As I mentioned in a previous post, come April I'll be moderating a romance panel discussion - and while I hand-picked all of the authors, I still need to do some "homework" reading. First out of the gate is Sylvia Day.
I had an interesting reaction upon reading The Stranger I Married. It's the type of story where I can see the "problems" with it, but I don't really care all that much. I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Trust me when I say homework has never been so much fun.
Gerard Faulkner, Marquess of Grayson is a rake of the first order. He drinks, he gambles and he adores having sex with other men's wives. While he pretty much does as he pleases (this is a man keeping two mistresses after all!), he's getting weary of being single. For one thing, even with his reputation, he's still dodging debutantes. Plus, he's really peeved off at his meddling mother. So he proposes a marriage of convenience to Isabel, the scandalous Lady Pelham. Like him she has no desire to marry, enjoying her widowhood by taking a series of devoted lovers. However Grayson is very persuasive and convinces her that a marriage of convenience would be beneficial to them both. They're friends, like each other well enough, and they wouldn't have to worry about servicing each other as neither of them is lacking in lovers. She agrees, they wed, and it all is going quite swimmingly until Grayson's mistress, a married woman he adores, dies giving birth to his child. The child dies as well. This is too much to bare, and Gray takes off for parts unknown.
Four years pass. Pel is still a scandalous figure in society, and rumors abound given how Grayson up and disappeared. Then one day, he unexpectedly returns - a very different man than the one she married four years ago. Grayson was a boy. A petulant, selfish boy that she could easily control. This man who has returned in his place has trouble written all over him. This is a man Pel could lose herself in, body and soul. And having already been spurned by her first husband, and haunted by his ghost, she has no desire for a repeat performance.
Gray has returned to court his wife. Now he wants a real marriage, and this is where the book loses some footing. The reader never really understands why Gray chooses this moment to return. He claims it's because of the rumors surrounding his abandonment, but four years? It takes him four years to figure out that his leaving affected her reputation more than his? And while Pel wrote to him during his absence, he returned all of her letters unopened. He's literally had no contact with her outside of handling her monetary affairs from a distance. So why now? And why four years? Certainly the reader understands that he "grows up" - but it just wasn't enough to entirely convince me.
What follows is a battle of wills. Gray wants his wife and Pel is determined to resist. Naturally they don't resist for long, and the love scenes ignite this story. This one is a real barn-burner, and better yet? There's no over-the-top, kinky, acrobatic sex mucking up the works (not that there's anything wrong with that). What we have here ladies (and gentlemen) is just good, old-fashioned hot sex with some franker language tossed in (the F-bomb and both C-bombs are dropped on a fairly regular basis).
Overall I liked the tone of this story. Pel and Gray are both rakes, both with healthy appetites. I loved the way the author portrayed the scandal-ridden goings-on among the elite, and the banter between the two main characters is particularly well done.
There were moments that I wished both Pel and Gray were a bit more self-aware, and I could have used one good long emotionally confrontational scene between the couple, but it doesn't diminish the fact that I had a good time reading this book and I finished it in less than 24 hours. So, who am I to quibble?
Final Grade = B