When a Stranger Loves Me
When a Stranger Loves Me reminds me of the 80’s romances in the worst possible way. Stupid main characters do idiotic things, and the author expects us as readers to swallow this and consider it deeply romantic. Throw in all my most hated romance clichés and an ending tied with a beautifully ornate bow and you’ve got this story down pat. I’m embarrassed and more than a little outraged that this kind of story still exists.
We begin in Victorian England along the scenic Jersey shore where Lady Chelsea Campion is definitely between a rock and a hard place. Her brother and his wife have been unsuccessful in producing an heir these past ten years, and a nasty relative is threatening to kick everyone out once he inherits – that is, unless Chelsea marries him. She is at her wit’s end trying to think of a way out, until the answer to her prayers literally lands at her feet.
Walking along the coastline one day, she sees a half-drowned man lying on the beach. She drags him home and he soon wakes up, only to realize that he has completely lost his memory. This is great news for Chelsea, who has thought up a very satisfactory plan: she will seduce this very handsome mystery man, become pregnant with his child, and give the child to her brother. She dubs her man “Jack” and they spend the next two weeks having a lot of sex and, miraculously, falling deeply in love. Meanwhile, his frantic family searches for him; Jack is actually Lord Blake Sinclair, and he has a secret that puts his life in danger.
From the story’s onset, I was curious to see how the author would make such a desperate heroine into a winning character. After having painfully read the book, I can honestly say that Chelsea is a truly tiresome woman. Okay, her sacrifice for her family may be considered a noble one. But besides her martyr streak, she is an incredibly wishy-washy, idealistic, naïve woman. She was involved in some scandal years before, forcing her to rusticate in Jersey, but anyone who’s spoken to her for a second would know there is no way she could have done anything reprehensible. It’s not that she’s angelically good, rather that she’s too boring to have done anything truly interesting. Disappointingly, under her guise of an independent, wild woman, she’s a bit of a stick in the mud.
Blake is no better than Chelsea. When she “seduces” him, he is more than willing to sleep with the woman who saved him a few days earlier, no questions asked. He eventually discovers her ulterior motive and throws a hissy fit about being used as a stud, feeling violated, et cetera. Frankly, this is the pot calling the kettle black. As far as morals goes, neither of them employs any during their little fantasy together. Blake makes the usual noises about “taking precautions,” but he’s really just flapping his gums. He reasons that he is the injured party because he ultimately falls in love with her, whereas Chelsea was only using him and never loved him at any point. She insists on her feelings, but he completely discounts all of her protestations and spends the rest of the time alternately huffing around in a righteous fury and agonizing over her hurt glances. He is definitely a hypocrite and a big drama queen. I was also intensely annoyed at the beginning of the story when he keeps complimenting Chelsea on her graceful demeanor, her loveliness, her quiet cleverness, her beauteous visage – you get my drift. He is such a slick talker that I was completely unsurprised to find him throwing his polished speeches to the wind and nailing her in her very own guest bedroom. The whole thing was downright unsexy.
I don’t even want to get started on all the other things that bugged me. The conflict is very thin, and around 80% of the book consists of the main characters wallowing in self-pity. The language is clunky, and the dialogue is especially cringe-worthy in every emotional scene. The secondary characters are cartoonish, especially the villain and Chelsea’s shrewish mother. I couldn’t warm up to Chelsea’s family, when they were so easily persuaded to let Chelsea whore herself. The ending is ridiculous in its completeness. Everything that couldn’t be fixed in 300 pages is magically resolved in the last 10 pages. The only silver lining in this cloud is that this book was very well paced. I must also admit that the story is sort of interesting from a distance; it is heavily reminiscent of those campy soap operas that are always on TV – the ones that involve many soft focus scenes.
All in all, I’d stay away from When a Stranger Loves Me. If you have been following this series, you might want to read it; the entire family makes an appearance. Besides that, I don’t see much that this book offers in terms of satisfaction. This is the first MacLean I’ve read, and I won’t be looking for the first two books anytime soon. I was excited to read a straight historical romance without any paranormal element, but in the end was let down by the childish characters and sparse storyline.