When we put out the call for the worst romance heroes, the name "Wade Taggert" came up. And having read Jayne Ann Krentz's early novel, Dangerous Magic, I can see why: creepy, domineering, autocratic, he's the world's worst boss:
Krentz, who also writes as Stephanie James, Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, is nowadays popular for her historicals, futuristics and thrillers. However, in 1982, as she explains in an introductory note, she was writing "classic, battle-of-the-sexes-style" romance. Well, that's one word for this exercise in inappropriate power dynamics. Usually, when a hero's this autocratic, at least he has the excuse of being some kind of fake 19th Century aristocrat. Here, we know it's the 80's purely due to the plethora of long skirts and matching "soft blouses," the heroine's weirdly angular haircut, and the fact that their company deals with computers.
The Hero: Wade Taggert, 35, rugged, ruthless. "Six feet of coordinated strength." Self-made and - lest you forget - wolfish. If you remember one thing about him it should be this, not that you're given a chance to forget.
The Heroine: Elissa Sheldon, 27, a woman whom everyone likes because she's a good friend, a terrific hostess and a warm and charming person. Everyone except her new boss Wade Taggert!
The Plot: We jump right into this one: when we meet Wade and Elissa it's in his CompuSystem office, where he's in the process of denying her a well-earned promotion. The reason? He's convinced - based on some very scant circumstantial evidence - that Elissa's been trying to gain the promotion by sleeping with a married superior - and he's onto her!
"I merely pointed out that you picked the wrong man to sleep with in your efforts to secure the promotion. You should have tried your wiles on me. Not Martin Randolph."
Even though she's innocent, he throws many such insults at her including, "There's a term for women who use their bodies to get what they want on the job. Several terms in fact, none of them particularly flattering!"
So, he suggests, she should become his mistress: he despises her, of course, but he "wants to teach her a lesson." She does suggest that this is sexual harassment (it IS 1982, after all!) but this is quickly dismissed. After all, what's a little matter of workplace intimidation when you're being wooed with words like, "I want you. I don't know how long I'll want you, but while I do, you might be able to benefit considerably."
For some reason, she decides to go along with this, because she figures the best lesson will be to lure him in, make him fall in love with her, and then throw the offer in his face. So they begin an "affair" that consists of him ordering her around, telling her to be places in certain outfits, forbidding her from seeing male friends, and dictating menus. To say nothing of periodic maulings that, of course, she's powerless to resist. All their exchanges go something like this:
"Give me what I want, little witch, and you have my word I'll take care of you. Your time spent amusing me will pay dividends."
"I thought I made it clear that there's no point bargaining with me. I hold the high cards in this little game."
You'd never be able to dazzle me to such an extent that I wouldn't be aware of how little of you I was really getting. I'll always know if I'm being short-changed, witch, and I won't tolerate it. Wolves aren't known for taking less than their full share. And I do want my share, honey. I want to have your softness and your wide-eyed, fascinated interest and have you remember how I like my drinks and all the rest. Surely you can understand that? I'm only a man, Elissa, and I want to be charmed like all the others.
"One way or another I'm going to join you in your fortress, even if I have to make the foundations shake! And you'll welcome me when the time comes, I swear it!"
You get the picture.
For some reason, they end up in a sham engagement. There's also some business with the boss's daughter claiming she and Wade are actually an item. The upshot is, based on nothing but what appears to be about three days of his abuse and wolf analogies, she realizes she's in love with him and can't go through with breaking his heart! Luckily, it turns out he's in love with her too. And - oh, yeah - he's known almost since the beginning that he accused her unjustly and that he's just been using the threat of firing to lure her into his "net." His explanation? "I had been a first-class jealous fool and I'd blown everything. There was nothing for it but to keep going." Oh, and: "You thought I'd made things easy for your plans of revenge when I agreed to marry you, but the truth is, as far as I was concerned, you fell into my palm like a ripe plum!" This "explanation" seems to satisfy her. And in case you're wondering, there's no reparation for the promotion she was unfairly denied; but presumably being his wife is a better job anyway.
Long story short, they get married. Natch, then they have sex. Because who can resist lines like, "Well, witch, your wolf has waited long enough to know all your magic."
How We Know He's Actually a Good Guy: He understands her painting. Oh, and once he had a female boss and it went fine.
The End: "'A wolf is a very practical creature. He uses whatever works. And against a witch the only weapon is magic.' And he proceeded to demonstrate."