Whenever someone mentions which romance novel features “the best grovel,” Rebecca Paisley’s 1995 release, A Basket of Wishes springs to mind. A Basket of Wishes featured a fairy heroine whose magical ways don’t fit into the life created by her stuff-shirted ducal hero. The results are funny, sad, and heartwarming. The book includes wondrous scenes of romantic magic as well as moments of laughter and of tears, sometimes nearly simultaneously.
Here’s the blurb for A Basket of Wishes at Amazon, which comes directly from Publishers Weekly:
This delightful adult fairy tale takes place in the Faerie kingdom of Pillywiggin where a betrothal between the Faerie and a human called Trinity is about to be consummated. The Faerie, already of fragile ancestry, have weakened over the years. Now, to save her race from extinction, Princess Splendor must mate with Jourdian Amberville, the 12th duke of Heathcourte. Splendor has three months in which to conceive a child with Jourdian and return to Pillywiggin. Her time among the humans is not without its problems: Jourdian refuses to allow her to go about au naturel; the pet she calls “Delicious” is a shape-shifting thing that scares everyone in sight; and Splendor's fiery sister Harmony is the epitome of jealous mischief. But the most serious problem between Splendor and Jourdian is love (or rather, the lack of it), an emotion neither is capable of feeling. Paisley's latest offering (after Heartstrings) is perhaps best read alone so one doesn't have to explain having a laugh or even a bit of a cry over a fairy tale. It's a charmer loaded with imagination and sprinkled with modest bits of wisdom.
The sort of grovel you’ll read in Paisley’s book is not traditional. It’s a grovel of action rather than words and goes to the core of the hero’s essence and fits his personality. This is a powerful man who didn’t make his fortune with small gestures. He replenished the family fortune his father lost...and then some...with decisive, intelligent, and bold action.
Splendor has watched Jourdian since his unhappy childhood, when she put his tears in the sky as stars to watch over him. When he awakens after a fall from his horse, he discovers a naked Splendor atop him. Her beauty arouses him. Her regal air confuses him, his being a duke and all. When he informs her to call him “Your Grace,” she refers to him as “My Grace,” and continues to do so throughout the book. Her naiveté about all things human frustrates him and threatens her reputation. The strange things that happen after she is ensconced on his estate baffle and annoy him. She is a nuisance. All he wants is to find a boring wife—whom he will refuse to love—who will give him an heir. He likes his life as it is, such as it is, and sees no reason it should change.
Though his even-tempered cousin Emil immediately sees that despite what he says, Splendor is just what Jourdian needs because she awakens his emotions, the Duke remains steadfast in his refusal to be touched by her magic. The man with the Midas touch tells himself, “Damn it all, finding the perfect wife should have been as effortless a goal to accomplish as any and all he'd ever undertaken. And yet…finding a basket of wishes would be far easier.“
Emil elucidates his cousin’s problem.
“I've stayed here at Heathcourte often enough to have memorized your monotonous routine. You awaken at seven, and bathe at seven and a quarter. You dress at precisely ten until eight, and breakfast at eight-thirty. You're in your office by nine on the dot, and—”
“On Monday evenings your cook knows that the main course is to be leg of mutton with oysters. On Tuesdays your dinner is always sirloin of beef, served only after you have finished your partridge soup, of course. Wednesdays are lobster nights, Thursdays—”
“What in God's name is wrong with dining upon certain foods on certain evenings? The meals are all quite to my liking, and I see no reason why—”
“You want a woman as indifferent to the spice of life as you are,” Emil continued heedlessly. “Who not only follows your dry-as-dust routine, but who embraces the ho-hum rhythm of the Amberville household. And she'll place little importance on your name or wealth. Rather, she will devote her every waking moment to you and your children, possessing no other interests whatsoever. She'll—”
Jourdian refuses to love. The inhabitants of Pillywiggin, because of their insubstantiality, cannot feel such a deep emotion as love. Splendor struggles to discover how to love and to provoke love. Unless this difficult man comes to love her within three months, she will need to leave him. If she stays, she will forfeit her magic, which she is willing to do, but if she conceives, her child is destined for Pillywiggin. How could she do that to a man just learning to love, knowing the betrayal would destroy him?
