Stranger In My Arms
Lisa Kleypas has written many wonderful books that I have absolutely loved. Her two best, Then Came You and Dreaming of You, offer two of my most favorite heroes ever in Lord Alex Raiford and Derek Craven, respectively. The heroines in these stories are equally impressive, especially Lily Lawson in Then Came You. Lily is right up there as one of my five all-time favorite heroines. As much as I wanted it to, however, Stranger In My Arms doesn’t even come close to these other works.
Lady Lara Hawksworth, after having been widowed for a year, receives word that her dead husband has miraculously returned from the grave and is on his way home to her. Hunter Crossland, Lord of Hawksworth, was returning from two years in India when his ship went down, and he was presumed lost along with everyone else on board. It took a year for him to recover and find his way home again, but he’s back now, and filled with a renewed energy for his lands, his responsibilities, and his beautiful wife.
Lara was happy in her widowhood, having attained a level of freedom she had never known between parents and husband. As soon as they inherited the title, Hunter’s over-the-top evil uncle and aunt, Lord Arthur and Lady Janet, tossed Lara out of the mansion to live in a burnt-out crofters cottage (rather like Cinderella) with no money, shabby clothing, meager supplies. But Lara didn’t care. She had her freedom, and her cause – providing shelter for children orphaned when their criminal parents were imprisoned or executed in one of England’s penal facilities. Lara has a way with animals, children, people, and is a self-sacrificing saint, except when it comes to the needs of others, when she turns into a tenacious adversary for the sake of the helpless.
Hunter returns, the same man, but different. Thinner, in fact, devastatingly handsome and fit (the old Hunter was quite beefy), to the point where Lara inwardly begins to long for a physical relationship with her husband, all the while gasping and sputtering and complaining to him that he should return to his former mistress and leave her the hell alone. After all, sex with Hunter had always been one-sided, painful, degrading, and she never even got pregnant. Hunter had only married her to get an heir, but, after two years of intermittent sex, Hunter declared her barren, and sought his pleasures elsewhere. This seemed too common a device for as talented an author as Lisa Kleypas.
But Hunter, if he is indeed Hunter, is willing to wait for sex until his wife is ready. The old Hunter never would have displayed such patience. He is charming, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, thrifty, brave, and cheerful – all the things the old Hunter never was. Is it Hunter, changed by his awful experiences in India, and willing to turn a new leaf? Or, is it … somebody else, who looks a whole like Hunter (only better), a man who is living a lie? But, if so, to what end? And if he’s not Hunter, who is he and how did he get Hunter’s looks and intimate knowledge of people and events? Ultimately, those standing to benefit most from his not being Hunter, press charges, an investigation is held, Hunter is arrested, and it is up to Lara to “decide” if this man is her husband or not.
Having seen the American film Sommersby, based on the French book and film, The Return of Martin Guerre, Stranger In My Arms held absolutely no surprises for me. I figured out the truth by the first fifty pages, and you will, too. Being a romance, however, I assumed there would be a HEA ending, thus eliminating the fear that Hunter would meet the same fate as in the other versions. If you have seen Sommersby or read TROMG, you might want to follow along with your script. There are no twists, no turns, no deviations. While this book is a nice enough adaptation of these two works, they were were done too recently to have faded from people’s memories.
On the positive side, Hunter is a terrific hero, very reminiscent of Derek Craven, but not done quite well enough to make me forget Derek, only long for him once more. Lara was initially a doormat, whose constant whining about not wanting to go to bed with her husband started really getting on my nerves. Lara’s sister and brother-in-law, Rachel and Terrell Lonsdale, are completely stereotypical, and their secondary story is utterly predictable. Only Hunter’s mother provides a little twist, but even she has a sort of stock character, central-casting quality about her.
If you are a Lisa Kleypas fan, love hunky/sensitive heros and very sexy love scenes, you might want to give this a read, just don’t expect any surprises. But if loose ends are a problem for you, the lack of closure here might make you antsy. There was an obvious solution to the dilemma, but neither Lara nor Hunter seemed to figure it out.
If you’ve never read this author, please read Then Came You and Dreaming Of You. That’s where you’ll find the Lisa Kleypas I love.