Friday, October 26, 2012

Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas

“Lady Hawksworth, your husband is not dead.”

With those words, Lara’s life turned upside down. Hunter, Earl of Hawksworth, had been lost at sea. Or so she’d been told. Their unhappy marriage – with its cold caresses and passionless kisses – was over. But now a powerful, virile man stood before her, telling secrets only a husband could know, and vowing she would once again be his wife in every way. While Lara couldn’t deny that this man with the smoldering dark eyes resembled Hunter, he was attentive and loving in ways he never was before. Soon she desperately wanted to believe, with every beat of her heart, that this stranger was truly her husband. But had this rake reformed – or was Lara being seduced by a cunning stranger?

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A sweet romance wrapped around a mystery that will keep you guessing until nearly the end. Just when you think you've figured out the main question of "Is this man really Hunter Crossland, the Earl of Hawksworth?" something will comes up that makes you change your mind or at least start to doubt your answer. And then later something else comes up that makes you questions it again. By the time the answer is finally revealed, you're so caught up in the characters that you don't really care what the truth is, for it seems somewhat irrelevant by that point.

Larissa, often referred to as Lara, is a gentle, compassionate woman who cares far more about other people and the suffering of those less fortunate than she does about herself. Her marriage to Hunter hadn't been a good one, and was one she'd only entered out of a sense of duty. Her parents had arranged the match and she hadn't seen any reason to object. When she'd received the news that Hunter had been killed in a shipwreck while away in India, she'd been largely relieved and had subsequently settled into a comfortable solitary life living quite simply in the carriage house on the Hawksworth estate and devoting herself to her charitable works. When she receives the news that Hunter survived after all and has returned to England, she's shocked, apprehensive, and not at all happy to receive the news. Her feelings change somewhat the first time she sees him again, however, for he seems to be a changed man and she suddenly feels an attraction to him that she never had before. She isn't entirely certain that he really is her husband, though all the evidence seems to support that he is, but she decides to accept him as such anyway. As things start to go back to normal for them, or at least settle into a new normal, Hunter gradually wins her over until she's fallen helplessly in love with him, and it would seem that he is just as enamored of her. But the question continues to haunt her: Is he really Hunter or is he an imposter that somehow bears an uncanny resemblance to her husband?

The Hunter that we get to see and come to know is a caring and compassionate man. He is far from soft, however, and has quite a ruthless streak in him that he doesn't hesitate to exercise when his temper is aroused, which it is several times throughout the book for various reasons. He also tempers his compassion with far more practicality than Lara ever does, and he often has to make her see reason and think things through a bit more instead of rushing wildly into some new charitable venture simply because her emotions are stirred. It's made clear on a few occasions that his rage can be quite deadly, though he's never anything but gentle with Lara, no matter how much she frustrates or angers him. In fact, mistreatment of women seems to be one of his pet peeves, and one thing that will arouse his anger faster than many other things. He's not really an alpha male type, though he is fiercely protective, and all-in-all seems to be a man that most women would appreciate and love.

Overall I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable. The characters all come alive and pull you into their story and make you care about what happens to them. While the story isn't necessarily totally original, it has enough unique twists and quirks to keep it fresh and the strong characterization makes you care less about how predictable many aspects of it are. Not everything is predictable here, however, and the ending holds a few surprises that add to the poignancy of the story. Anyone who's a fan of historical romance, or just romance in general, particularly those with a touch of mystery thrown in, will enjoy this book I think. I'd certainly recommend it and give it a solid 4½ stars.

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