Dec 9 2014 5:15pm

Riches to Rags: Heroines Who Hit Rock Bottom from Gibson, Phillips, Higgins, and More!

Ain't She Sweet Susan Elizabeth PhillipsGlory Days—we’ve either lived them or observed other people living them. That magical time where you are the king or queen of the world.  The fame, the power, the influence, the adulation and in most cases the money!

Some people deserve their celebrity status and there are just as many that don't. For some individuals, living the good life is an accident of birth—being the child of parents of wealth and prominence. Others owe their big break to genes—either having stupendous athletic ability or stunning looks. And a few (many of us can’t figure out why—sex tape, anyone?) are famous for being famous. Each have their fans and distractors, but one thing is certain—their time in the spotlight is limited. There is someone prettier, someone faster, and someone richer just around the corner. The ending can be as simple as being a “one hit wonder” or as dramatic as having your mistresses uncovered. 

People have always been fascinated with the drama of gaining or losing status and riches—just think of Greek mythology. And like good storytellers that they are, authors have incorporated this plot device of torturing their heroes and heroines into all genres—from literary fiction to romance fiction.

In romance fiction heroes have their own issues with fading fame and fortune but it is typically due to some sport injury that ends their career—like what happened to hero Tyler O'Neil in Sarah Morgan's Maybe This Christmas or Rachel Gibson's hero Mark Bressler, from Nothing But Trouble. But heroines— well they seem to flame out the most—at least financially— and hit rock bottom the fastest. Dare I say it— because they're more liable to rely on looks rather than talent, and men— from daddies to husbands to boyfriends rather than themselves.

The Fathers

As a child you can't help but rely on your parents. Of course they're some good ones that teach you right from wrong, but then there are a few rotten apples in the barrel, that can't teach it, because they don't practice it.

Well-known Sugar Beth Carey from Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Ain't She Sweet loses everything due to her father's whims. Not that he was corrupt, but when he said jump, he expected Sugar Beth to do it. But Sugar Beth wasn't about to let him put the other woman in her mother's place, so she hitched her dreams to another man, and then another one. But you could hardly say that was her first mistake. In fact, she brought most of her hardship on herself with her mean girl ways.  Of course, she couldn't be a heroine if she didn't realize the error of her ways. That doesn't mean dealing with the consequences of her actions is easy: 

Okay God, It's time to ease up, all right? I get the fact that I was horrible.      But I've tried to mend my ways. Some of them anyway. . . So could you back off now?

Somebody to Love by Kristan HigginsIn Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins, Parker Wells will no longer be living in her father's mansion with twenty nine bathrooms:

James shifted in his seat. “Harry made a sizable investment in a company on which he'd had inside information—”

“I know what insider trading is,” she said.

“—-and that was obviously unethical but more to the point, the results weren't what the information promised.” Okay, here came the hard part. “To cover the losses to investors, your father needed to, ah, liquidate certain assets.”

She blinked and James felt a pang of sympathy for her as realization dawned in her eyes. “Which assets, Harry?” she asked, her voice calm.

Harry looked at the python. “Your trust fund.”

She looked at her hands, her mouth tight. “Granddad set that up for me.”

“Well I've been managing it most of your life,” Harry snapped . . . “Nicky's too,” Harry added in a softer voice.

“You stole your grandson's trust fund, Harry?” Her voice was harsher now.

Both Ellie Chapman from Mariah Stewart's The Long Way Home and Faith Harrington from Carly Phillips' Serendipity know what it is like to lose everything. Both their fathers were convicted of running Ponzi schemes and since they were indirectly involved with their fathers' businesses, they lost everything, even what they had earned.

The Husbands

Rachel Gibson’s heroine Natalie Cooper in What I Love About You was living the life of a princess with her very own prince charming.

He’d been the quarterback of the football team and she the head cheerleader. They’d been on the student council, heads of the debate team, and members of every royal court from tenth to twelfth grade. The coup de grace came the winter of their senior year when they’d been chosen king and queen of the Truly Winter Festival.

Their charmed life together came to end when her prince charming embezzled millions and replaced her with a girl who looked like a twenty year old version of herself. The fallout wasn’t pretty:

The government took everything. Her house. Her car. Her jewelry. Her life. She returned heartbroken, humiliated and penniless. She had nothing but a suitcase in one hand and a camera in the other. In her head she had a whole notebook of questions.

Questions like when had her life gone so wrong?

Happiness Key by Emilie RichardsTracy Deloche, from Happiness Key by Emilie Richards, thought she had her life all figured out. She did what she was taught to do, she landed a rich man!

As far as Tracy knew, CJ had been pleased with his choice of a third wife—the first two, acquired while he was building his empire, having failed to meet his exacting standards. He had rewarded her with jewelry, with vacation homes and surprise trips to world-class destinations. These had been payment of sort for fulfilling the unspoken promises she had made to him. She had been a wife he could point to with pride.

Her up-bringing had seemed normal. At her mother’s knee she’d learned that pleasing a man was the road to a secure future, and “secure future” meant a new worth of eight figures, minimum. She’d been perfectly comfortable basing her life on this. Digging deeper hadn’t appealed to her. What was the point, when her own plans for the future seemed to be working out just fine.

Now, and not for the first time, she silently cursed CJ Craimer, who had believed that laws were only written to keep the little guy under control.

In Hot Wheels and High Heels by Jane Graves, Darcy McDaniel hits rock bottom after her husband skips town with all their assets.

So you’re telling me there’s no money left? None at all? He took every penny?”

Oh, God. It sounded way worse when somebody said it out loud. “Yes,” Darcy said, her voice shuddering. “Every penny.”

“I can’t believe this is happening. Didn’t you put anything away? Anything at all?”

Darcy felt like a fool. Sure, now she could see she should have developed an alternative plan somewhere along the lines, like maybe siphoning money from their joint accounts and sticking it under the mattress. Hindsight sucked.

Do you love the drama of this sink or swim plot device? If so, do you have a favorite book that illustrates the fickleness of fame and fortune?


To learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillip  
Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins  
The Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart  
Serendipity by Carly Phillips  
What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson  
Happiness Key by Emilie Richards  
Hot Wheels and High Heels by Jane Graves  








Scarlettleigh, blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Lee Brewer
1. LeeB.
I have read most of these books and do enjoy this particular plot. Great blog!
Maggie Boyd
2. maggieboyd66
I enjoy this plot. I know Dakota Cassidy had two books about trophy wives who find themselves having to work and rebuild, which were good. There was also Down and Out in Beverly Heels by Kathreen Leigh Scott and Dusted by Holly Jacobs.
3. Janga
I would have said I did not care for this plot, but since most of these examples are on my keeper shelves, my instinctive response must be wrong. It is a secondary plot (the heroine's sister's story) in Barbara O'Neal's The Garden of Happy Endings, a favorite I've reread twice since its 2012 publication.
4. Scarlettleigh
@ LeeB -- Thanks!
@maggieboyd66 -- I'll have to check out Dakota Cassidy's books. I enjoyed Down and Out in Beverly Heels -- mainly because how resourceful the heroine was -- homeless but still able to keep up appearances. She continued to pay for her gym membership which enabled her to have a place to shower.

@Janga -- Barbara O'Neal's books are easy to re-read. I liked this book also.
5. Kareni
The heroine of Molly O'Keefe's Can't Hurry Love also goes from riches to rags.
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