Stranger in My Arms - Lisa Kleypas My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

After my 3rd reading...

Third time and again, a great read. That’s why I know I can rely on LK for something I’ll enjoy no matter what. This book has got mixed reviews; some loved it, some didn’t. Well, I fall in the former group. Still, things bugged me in this reading and those were some of Larissa or Lara’s activities. For some reason, I had this love/hate feeling for her, which didn’t really matter in my first two reads. Anyway, I’ll try to point those out as I go with my review.

Lara’s miserable marriage to Hunter, the Earl of Hawksworth lasted for 5 yrs. When Hunter, who’s always been a shallow minded, callous, pompous a$$hole of humongous proportions, died a year ago in a shipwreck while returning from his 3 yrs stay in India, Lara thought good riddance! Oh, I TOTALLY AGREE! Lara, who’s called ‘the patron saint of all helpless creatures’, is a kind woman. Soon afterwards, she starts working for the orphanage nearby, also for people around the small town of Market Hill. She never had the chance to be ‘herself’ in her marriage, being burdened with a cheating husband, who always regarded her as a possession and nothing else. She tried her best to be the lady of the manor, which took her time for the better part of her marriage. Hunter didn’t really care for her or the woman she really was. But it was sex that had been the most humiliating part of Lara’s marriage. Hunter’s callous ways were always followed by nothing but pain and humiliation for her. The worst thing was, the reason Hunter married her for, an heir, she could never conceive. So, Hunter the a$$ was ‘dissatisfied’ with her; calling her ‘cold and fragile’, carried on with his longtime mistress, who’s the very opposite of Lara; tall, athletic, muscular and much older. I was pissed with Hunter the a$$ from the beginning of the story but when I learned that he made fun of Lara with his mannish mistress, I felt like... oh, I don’t know, cut off his balls or something! :@ Anyway, Lara welcomed it, simply because she couldn’t go through Hunter’s drunken, horrible ‘nightly visits’ anymore.

So, Hunter’s death has been a blessing for Lara. The man now in possession of the title and one of Hunter’s uncle or something, Arthur is another branch of callous, pompous degenerate of the family. This family, as far as I could understand, hadn’t produced a single male heir you can actually respect and adore. Except for...... Now, all of a sudden, Hunter is back; he’s alive and Lara, who’s been living almost a like beggar, is shocked and a bit more than apprehensive. Her work and independence would be in jeopardy, her life will be back to squire one. I did sympathize with Lara, knowing how awful her husband was. It was bleak and sad to read, the way she had been treated and how all her hopes and dreams about marriage and love came to a crashing halt. Arthur and his nasty b*tch of a wife Janet of course, voiced whoever the man was, a fraud and won’t get the title from them. But, the longtime family doctor and Hunter’s estate agent, James, confirmed that he indeed is Hunter, the Earl.

In the meantime, we get a glimpse of Lara’s life with her work at the orphanage, something I really enjoyed. Her interactions with the kids were sweet. The town of Marker Hill is already abuzzed with the news of the Earl’s return. Lara tries to tell everyone it’s probably nothing but hoax or some troubled man who needs help. But, Hunter comes back. Lara, who just returned from the market, couldn’t face him so she goes back to her small, rusty cottage to collect herself. I think this was a prominent scene of the book; Lara seeing Hunter for the first time after his return when she was looking at the mirror. It’s apparent that Hunter has changed; physically he’s grown thinner and tanned but there’s this intensity about him that she never really saw before, something that she couldn’t quite understand and yet, there’s no doubt that it’s Hunter. Then she finds out he’s changed on the inside, too. He treats her with such gentleness and seeing the way she’s been living, gets so angry that Lara’s left confused.

From the first page, I loved Hunter’s possessive nature on all things ‘Lara’. He was so crazy about her that I couldn’t but love him. I loved the way he handled the Arthurs and then his own estate and everything else as things were rapidly falling apart because of the Arthurs’ spending habits. But most of all, I ADORED his all consuming devotion towards Lara, even when she wasn’t quite friendly. It’s understandable, why she was distant and suspicious of his motives. Hunter has never been anything but an a$$ to her, so how can she not get suspicious when that man is so polar opposite to the man who left England? That Hunter not only treated her callously but also had no sense of responsibility about estate matters and so on. He loved to gamble, drink and f*ck his manly mistress and thought what a manly man he was (my arse!). But this Hunter, he’s so good and gentle to her and everyone around, so careful and responsible about everything else that Lara wasn’t sure what to think. I mean this situation was so out of the realm of my imagination (even in this reading), can’t explain. What does one do in a situation like this? Maybe make the better of it. So, even though Lara had some doubts, she thought the same thing and believed in it.

