Charming the Highlander

Loving the Highlander

The Seduction of His Wife

Tempting the Highlander

The Stranger in Her Bed
by Janet Chapman
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-416-50528-8
Do you remember those romances where the supposed hero stakes his claim to the heroine by (1) scaring off any other guys who could conceivably be a better choice for her and (2) stamping a punishing kiss on her lips when she argues with him? Did you think such caveman antics had disappeared when readers demanded heroines with some backbone? Sadly, just such a hero returns in The Stranger in Her Bed.

Anna Segee is foreman in a Maine lumber mill. She narrowly avoids killing a man who steps in front of the loader she’s driving. When she goes to confront him about his actions, tire iron in hand, he doesn’t recognize she’s female and punches her. She fires him. Ethan Knight, however, is no ordinary employee. The Knight family owns a lumber company and has just purchased the mill, and Ethan himself will be the manager. In addition, Anna lives on the property of another, shutdown mill, and she has unknowingly leased a cabin to Ethan.

Anna inherited the property from her grandfather. As Abigail Fox, Anna had lived in rural Maine until she was attacked at the age of eleven. In addition, her mother Madeline had a scandalous, promiscuous reputation. In order to protect Abigail, her grandfather sent her to her father in Quebec who legally changed her last name to Segee and called her by her middle name Anna and severed all ties to her other family. She was raised by her domineering father (a tycoon in the lumber industry), her loving stepmother, and her over-protective older half-brothers,

In part, Anna has moved to Maine in order to live her life according to her own plans and not her family’s. Anna has had a crush on the boy who saved her from the three boys ever since the attack – Ethan Knight. Anna has not revealed her past identity or family connections to anyone in Maine. She gained the respect of the previous owner and the mill workers by her skill and knowledge of the business. Anna worries that Ethan will fire her in retaliation for her firing him, but she is reassured to learn that there was a sale agreement that jobs are to be safe for a year.

Anna also has other worries. There is a “ghost” on her property. She sees moving lights at night and finds articles rearranged by light of day. Her old dog is not much protection, but even so she still is unhappy she will be having Ethan living so close.

Janet Chapman already has several titles to her credit, but The Stranger in Her Bed, the sequel to The Seduction of His Wife, reads in part like the initial draft of a first effort badly in need of editing. The story’s pacing is uneven; the characters act like wooden stereotypes – he stomps and glares, she’s afraid of the dark and loves birds and puppies. It takes nearly half the book before the story starts to come together and the narrative moves more smoothly.

Many of my reservations about this book revolve around the nearly insufferable hero. The bulldozer type heroes never impressed me even when they were common in romances. When Ethan chases off another man whom Anna has invited to dinner, I didn’t find it the least bit romantic. A jerk is still a jerk even if he’s the hero.

Furthermore, Anna has moved to Maine in part to avoid the suffocating domination of her father and older brothers. This gal needs therapy because Ethan has all the signs of being exactly the same kind of guy as those she’s fled and she doesn’t seem to realize it. Yes, he’s a guy just like dear old dad, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

What does work well in the book is the mystery thread. Who are the ghosts and what are they looking for? Once that story line gains more prominence, the plot becomes much more interesting. Ethan and Anna stop being stereotypical Tarzan-Jane characters and interact more normally.

The first half of The Stranger in Her Bed suffers from the stereotypical hero and heroine and awkward pacing. Things improve considerably in the second half after the mystery subplot kicks in.

Half not so good, half better – that makes The Stranger in Her Bed a three-heart acceptable book.

--Lesley Dunlap

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