November 2012, Series Romance
Harlequin Presents, #3100, $4.99, 192 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373131062
I'll admit it. Part of what appeals to me about Harlequin Presents is the fairytale fantasy aspect of the line. I tend to pick up HP's when I'm in the mood to be whisked away to glamorous, faraway locales or just want to indulge in a bit of daydreaming about gazillionaires. The Husband She Never Knew, Kate Hewitt's latest, certainly contains elements of that, but there is a deep, angsty core to the book that makes it stand out. Unlike many of my favorite fairytale HP romances, this book packs a solid emotional punch along with the fantasy.
As one would expect from this series line, the story's setup verges on melodrama. Our heroine, Noelle Ducasse, married Ammar Tannous ten years ago. Things went sour almost from the beginning as Ammar rejected her and refused to consummate the marriage. The anguished Noelle eventually had the marriage annulled. The child of a prominent businessman, Noelle has reinvented herself as a buyer for a chic French department store and lives the glamorous life of a Paris socialite. At a charity ball, she crosses paths with Ammar and her world turns upside down. Though Noelle purposely did not follow the Tannous family after her disastrous marriage, she had heard that Ammar and his father were believed lost in a plane crash and that Ammar miraculously survived. However, she did not expect to see him again.
Ammar has come back from the plane crash determined to make things right in his life. It's obvious early on that Ammar loved Noelle and equally obvious that something terrible happened to cause him to act the way he did toward her. Ammar tries to speak to Noelle when he meets her at the gala, but it does not go the way he planned, and since Ammar's way of coping is to keep his emotions very tightly in check, one cannot expect Noelle to have any clue what he is thinking. So, what comes next? One might expect Ammar to try to woo his way back into Noelle's good graces or to at least try to speak with her, right? Oh no. Ammar's next move is to arrange to have Noelle kidnapped and to bring her to his private villa in North Africa.
While most would not consider kidnapping the way to a reluctant woman's heart, there's just something about the way the author writes the scenes between Noelle and Ammar that makes the reader lean in closer, turn pages faster and follow the story as the tension mounts between the leads. I didn't think Ammar groveled or tried nearly hard enough to make amends for what he did to Noelle (Hello - a KIDNAPPING!!!), but as we see more of the history behind how these two fell in love and as we see Ammar in particular struggle with making his true self known to Noelle, there's just something that makes the reader want to root for this couple.
Ammar has a terrible family history to overcome and Noelle has doubted herself and her desirability ever since her marriage failed. We see the pain these two carry, and their efforts to try to understand each other and to build a relationship are heart-wrenching. While I've read plenty of passionate love scenes, these have an poignant emotional quality to them that moves the reader. The exotic quality of the leads' lives, in which we see private villas and glittering charity balls, makes for fun fantasy, but it is the building romantic tension between Noelle and Ammar that really makes this book. Ammar takes a bit too long to finally tell Noelle the truth behind his secrets and bad behavior, and he never did completely redeem himself for the kidnapping, but I still enjoyed the book and wanted the relationship to succeed. The hero and heroine's memories, both sweet and painful, are used effectively throughout the book and their reconciliation feels real. I did not doubt their happy ending.
-- Lynn Spencer
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