But, the twist is, Hunter in so many words and actions, has already mentioned that he wants her in his bed and no one else. This is something Lara simply can’t do. Trust me, I understood her dilemma, her reluctance but the thing went on for so long and seeing the way Hunter wanting her so damned much, I was like ‘WTF? Give the guy what he wants!’ Of course, in my first read, I thought it was Hunter the a$$hole, who has somehow changed miraculously. Even then, I was willing to give him a chance, especially when I read these following lines that are proofs of his yearning for Lara:

She left quietly, closing the door behind her.

Only then did Hunter move, wandering to the portal, his large hand clasping the oval brass knob that she had just touched, searching for any remaining warmth her skin might have imparted. He leaned his cheek against the cool, glossy panel and closed his eyes. He craved her body, her sweetness, her hands on his body, her legs open to him, her throat tightening with feminine cries as he pleasured her... He shoved the thoughts away, but it was too late, he was left with a painful erection that wouldn't subside.

How long would it take for her to accept him?

They from some sort of an amiable relationship and Lara can’t but start to like this new Hunter. He’s become everything she’d once hope to find in a husband; was doing everything to make her happy. That’s why I didn’t like her denying the one thing he wanted from her. The poor guy was reduced to bargain for it, when he learns of that Lara’s the benefactress of the orphanage. It was obvious that he gave her plenty of freedom to do whatever she liked.

Lara took in this kid in, a prisoner’s son who lived with his father until he was hanged. The poor mite had no one else to go, the orphanage didn’t have space for him. I, again, adored reading Lara with the kid, Johnny who took a liking to Lara on the spot. The introductory scene was pretty heart tugging. Although Lara was sure that Hunter won’t let the kid stay in their house, she was willing to do anything to make that happen. And, I agree, Johnny was priceless and so cute! I loved every scene that includes his interactions with Lara (whom he starts calling ‘mama’ later) and Hunter. Hunter, of course, gave in, bargaining a kiss for it. How sad! And this is how it went on, Hunter doing things for Lara while she kept dodging ‘the issue’ between them. She even asked to take in/do something for the kids living in prisons in England (a bit too ambitious!) and even though Hunter knew it’s near impossible to save all the kids currently living in prison, he accedes to help her.

Soon, they have a get together with a few people around the town for Hunter’s return. Lara invites a Captain Tyler and his wife, who’s just returned from India himself. When Lara tries to introduce him to Hunter, it’s obvious that they know each-other but trying hard to act otherwise. Lara is startled but hides it. And, later it’s revealed that they, indeed, knew each-other and Hunter isn’t who he says he is. We get a glimpse of his mysterious past and the fact that he saved the Captain’s life while working for him in some capacity. Hunter asks the captain to stay away from this business and assures him that Lara is being taken care of. Tyler says nothing, thinking he at least has to give this to the man. We also meet Lara’s younger sister Rachel, who’s married to Hunter the a$$hole’s friend, another bigger a$$hole called Lonsdale. I mean these two were ‘two peas in a pod’ but in addition to being callous, shallow, a cheating husband and a wastrel; Lonsdale is also physically abusive to Rachel. And, this plays a vital role in the later part of the story.

