Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-23690-8
Historical Romance, 2001
The Beautiful Stranger kicks off with Arthur Christian looking on as his friend Phillip is buried into the ground. What is happening here? Adrian, the hero of the previous book, The Dangerous Gentleman, had shot Phillip in a drunken haze of stupidity, but since Phillip was ungentlemanly and shot at Adrian’s back first, Phillip was the one to blame, et cetera. Note that the author doesn’t seem to believe that it is wrong to shoot your friend in a drunken stupor caused by one’s lack of self-control in the first place. Instead, it’s just wrong to shoot at someone’s back, not the act of – oh, never mind. Forget it. But to give Ms London some credit however, Adrian remains a complete jerk in this story, so that’s okay – he’s at consistent at staying in character.
So, where am I? Ah yes, Arthur, feeling so guilty as Phillip gets buried into the ground. He should have held Phillip back! He should have… he should have… At this point, I confess I go “This is so sweet, a tragic tale of forbidden gay love!” But no, this is a conventional romance novel, after all. Anyway, Arthur decides to make reparations to Phillip’s father. The father accused Arthur and friends of leading Phillip astray, and while the other men (and scarily enough, heroes of their own romance novels) pooh-poohed off their roles in Phillip’ death, Arthur feels the sting of conscience. He was an asshole, but no longer. Now, he’ll do the right thing.
Easier said than done.
Arthur’s first task is to evict the people of a land Phillip stupidly bought before his death (and now costing his father money in the form of a pile of bad debts due to unproductiveness of the land). I understand stupid people take time to learn to be a bit smarter, so I guess I can accept that Arthur has no thought to the fate of the people he is evicting.
Meanwhile, one of the soon-to-be-evicted people, Kerry McKinnon, is stunned when she receives the eviction notice. Where would she go? Her husband died leaving her with nothing but debts, and the greedy neighbor wants her to marry his slow-witted 13-year old son as a form of payment of her husband’s debts. But when she accidentally shoots Arthur, whom she doesn’t know is her evictor-to-be, well, after the usual, overused bedside nursing rubbish that every other author should bloody well stop using because this plot device gets very annoying after the 10,000th consecutive read – ahem, after the usual bedside nursing, Kerry shows Arthur how it means to love freely and wildly, Scots-style, and as they hold hands and sing What a Wonderful World before making perfect love. They know this is it – love in all its poetic, true, pure form.
What happens when she finds out whom Arthur really is?
On her own, Kerry is a great heroine – strong, intelligent, and definitely capable on holding her own. With Arthur, she turns into a giggling, clumsy buffoon that shoots people accidentally, falls on her tush (cute, hee-hee… gag), and becomes a complete twit. Arthur whines and complains about everything and anything from the weather to the food and the dirt (those wenches in plaids are hot though, and Arthur, do mind the syphilis), but in Kerry’s presence, he becomes a charming, winning Mr Right with a tendency for overblown Byronesque declarations. Obviously our hero is some alien charisma-sucking creature, I tell you. But that’s okay. While Arthur’s Scotland vacation can get too sweet at times, I kinda like the Byronesque operatic declarations that come out of Arthur’s mouth.
They love each other! He loves her! She loves him! But Kerry is a poor, untitled widow from Scotland. Adrian, who is a hero of his own romance, tells Arthur just that: why marry a pariah? Why not marry one of Arthur’s many conquests?
I don’t know whether this is deliberate or an oversight – I like to think it’s deliberate on the author’s part, so that I can give her some credit for being different from other authors – but Arthur makes no apologies about his behavior. He doesn’t even understand the reason that his callous eviction of Kerry’s friends and family is wrong in Kerry’s eyes. He just tells her, in an admittedly charming bombastic style, that he doesn’t want to fall in love with her, but now that he has, he loves her, so she must love him back. He’s selfish, he’s spoiled, but he does have a way with a self-absorbed style of charm that is almost an artform. I’m embarrassed to admit that I am charmed despite myself at how Arthur just can’t eat, sleep, or think without Kerry in his life. He just falls apart. Tragic. I like.
But I have to put a warning also: the grand finale is so ridiculous and over the top sentimental that I actually cringe while reading that part of the story.
In the end, The Beautiful Stranger has emotions, albeit wild, uncontrollable ones, and that’s something I appreciate in a romance novel. I feel something, you know. Now, if I didn’t cringe just as much as I cheer the couple, I may have a clear winner here. Oh well, nothing’s perfect, I guess.