Maggy Forrest’s husband Lyle is a rich but ultra-nasty publishing tycoon. For most of their marriage, he has controlled her through threats to turn their son against her, monitors her movements and possessions, and is frequently physically and mentally cruel to her. They have an 11-year-old son David, who appears to idolize his father and this apparently is why Maggy has put up with years of cruel torment and emotional abuse. We soon learn that, having grown up in extreme poverty, Maggy originally married Lyle out of a desperate need for security while he found in her an impressionable young wife whose questionable past he could erase, and whom he could then mold to his requirements.
Maggy gets a blast from her long-forgotten and sometimes sordid past one night when, in a club with her friends, she sees the tall, dark and handsome Nick King. He makes it obvious that they have unfinished business, and continues to show up when she’s not expecting it. We soon learn that Nick was the man Maggy left behind when she married Lyle, and Nick, after 12 years of being away, and seemingly more affluent than their dirt-poor origins would allow for, has come to stake his claim. Through many flashbacks to their past, we learn about the bond these two formed as slum children, both with alcoholic parents, when Nick found her at age six scrabbling through a dumpster for food and invited her to his apartment for spaghetti.
Meanwhile the story continues to show us exactly what kind of snake Lyle Forrest is, when he inflicts wounds on Maggy in places he knows no one will notice, and holds the love of their son over her. The story also gradually reveals that Lyle once did something so horrific that Maggy never recovered, and that Nick was the first man to make her feel “like a woman.” But neither Nick nor Lyle are quite whom they seem to be, and Maggy herself has a few secrets left untold, one in particular she fears could destroy her burgeoning relationship with Nick.
The plot unravels slowly, building up the tension as the reader waits for Nick to pick up on Maggy’s big secret, and for the incident from Maggy’s relationship with Lyle to be revealed. It takes a while for Lyle’s true nastiness to become known, and the full extent of how he has decimated her self-confidence. The ending is full of high-intensity action as both Nick and Lyle battle to possess Maggy, and there are many well thought out twists and turns that come towards the end of the novel. Also, Robard’s descriptive powers are as compelling as ever, and we have a strong sense of scene and decent characterizations.
The romance between Nick and Maggy really worked for me, in the sense that they are pitched as soulmates only separated by time and unfortunate circumstances. As Lyle was unable to be a true husband to Maggy, she was pretty much preserved for Nick, something which, although probably not quite credible, was romantic all the same. Love scenes in the book occur fairly late, but also in keeping with Robards’ typically steamy encounters, these too are quite hot.
While I enjoyed Nick and Maggy’s romance, less enjoyable was the book’s “poor little rich girl” theme. Maggy isn’t a strong heroine; she uses her son as a poor excuse to stay with a man who’s abused her in every way. When asked outright why she stays with a man she professes not to love, she bandies David’s name about like a weapon, and I never found myself convinced by her reasoning. She insists that if Lyle ever laid a hand on David she’d be out the door like a shot, but in many instances we see Lyle being emotionally abusive and cruel to David in a way that would raise any mother’s hackles. I was unable to fully understand why she allowed him to mistreat herself and David and sentiments such as “She was trapped like a prisoner with no hope of parole. The knowledge sucked the energy from her” did not elicit sympathy.
I spent a lot of Maggy’s Child wondering when Nick was going to realize the secret Maggy kept from him; clues to it seemed as obvious as a piano falling on his head. Nick remained a elusive character throughout much of the read as little of his current-day life was revealed, but on balance Robards’ strong sense of scene, and the undeniable chemistry between Nick and Maggy drew me into the story and kept me turning the pages until their happily-ever-after. My only question now is, what to read next – I feel a Robards glom coming on!