Hunter’s bargains with Lara to have a little something, anything from her was so heart wrenching at times that I was like ‘move aside woman, you’re just no good at all!’. The negligee scene very stimulating and *hot* but heart tugging as well. Lara didn’t want to wear it but oh, Hunter’s yearning even got to me. I would’ve worn it babe, casting aside my delicate sensibilities, only for you! But, afterwards, when a drunk Hunter falls asleep in Lara’s arms (umm, they were about to do ‘it’ since Lara couldn’t deny the way her body responds to Hunter’s touch, bleh!), she can’t but re-think her decision. I thought, maybe, finally she’d come to her senses and give the man what he wants. But NO! Even after all these, she kept on dodging this in various ways and left a frustrated Hunter on the edge. When Hunter decides to give her space and act as if he’s not interested anymore (I mean how long can a man take it, when he wants her so damn much), Lara tells her dressmaker to alter her new gowns, lowering the necklines to a seductive level. But, she won’t give into his demands. W.T.F? This left even me frustrated and a bit more than pissed. I tried sympathizing with her this time around but I couldn’t, AT ALL.

Then came the ball. Lara planned this ball as a fundraiser for the orphanage which was under construction to accommodate the prison children they decided to help. Hunter helped Lara all the way. When she went to the people of Market Hill, urging them to take those children in just for a few months until the orphanage is done and got rejected from most of them (not surprising!); Hunter tried to be reasonable and patient with her. But, Lara’s so stubborn, she wouldn’t listen. She’ll take all those kids in if necessary! Huh?! I mean really, she was being childish and stupid, just as the way she was handling their relationship. I thought, for the most part, that it was Hunter who wanted her more. Anyway, Hunter bargains, again, that this time she has to give him what he wants. Lara is angry, calling him a “lecherous goat”! *rolls eyes* By now I was teetering on the edge too, with annoyance. I mean, you want him to do everything for you but in return you won’t give him what he wants. It’s not like you don’t want him too, Lara which is why this is sheer hypocrisy! No matter how ‘saintly’ you like to appear, you’re anything but.

To my utter annoyance, she does something which made me wanna strangle her. With Rachel's help (who was still being abused by Lonsdale), Lara decides she’d help Hunter ‘reunite’ with his mannish (yes, I’d always call her that) ex-mistress so that she can dodge the bargain, again. Lord it was so irritating! To Hunter, who was anticipating every moment of being with Lara, it was a slap on the face. But, he handles the situation pretty well. Though the mistress understood this isn’t Hunter the a$$hole, it was certain that she won’t make a scene. I wanted to kick her for saying Hunter wasn't ‘half the man’ the other a$$hole was. I mean, really? Nasty b*tch! Meanwhile, Lara wasn’t enjoying the outcome of the situation anymore. She felt jealous (bleh)! But, then an angry Hunter takes her aside and gives her a taste of what he’s been going through in a shadowy corner, saying:

"This is your punishment, Lara," he whispered. "To burn as I do."

That was *HOT* and I immensely enjoyed it because Lara was suffering. Lara was still acting as a martyr when she goes to Hunter for their ‘one night’. But Hunter surprised her by asking her to go back. Oh, that man's just too good for her! Now, Lara wants to ‘go ahead’. *exasperated sigh* Nevertheless, I really loved the first love scene because it was all about Hunter and his longing for Lara. Then again, the whole book was about Hunter and his insane obsession and longing for her. Anyway, back to the story. It went great, Lara is happy, the experience had been an amazing one and she now wants to be with Hunter. She knows she’d started to care for him too. And, boy, they MADE some love. Hunter was happy, which made me happy as well.

Then something happens, Lonsdale injures Rachel and she miscarries. The nasty SOB didn’t even send for a doctor. Lara hears it from her lady’s maid and gets angry. When she’s determined to kill the bastard, Hunter reasons with her. Although it’s understandable that Lara thought being such good friends, Hunter would side with Lonsdale but woman, open your eyes! After everything he’d done (and he wasn’t even friends with Lonsdale in that sense anymore), how could you be so negative? Then she manipulated Hunter (at least I felt that way, didn’t like the way she formed her words to get Hunter’s help) to bring Rachel in Hawksworth Hall. Which Hunter does, to make Lara happy; also of course, this was the right thing to do. He understood something was seriously wrong. In her painful, delirious mind, even Rachel knew this isn’t the real Hunter. To me, that scene was pretty significant as well. Next day, Lonsdale the a$$ comes to get his wife. The way he talked to Lara, it was pretty demeaning. In an earlier scene of the book, when Lonsdale visits Hunter after his return, Lara’s reminisce tells us he’d always encouraged Hunter the a$$’s infidelities. Here, Lonsdale tries to attack Lara after she accuses him of physical violence and gawd, the scene afterwards... I still remember it from my first reading. Hunter takes his ‘warrior stance’ (I’m not sure what to call it) and Lara was astonished seeing his way of attacking Lonsdale. Hunter was almost about to kill him when Lara’s voice seems to reach his through his bloodlust. When she softly said “thank you”...

