My husband and I have been watching some old films from the black and white era recently. The first was Without Love, starring Spencer Tracy as Pat Jamieson, a scientist during WWII who finagles himself into a caretaker position at a mansion in Virginia so he can secretly work on a project to aid the war effort. He is hired by the house’s owner, Jamie Rowan, a widow played by Katharine Hepburn. She later proposes to become his assistant...and his wife. It’s the perfect marriage of convenience because neither wants to love again—she because her husband’s death left her numb and he because a woman in Paris broke his heart. Sex, btw, is totally off the table.
This move follows the MOC formula beautifully, which enabled me tell my husband what would happen next in almost each scene. Enlivening the movie was a secondary romance between two wise-ass sidekicks portrayed with comic precision by Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn.
In many MOC romances—where “love” isn’t supposed to be part of the equation—late in the story the hero refuses to admit that he has fallen in love with the heroine or otherwise tries to fall back on their “agreement,” hurting the heroine in the process because she is more willing to share what she’s feeling. There’s often a huge argument followed by a physical or emotional separation, and eventually the hero realizes the error of his ways and returns to the heroine to grovel.
This is almost precisely what happens in Without Love, although the hurt occurs when Pat takes his experiment out of town to show it to the military brass and leaves only a note behind. There’s no argument, but Pat’s nonchalance in leaving hurts Jamie desperately, particularly as his one-time Parisian honey reappears on the scene. By the time he realizes how empty the success of his experiment is without Jamie, it looks like she is ready to move on, with a debonaire local Lothario. He returns to their mansion, cake and champagne in hand—his version of a grovel—but Jamie has left for the evening. Wonderfully comedic scenes ensue before they come together and Pat admits his love for Jamie.
Spencer Tracy’s groveling is not of the he-throws-himself-on-the-ground-begging-for-forgiveness variety. Instead it’s along the lines of how I imagine Wyatt Bloodsworth would grovel to Blair Mallory if Linda Howard had written To Die For in the 1940s. It’s not an effusive type of grovel, but it’s all Pat is capable of, and besides, it worked perfectly for Jamie, which is all that matters.
Watching Without Love reminded me of some of my favorite “he gives good grovels” romances. They are most often writ much larger, and I’d like to reminisce about one of them now.
Jill Barnett’s Bewitching is nearly 20 years old at this point (it was published in 1993), but its memory is indelible. To help you remember, or introduce you to its wonder, here’s the blurb from Amazon, where the book was published digitally in 2010:
She had bewitched the most serious, snobbish, and handsome Duke in England. Joyous MacQuarrie...the pixie-like, green-eyed beauty had appeared from nowhere and fell unashamedly into his arms. And all that his society friends knew of the mysterious lady was that she was Scottish and that her grandmother had been a Locksley. Even her fine bloodline didn’t make Joy quite proper enough to be a Duchess, but a proud nobleman like Alec, Duke of Belmore, did as he pleased...and he wanted to marry the beautiful girl who aroused his desire.
But Alec soon discovered he could not do what he pleased with Joy Fiona MacQuarrie. Bubbling with laughter, filled with spirit, she turned stately Belmore Park upside down with merriment and strange occurrences. She might even have gotten Alec to laugh—and to cherish her—if it had not been for the truth she hid. Though he turned to fire when he tasted her petal-soft lips, he turned to ice when he discovered that this winsome lady was, in fact, a witch. A witch whose powers of white magic were not always perfectly under control....Too late, Joy knew she was desperately in love and that nothing could stop the course of their destiny — the scandal threatening to destroy her and the passion that held them both spellbound in a forbidden, irresistible match of two enchanted hearts.
Bewitching is one of those romances featuring a proud, cold, and altogether uptight hero and the heroine—a witch who has trouble controlling her magic—who forces him to become human. It’s an interesting irony, I think, that it takes a witch to turn an unfeeling man into a Human Being, but it’s part of the book’s magic. And make no mistake about it; this is a magical read, with tones of light and dark, at times almost simultaneously, although some have thought Joy was a TSTL heroine whose principal charm was to make Alec’s life hell through her incompetence as a witch. I never felt that way myself. I loved Joy and believed her principal charm was to thaw the ice surrounding his heart by teaching him to look at the world differently.
Late in the story Alec is united with Stephen, the “idiot” brother he never knew he had. Stephen was sent away as a boy because he was an blight on the family’s reputation. Alec, whom Joy had already loosened up significantly, is so happy to have a brother at home that he soon makes a noise she had never heard from him before...he laughs...kinda like a seal barking.
The new-found light at Belmore Park darkens when a dreadful accident leaves Stephen dying of internal injuries. Alec begs Joy to use her magic to heal his brother.
“Make him well,” he said.
“Make him well. Use your magic.”
“You have to.”
“I wish I could.”
“Do something.” There was desperation in his voice.
“I told you before. My magic can’t—”
“For God’s sake, he’s dying!”