The fun and wonder of reading A Basket of Wishes hits the reader from all directions. Splendor constantly changes the shape of Delicious, her familiar, which wreaks havoc on Jourdian’s staff. She transfers the maladies—stuttering, baldness—of those she cares about to the vain and mean-spirited. Splendor cries diamonds. She chides Jourdian when he is rude. She believes the arousal she felt the first time he pressed his leg between hers derived from his leg.
Splendor shrinks in size when her energy depletes; that energy replenishes after affection from Jourdian. There’s a scene during which she has shrunk so small that his nasty cat tries to eat her; the Duke’s attempts to revive her are LOL funny. While they make love, Splendor’s arousal generates music. Afterward, they float around the room. And then there’s her jealous sister Harmony, with her mischievously spiteful antics, described by the author as “finding happiness in rendering gloom.” Turns out that the good-natured Emil—as Beta a male as you are likely to encounter—is the only one able to tame her, which he manages masterfully. He’s Petruchio without an agenda, or a temper, and his scenes with Harmony (as they are with Jourdian and Splendor!) are terrific.
The Princess of Pillywiggin does learn how to love, but Jourdian’s refusal to meet her halfway forces her to return to Faerie at the end of three months, leaving nothing behind save a basket of her tears. He pretends that all is fine, but of course, all is not fine. He won’t speak of Splendor, and keeps himself so busy working that he has no time to think about her. Until he receives a business letter and his feelings break free...
He felt something open inside him. His heart. And out of it burst all the memories and emotions he'd entombed there.
Damn it all, why did the blasted letter have to come? He'd been fine before its arrival! Absolutely and totally fine!
And now he wasn't fine. Now he had memories to deal with. To somehow bury again...
There are some who believe rain has no color… Rain is silver and iridescent. Your eyes are such a silver.
Jourdian pressed his warm forehead against the cold pane. Long moments later when he lifted his head, the rain had stopped, and he saw a rainbow in the March sky.
I don't suppose you have ever slid down a rainbow, have you, Jourdian?
Jourdian turned from the window and glanced at the chair that sat across from his desk. How many times had Splendor sat in that chair watching him work?
...I could never grow weary of watching you.
The chair was empty now.
Stacks and stacks of business reports sat upon the desk, each paper signifying wealth.
Wealth. And more wealth.
Well, he'd worked hard to earn that wealth! And he had every right to be proud of his accomplishments!
But money didn't know what he was going to say before he spoke. It didn't rejoice with him when he was happy, didn't shed tears when he was sad, and it was never concerned when he worried.
For the first time since Splendor left, he goes into his bedroom.
How many times had he loved her on this bed? He couldn't recall, couldn't count.
Looking up, he stared at the ceiling, pondering all the occasions when he and Splendor had floated around the room just as a session of lovemaking had ended. With Splendor's music accompanying them.
He would never drift around the room again. Would never hear that joyous music again.
All the magic was gone. Because Splendor was gone.
Jourdian, the short time that I have been with you means more to me than all the years I lived without you.
Jourdian tried to swallow. But he couldn't.
His heart was in his throat.
He set [Splendor’s] basket on the bed and lay down beside it.
Loneliness crept through him.
I am being your company because one of the things that I think will make you smile is not being lonely anymore.
“Make me smile again, Splendor,” he whispered.
You are in dire need of frequent admonishments.
God, he thought. What he wouldn't do to hear her chide him over his uncivil streak just one more time.
For hours he lay there, recalling everything he could about Splendor.
She'd slept on top of a canopy once. She wouldn't eat animal. She wouldn't wear her wings because cleaning them was a tedious chore. She wouldn't wear jewelry, but she didn't need it. Weren't her lavender eyes the most beautiful jewels in all the world?
She talked to and understood animals and plants, and was worried about the sick chrysanthemums in front of the manor. Once, she'd thought sensual pleasure came from his leg. She knew every plant that grew on his estate, and knew also exactly where they grew. All the wood violets, foxglove, periwinkle, snowdrops…
He couldn't remember the rest of the plants she'd mentioned. She'd tried to tell him, but he hadn't listened.
