The Stranger I Married
I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Sylvia Day and so was eager to read The Stranger I Married. While she does have a way with a love scene, I found the plot to be lacking.
Gerard Faulkner, the 22 year old Marquess of Grayson, is planning revenge on his dastardly mother. While Gray was off on his Grand Tour, his mother convinced his childhood sweetheart Emily that he didn’t care for her and encouraged her to marry another. Gray returned home furious and heartbroken, but managed to have an affair with Emily anyway. His revenge is to marry Isabel, the widowed Lady Pelham, a woman sure to drive his mother around the bend due to her scandalous behavior.
Isabel was swept off her feet by her gorgeous, charming husband, only to be devastated when he had affairs and died in a duel over his mistress. She has had several long-term lovers, all single men since she refuses to intrude upon anyone’s marriage, but these men always fall in love with her. When that happens, she breaks off the affair as she will never marry again.
But, somehow, she decides to marry Gray. He convinces her that this will provide freedom for them both – he from his mother and she from unwanted marriage proposals. They are friends and may some day get around to consummating their marriage and producing an heir, though she, at age 26, feels she is too old to have children (more on this later), but Gray has plenty of brothers and nephews so he’s not worried about it.
When Gray learns that Emily and his child died during childbirth, he goes a bit crazy and disappears for four years, only to come back to Isabel a stranger; a stranger determined to make their marriage a real one.
Gray is no longer the carefree, feckless boy he was. He has taken stock of his life and regrets his inherent selfishness. He wants to change his life, regain his place in society and be a better friend, a better person and a better husband, for he knows that Isabel been treated cruelly and her reputation made to suffer due to his long absence. This all throws Isabel for a loop – this is not what she signed up for – and this new man is dangerous. She could easily handle the boy, but this is a compelling man, whose new demeanor makes him even more handsome, more riveting than he was before. This is someone she’d steer clear of if she met him now, but she cannot.
Gray and Isabel are both surprised at their reaction to seeing each other again, how there is a new burning sexual awareness beneath the old friendship. Gray is now eager to consummate the marriage, but Isabel is not willing to take the chance of falling for and being betrayed by another husband. She doubts that Gray can be monogamous and so doesn’t want to take a chance on a “real” marriage. But, she quickly falls into bed with him – and stays there – thinks of him incessantly and spends all of her free time with him. This sounds like the definition of a “real” marriage regardless of her claims to the contrary.
Another big obstacle for Isabel is her advanced age. She just knows that at thirty her childbearing years are behind her and so she could never give Gray an heir. Excuse me? In a time when birth control was rarely used and unreliable when it was, women routinely had children well into their forties, but here we have a doctor telling a 29 year old friend of Isabel’s that she is too old to have children, so of course, it is an impossibility for Isabel herself. I cannot tell you how this plotline annoyed me and caused me to mutter under my breath.
A word about the Sensuality Rating. There are very few conversations between Gray and Isabel when sex – or at least major foreplay – is not a part of the scene. This made me doubt the depth of their love, for sex is clearly what the relationship is built on, regardless of their protestations. And, while the language is what one would expect in a romance with a Burning rating – lots of f_cks, c_nts, and c_cks (oh my!) – the sexual acts themselves are pretty standard. It is the language and the frequency of the love scenes that account for the rating.
The writing in The Stranger I Married is very smooth and readable and the love scenes very hot and nicely done. However, the fact that I never really felt a deeper connection between Gray and Isabel beyond the sexual and the lame conflicts were too much for me to overcome.