A Stranger's Kiss, by Shelly Thacker

>> Thursday, January 18, 2007

Random pick from my TBR: A Stranger's Kiss, by Shelly Thacker. I can't even remember why I bought it.

Brilliant French scientist Marie Nicole LeBon awakens in a Paris asylum with no name and no memory of the tragic accident that has erased her past.

A fair-haired rescuer with the face of an angel comes to free her, claiming to be her husband—but he is an imposter, Max D'Avenant, a British agent who finds himself torn between his loyalty to the Crown and his love for this woman he is sworn to betray.

This is a very romancey romance, very mid-90s Avon, and so many things had me rolling my eyes. But there were also some elements I liked very much, especially near the end, and since it ended on a high note, I'm giving this one a B-.

Max D'Avenant considers himself the timid one in his dashing family. His brothers are all adventurous, experienced men, but a long sickness prevented him from following in their footsteps. Being confined for so long inside the house, his interests turned to more intellectual pursuits.

So Max is understandably surprised when he's approached by two master spies and assigned to a dangerous mission in France. The French have got their hands on a sample of a new kind of extremely destructive explosive, and the British have found out that, rather than the man the French think discovered it, the real inventor is his sister, a young woman currently in an asylum, being "treated" for amnesia. Max is to get her out of there by pretending to be her husband, and then is to convince her to reveal the explosive's formula to him. After which, he's to hand her over to British authorities.

So why was inexperienced Max chosen? Well, they did ask other people first, the spies say, but none could do it. Plus, Max's knowledge of chemistry will allow him to perceive any tricks when he's given the formula, and then there's the matter that he has got a lot of motivation to want revenge against this woman. After all, the French happened to test the sample they got on one of the D'Avenant's merchant ship, and one of Max's brothers was seriously hurt in the explosion.

Max isn't completely convinced, but he just can't say no, because his need for revenge is very real. So he does go to France, and he does get the young scientist, Marie Nicole LeBon, out of the asylum, and he does pretend to be her husband. But he also falls for her completely, in spite of whatever he thinks she's done.

A lot about the first parts bothered me, most especially both characters' extreme naiveté. Yep, both of them were quite naive. Max's whole attitude, especially at the beginning, his disbelief that a woman might have created such a lethal weapon, and for money!, made me smile. What planet do you live in, honey? And you do realize that if your mission is a success, your country gets that weapon and won't have any problem in using it, right?

And Marie Nicole, well, this was supposed to be an intelligent, sensible, mature scientist, but without her memory, Marie seems to become a brainless, childlike twit, and one capable of behaving with extreme stupidity, too. So you've spent three weeks locked up in an insane asylum, a guy rescues you and tells you that you were kidnapped by the people who put you in that asylum, and that you're still in danger, so you very definitely shouldn't leave the house you're in. So the first thing you do is to go for a walk, take a carriage to a store, and tell the storekeeper your real, full name? God, that's STUPID!

Ahh, but Nicole is so good! Because the whole idea of "goodness" here is very old-style romance-novel. Goodness in a woman is being naive and silly and childlike, so when Nicole behaves this way, Max can't help but doubt that this virtuous woman could have created a weapon for money. So of course, it was her evil brother who forced her to do it, so Max can now be attracted to her with a clear conscience.

Well, not exactly a clear conscience, and this is where the book starts to get interesting. He's attracted to her and forced into close proximity. She's attracted to him and thinks he's her husband. So after manfully resisting for a little while, Max can't stop himself from really playing Marie's husband, if you know what I mean. And why did I like this? Well, Max is behaving like a bastard with Marie, but the man really tortures himself about it. The pleasure he gets from making love to her is almost offset by his angst about how it's so wrong of him to do it and his dread of what is going to happen when Marie finds out, and being a sadist when it comes to romance heroes, I couldn't help but enjoy it *g* .

And the best part of the book comes when Marie does find out. This is near the end, after the outside plot is resolved and Marie has recovered her memory. She is understandably angry at Max, not because of the mission he undertook, because she finds that understandable, but because she feels he was unnecessarily cruel to her in seducing her and making her believe he loved her. And when I say she's angry, she really is, and thinks very, very badly of Max. Even... you know the very clichéd scene, when the heroine is insisting she doesn't love the hero anymore, and he's insisting she does, and tells her "look me in the eye and tell me you don't love me". And of course, the heroine can't do it, and blah, blah, blah, kiss, kiss, the end. Well, Marie does tell him "I don't love you"!! Let me tell you, it's a huge struggle for him to get her back, and right until the end, he believes he has no hope of succeeding, and I enjoyed every minute of it!

A Stranger's Kiss is part of the D'Avenant family series, and comes right after Silver and Sapphires. We get a lot about what happened in that book, and from what I've seen, I don't think I'll be looking for it. It sounds even more romancey than this one. Just one hint: the hero and heroine's names? Saxon and Ashiana. Enough said ;-)


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