulls out—and then immediately passes out.)
In short: Hank’s behavior is egregious. However, what makes this scene surmountable is that Hank realizes and acknowledges how bad his behavior was. Since we’re in the cringe section of my review, I must admit that the text indulges in some victim-blaming later in the story, when Carly decides that she was just as much at fault as Hank and should take responsibility for what happened that night. You know, because her doctor told her not to drink when she was on painkillers, but she did anyway.
I also didn’t love the way that the text handled abortion. Carly can choose to have the baby or not; that’s what pro-choice means, even if I think her reasoning was stupid. But her doctor, who had clearly told her that she should not get pregnant right after having eye surgery (that Carly spent her life savings on), felt no compunction with scolding her for being sexually active…but never brought up abortion as an option. This feels like a missed opportunity to really hone in on the choice that Carly made without handwaving abortion away as something that she could never do, no matter what.
And finally, there is some serious Madonna/Whore stuff going on in this text, as well as some valorization of motherhood that I found pretty off-putting. There’s a scene where we meet Hank’s sister-in-law, a financial analyst, it is revealed that she works from home (at the ranch) so she can also be a full-time mom to her baby, because that’s what good moms do, and I’d like to know how she’s working in the bro-dominated 60-hour-workweek world of finance while caring for a toddler and staying sane. More significantly, Hank wants to be with Carly because she’s kind and angelic and would be a good mother. She’s innocent and pure and looks like, and I quote, a “church angel.”
Here’s the TL;DR version: In the moment, I enjoyed reading this book immensely. But I’m not sure I’d actually recommend it.
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Married for insurance (and other purposes of convenience)