Romance writer Jensen O'Hara receives a cryptic telephone call from Sumara, a middle-eastern country where her brother Henry, a journalist, is currently on assignment. Henry has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. When telephone calls result in no information and no leads, Jen decides to fly to Sumara to look for Henry.
Michael Hassan, Sumara's newly crowned ruler, ignores a call from a frantic Jen. He was her brother's best friend in college and knows that Harry is impulsive. After arriving in Sumara, Jen has an impromptu meeting with Michael. He's not worried until he realizes that someone is after Jen, too. When she disappears the next day, he realizes that both disappearances may be connected.
Yes, they are, and there's lots more to this desert adventure. Of course Michael does rescue Jen time and again. The first rescue occurs on page sixty-one. Jen's reaction is so typical of weakly-drawn heroines that I lost respect for her. Jen, abandoned in the desert by a nefarious guide, is in her second day of limited water and food. Things aren't looking too good. In gallops Michael on his trusty steed and, of course, plops her on his saddle. Although there are menacing men surrounding them, here's Jen's reaction.
"You're a psychopath. A card-carrying psychopath. I don't have time for this nonsense. You said that you didn't want to help and I took you at your word. Well, I don't need you to rescue me, either. Now, let me off this horse or so help me I'll bite your other hand."
Isn't she darling? Admirable? Intelligent? Believable?
With almost two-hundred pages left, I wondered if I could maintain interest in this ditz and the sheik. The writing is flat, with no texture. There's too much dialog and not enough description. Michael, the sheik, has no charm, no sophistication and is not urbane, witty or even particularly cultured. Considering his monied-background, his lack of savoir faire is noticeable.
Following customs, Michael feels duty bound to marry the fiancée of his dead brother. Both admit to loving others, but Michael is not willing to break his family's word and thus their honor. Jen knows that he's going to enter a loveless marriage. Although the situation appears hopeless, they vow their love. At this point, Jen volunteers to be Michael's mistress. Now the reason for the title becomes apparent. My feminist sensibilities were on red alert at this development.
As is the situation with many romances involving two cultures, most cultural differences are glossed over. Religion is never mentioned. Jen never knows if she'll be expected to show total obeisance in public or if she will have to be veiled. Multiple wives are never mentioned. This story overlooks all cultural differences as if they are not important. That wouldn't seem to be the case considering that Michael is willing to marry for duty.
The late Barbara Faith introduced me to the desert sheik story. Her heroes were the prototypes: the dashing rider in his burnoose, knowing that the American woman would never fit into his culture, but what the heck . . . she was in his blood. Love and compromise play large parts in Faith's stories. In The Sheik's Mistress, we're told that the couple is in love, although their love just appears. We also know that they're together, not because of any compromise, but because of a contrived ending. It would seem that Barbara Faith is still the standard when it comes to the sheik mystique.