“He shot her a gaze of hot black intensity. "Thank me in bed," he said, barely audible.

Lara stared at him, startled. "Now?" she whispered, feeling her cheeks prickle with heat. Hunter didn't reply, only continued to stare at her in that alarming way.”

This follows with a HOT love scene, one of my most favorite of LK. The way he stalked her upstairs and said, “I don’t care” to her “Where?” *shivers* From Lara’s thought (maybe for the first time, she actually understood and cared that he needed her):

“The other times they had made love, he had been seductive, teasing, encouraging... but never desperate... as if he needed her to save his soul.”

Then much later that night:

“When she awakened, Hunter was watching her with eyes like dark velvet.

"You're the last woman I'll ever make love to," he said, stroking her breast, toying with the rosy peak. She stroked his sun-streaked hair and the hard nape of his neck, loving the feel of him against her.

"Good," she whispered.

"Keep me with you, Lara. I don't want to leave you.”

I absolutely had to quote these lines just show the kind of yearning Hunter felt for Lara. And they exchanged ILUs after they made love again. It was so beautiful!

But, fate proved it’s fickleness again when things changed soon, in just a day. This was the worst part of the book IMO. Hunter was in London when Lara decided to pay a visit to the Tylers. She couldn’t help asking the Captain about India. What she came home knowing jolted and crushed her world. Lara learned that the man who’d been with her for these few months isn’t her husband. She leaned something about his past, that he’d worked for East India Company. He was English by birth and was raised by a missionary couple. No one really knew much about him when he was in India. This man was brilliant and has a unique ability to adapt according to the setting and situation, to become a chameleon. Lara also leaned he worked for the Captain before he disappeared as a spy and an assassin when necessary. Because he saved the Captain’s life, is why the Captain was keeping it a secret, too. He never tells Lara Hunter’s real name. With all these facts and a suspicion that she’s pregnant, Lara is lost. She tells Rachel everything. Later, she decides on doing the right thing...

From then on I was just glued to the page, it was such a whirlwind and, cursed Lara for what she did. I know she was doing the ‘moral’ thing but hello, how could you do this to the man you claim to love? I SO wanted to SLAP her hard! She calls Arthur, informing them that this man is a fraud and so on. Then, Hunter is detained and just resigned to his fate. It’s like he already knew things won’t last. Then Lara travels London to know why he did this in the first place. But, she finds her mother-in-law instead. Lara is astounded to know this man’s actually a Crossland himself, the previous Earl’s illegitimate son. His mother didn’t want him and send him to the Earl as an infant. I didn’t like the mother-in-law at all; the fact that she’d approved of her husband’s infidelities (as I said, not a single male you can respect or adore, except Hunter). She had a hand in what Hunter had become in India, since it was on her pressure the Earl send Hunter there. Also, Hunter the a$$ was spoiled because of her and she didn’t do a thing when Lara was being treated so callously by him. Lara visits Hunter later, who answers her questions; how he met Hunter the a$$ and the way that a$$ treated him, how he acquired her portrait and kept it with him always, also the a$$’s journals for further information. And, his yearning (this is Hunter’s word, I think) for her; after reading her letters, knowing he’s being denied a life he deserved while this a$$ threw this away for frivolous reasons. Afterwards, Lara she had to make a decision... I felt so much for Hunter, can’t explain. Lara, go ahead and hang yourself! You deserve all that and more for making him suffer so!

As I finished, the book made me wistful. I wanted to know more about Hunter, least of all, his real name. It’s never known, as Hunter tells Lara that man doesn’t exist anymore. I wish to know if that was how Ms. Kleypas initially plotted or decided in the process of writing the novel. I’ve never read a book where the real name of the hero isn’t known. That was very intriguing. So, I’m keeping my 5 stars; because I still loved the story, because Hunter was so adorable ‘til the end.