She liked hens and rabbits, but not cats. Kissing made her strong. Sorrow made her disappear. She cried diamonds.
As he continues to reflect, he remembers what he thought he’d wanted in a wife, and what Splendor actually offered him.
He'd not only found a basket of wishes, he'd found the perfect wife.
And he'd let her go.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered brokenly. “Splendor, I'm so sorry.”
He looks into the night sky and sees his stars, the ones over which she continues to watch so that his dreams might come true.
“But they haven't,” he whispered. “They haven't come true. I want to be happy, and I'm not. Not without you.”
He hugged the basket to his chest.
And he wept.
He didn't try to stop. He felt no shame. He only felt sorrow, and he didn't think it an unmanly thing to grieve. After all he'd lost his wife. What man wouldn't mourn such a loss?
Jourdian thinks about his aversion to loving a woman. His father’s adoration of the mother who ignored him destroyed the older man after her death, which allowed the estates to go to ruin. He finally understands his father’s anguish, then realizes that he doesn’t need to go through life in sorrow. Splendor isn’t dead, after all, she’s in Pillywiggin. And he knows how to get her back. Because, after all, love is more powerful than all the magic there.
He goes to the Faerie circle on his estate and, ducal mein in place, demands of King Wisdom that he see Splendor, who refuses, at which point Jourdian digs in his heels.
“I will have her back, and I won't leave without her.”
“Oh?” The king lifted a snowy eyebrow. “And just how do you propose to get her back?”
Jourdian met the king's smug gaze squarely. “With magic.”
”Magic?“ King Wisdom repeated, still chuckling. ”What is this magic you have, human?“
Jourdian smiled. ”A magic far greater than yours, Your Majesty. Love.“
At that, Splendor appears, and comes to him. Diamonds stream from her eyes as she waits for him to declare his love to her. In his happiness at being reunited, he prattles on, and with a royal arrogance matching his own, she chides him to cease his chatter. To which he smiles and proclaims:
”I love you, Splendor. My beautiful, happy, magical Splendor, I love you.“
He kissed her then, a kiss so full of his love that Splendor began to shine like a star.
This is not enough for King Wisdom, though, and as Jourdian tries to bargain her return for an additional three months during which he will prove his love, the king refuses. The 12th duke of Heathcoarte already had his three months, and blew it. Besides, as the “princess royal” of Pillywiggin, Splendor’s place is in Faerie.
This is where Jourdian proves he understands the true meaning of love. Hearing music while making love and flying around the room afterward are nice and all, but love may mean compromise or sacrifice.
”I will give up everything I own,“ he announced, his voice ringing loudly and clearly through the cool, dark woods. ”My estate, my fortune… I will relinquish my place in the human world for Splendor.“ He paused for a moment, his next words coming straight from his heart. ”Your Majesty, I will give up my own title so that she may retain hers."
For a proud man whose self worth tied so closely with his title, his wealth, and his land, his willingness to sacrifice all he holds dear is a grovel of the first order. As a hero Jourdian didn’t make a begging-your-forgiveness grovel, he made an “I’ll change my life for you” grovel. His grovel was the 19th century equivalent of a man at the top of his profession as a Master of the Universe moving to a part of New Zealand without cell coverage for his wife’s career.
Some would argue that he never got down on his hands and knees to grovel for the amount of hurt he caused. And that is true. The mark of one of my favorite types of grovel is that it matches the person groveling. A powerful and wealthy man brought to tears in solitude as he recalls what might have been is one thing. For that powerful, wealthy, and arrogant man to give up everything or love, to offer to play second fiddle when he’s used to leading the orchestra—hell, he owns the orchestra—is something else. And that’s a grovel to sigh for.
I won’t reveal how it all plays out other than to say there’s a fun and unexpected turn of events. It’s actually quite wonderful, though, and I think I’ll grab A Basket of Wishes right now and read it again.
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 tumblr and 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.