Then he lashes out at her when she tells him she can’t put him out of his misery either.
Alec dropped into a chair and ran his hands over his face. He pulled them away to show a face twisted with torment and grief. His hands gripped the arms of the chair so tightly his knuckles were white. “Then put him out of his misery.”
She froze, her face crumpling in reaction to the compassionate horror of what he had asked. Very quietly she whispered, “I cannot do that, either.”
He stared at his brother, his hands suddenly falling from the chair arms. He gave a cold bark of laughter that had nothing to do with humor. “I was foolish enough to believe in that magic of yours. What good is it?”
She took a step toward him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “
He closed his eyes. “Leave.”
“I said, leave.”
“Please let me be with you.”
“Get out.” He fell silent and stared at the bed.
She stood there searching for something to say to break through that icy wall of his. He turned and gave her a look so angry she could almost feel the heat of it.
“Damnation, you foolish woman! Can’t you see I want to be alone? Just . . . get . . . out. Leave us alone. I don’t need you.”
A cold black void closed around her, tightly, so tightly she felt as if it squeezed the very breath out of her.
Alec’s coldness devastates Joy, and her aunt, a very powerful witch known to disguise herself as an old crone, agrees to save Stephen, but refuses to let her niece blame herself for Alec’s outburst. Joy did not fail Alec; he failed her, and she must leave him because “he hasn’t learned the value of love.” And so she leaves, sobbing, which causes it to rain, something that happens whenever she cries. That, and being socked in the jaw by his friend the Earl of Downe (Dreaming, 1994), drives her loss home to Alec, who becomes increasingly frantic and despondent. The thought of life without Joy devastates him and as Stephen recovers, he vows to find her and apologize so she can hear it. For now all he can do is apologize to the wind.
In his quest he tortures himself, and lets go of his overly meticulous, prideful ways.
In a kind of deliberate self-punishment, he surrounded himself with reminders of her. The only food he would eat was roasted chicken legs, turnips, and gingerbread. On every table and every mantel in the rooms he frequented stood vase after vase of pink roses.
One day a wagon had come from London filled with heavy crates. It had taken three footmen to carry the stacks of Gothic romances into the duchess’ room. They were stacked along a wall seeming to await her return.
He memorized the names of his servants, then confused the wits out of them when he ordered all the clocks set for different times. He went through the gardens looking for small birds and first blooms. He walked on the roof at night, looking at the stars, and wondered if he’d ever look down and see them in her eyes again. He prayed for snow. He picked a sprig of rosemary and remembered. And every so often, when he was alone at night, he cried.
Alec is changing. He reveals his humanity to his staff while paying homage to Joy in hopes she will return to him. He sets his pride aside and tries to prove his worthiness. He also sends men all over England in search of his wayward witch wife, eventually realizing that an old crone in London—actually Joy’s aunt in disguise—might be able to help him find her. He vows to “search every street corner” to find the old woman.
When Alec comes to London, his odd behavior continues, prompting gossip among the ton: “It was whispered between deals at snug little card parties and teas that he’d gone batty with grief at the disappearance of his duchess. Rumor had it that he’d been accosting the flower sellers on the street corners. The Duke of Belmore!”
By the time he spies the old crone, who speaks to him in riddles, Alec is so overwrought that he erupts.
“Damnation, woman!” Alec shouted. “Tell me where she is. What do I have to do? I’ve torn London apart looking for an old flower woman in a red hat. I finally find you and you won’t tell me anything. What do I have to do?”
She remained silent, but watched him closely. “I’ve hugged every tree from Wiltshire to London.” He turned and spotted a maple a few feet away. He strode over and wrapped his arms around it. “Where’s the magic, woman? Where?”
The crowd began to titter. He ignored them. “I eat gingerbread. Hell, I don’t even like gingerbread! I look for fairies. I wish on stars. I sleep with roses. Pink roses. I wake up calling her name at night. What do I have to do? Tell me! Please . . . ” His voice tapered off, and he was quiet for a moment before he said, ”I love her."
Granted, he’s not saying these things directly to Joy, but I find it amazing as far as grovels go, and the old crone must have thought so as well because within days Joy returns to him. Alec talked the talk, but more importantly he walked the walk. In doing so he recovered his humanity and gladly revealed...and reveled...in it. He began as dour and humorless, but as a result of the power of love, finished the job Joy began in an active type of grovel that was more than simply begging forgiveness. His transformation complete, he became a nice guy with the sense of whimsy Joy deserved. In the it’s-corny-but-I-adore-it epilogue set 13 years later, Alec treats his children—witches and muggles alike—with love, affection, and acceptance. I dare anyone to read it and not think it’s enchanting, funny, and sweet.
Next time I’m going to share another great grovel with you, from another book almost twenty years old. Look for it soon.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on goodreads, where she spends much of her time of late, follow her on Google+, Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.