When Strangers Marry
When Strangers Marry is a re-do of Lisa Kleypas’s 1992 book, Only In Your Arms. I have that book in my TBR pile, and after reading this, I think I will dig it out and see what changes were made to the original. As for this one, I really enjoyed When Strangers Marry. Lisa Kleypas is incapable of writing a hero who is not sexy as can be, and Maximilien is that in spades. Lysette is a perfect match for him, and I loved the setting in Creole New Orleans.
Lysette Kersaint’s stepfather wants her to marry Etienne Sagasse, a planter from Louisiana. Lysette finds the man loathsome, and her refusal earns her a beating. In her Creole culture, a woman is the property of her father, then of her husband, and Lysette’s beating at the hands of her step-father is only what she deserves, say her aunt and her sister. So Lysette runs away.
Lysette is found in the bayous by Justin and Phillipe Vallerand, the teenage sons of Maximilien Vallerand, a wealthy Creole planter. When Maximilien finds out that she is betrothed to Sagasse, he plans to use her as an instrument of revenge. Sagasse was the lover of Maximilien’s first wife, Corinne. When she was found dead, suspicion fell on Maximilien. Because there was no evidence, and because he was a Vallerand, Maximilien was not charged, but he is still under suspicion by society. They refer to him as the Devil.
When Maximilien finds out who Lysette is, he plans to make her his mistress. She would be ruined, but most importantly, Sagasse would be shamed and his honor would be forever besmirched. However, Lysette is much more strong-minded than the average meek Creole woman and rebuffs him. Still Maximilien might have gone on with his plan, except Lysette comes down with yellow fever, and Maximilien nurses her. Nursing her gives him time to think, and ultimately Maximilien’s offers her marriage. Marrying Sagasse’s betrothed will still insult him, but leave Lysette her honor.
What Maximilien did not plan was that he would fall in love with Lysette. She is not meek and compliant, and she is not beautiful, yet he finds himself taken with her intelligence, her spirit, and most importantly, her total belief in his innocence. Maximilien will need Lysette’s support since events are happening that may lead to the discovery of Corinne’s murderer.
Maximilien is a wonderful hero. He has all the characteristics of a Creole gentleman of his time – the touchy pride, the sense of honor, adherence to the code duello, and yes, the belief in male superiority. But he is forward-looking in a society that is bound to traditional ways. Maximilien, unlike his neighbors, can see that times are changing. He has started a shipping business, despite the horror of his neighbors. Unlike them, Maximilien is not afraid to soil his hands with trade. He speaks English, he works with the American governor of Louisiana, William Claiborne, and even makes plans to free his slaves. Rather than bemoan the loss of “the good old days,”, Maximilien plans for the future.
Lysette is the perfect partner for Maximilien. She has red hair and freckles instead of the black hair and pale complexion of the ideal Creole lady. She is also forthright and not demure. Yet she does not come across as a 21st century feisty chick. Lysette is independent, but she remains a woman of her time – a forward woman of her time – but still of her time.
Lisa Kleypas is one of the best when it comes to writing love scenes. They are hot as can be, and not a bit gratuitous. Like Mary Balogh, Kleypas uses love scenes to express the growing sense of connectedness that Maximilien and Lysette feel for each other.
The one problem I had with the book was that it was so filled with characters, some of them got short shrifted. Maximilien had two brothers, one of whom had a love story of his own – a very short love story. Maximilien’s two sons also figure in the story and they left me wanting more (I will have to find my copy of Only With Your Love which tells Justin’s story).
But that is a very minor problem. If the goal of an author is to leave her readers wanting more, Lisa Kleypas has fulfilled it very well. I closed it wanting more – much more.