Review: Wife to a Stranger

Wife to a Stranger Wife to a Stranger by Daphne Clair
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My favorite usage of the amnesia trope is as a reset button. Protagonist (usually the heroine—I don’t think I’ve read one about a hero) was insufferable and awful and selfish person that everyone hated. She wakes up in a hospital bed and doesn’t know who she is and a man claiming to be her husband is there and he’s super-cold to her and thinks she’s faking and says something like, “I tire of these games, Claudette. If I find out you’re faking this, I’ll strangle you to death.” The heroine leaves the hospital and discovers that everybody really DOES hate her: the dog hates her, her kids hate her, the housekeeper hates her, and on top of that, she just keeps finding out all these awful things about herself like she’s been cheating on her husband with some skeezy guy and maybe plotting his murder or something. The plot of this book is kind of like that, but the fake-out near the end kind of ruins it for me. I gotta give points, however, for the way the heroine gets her memories back…what a bloody revelatory time.

Capri Massey was in a horrible train accident that killed a lot of people, but luckily for her, she just got banged up a bit and coshed on the noggin. She wakes up from a coma in a hospital bed days later and knows immediately that the man watching her warily is Rolfe Massey, her husband. She recognizes him, but all she really knows of him is his face. Other than that, he is a complete stranger to her. But she likes the way he smells. He sniffs her back. He likes the way she smells too. This is a good, auspicious start. He tells her she’s been in Australia on holiday. Without him, she asks. He couldn’t get away from work, he says defensively. He owns a large company in New Zealand. She tells him she wants to go home, to their home. His nostrils flare and his eyes darken and Capri suspects if she specified “now,” he would sweep her into his arms and march out of the hospital with or without the doctor’s permission.

Capri is released from the hospital and Rolfe immediately takes her back to the house they share in New Zealand, where she expects to recognize something, anything. But she doesn’t. She discovers, however, that she and Rolfe sleep in separate rooms. Rolfe tells her he snores. She finds out a few more things about herself: she was a semi-professional model in Los Angeles and a temperamental fashion designer who was better known for her tantrum than her talent. She’s also apparently a shitty, jealous sister resentful of her little sister’s successes; her mother lives in Los Angeles and she and Capri have a strained relationship, and Capri hates her mother’s second husband, her stepfather. And she has major daddy issues stemming from her father abandoning her and her mother. She is…just not an awesome person. No wonder Rolfe doesn’t quite know what to make of her.

Not that she knows how to deal with him herself; she is very aware of him as a man, but also nervous around him. He is gentle and considerate with her, but there is a wariness about him as though he doesn’t quite believe her. Why would anyone fake amnesia, Capri demands. Rolfe says it just seems like the kind of bullshit psycho game that Capri liked to play. And yet Rolfe finds himself unable to keep away from her. She shies away and blushes whenever he kisses her. There is an innocence, a bashfulness about her that he had never seen before. She is reluctant to make love with him because he is virtually a stranger to her and this strikes Rolfe as ironic because when the two of them first met in Los Angeles, they were in bed together a few hours later and married a few months after that. She was the one, he says, who basically threw herself at him; abandoned her date at the party and left with him. That was just how impetuous and passionate she was, Rolfe says. But Capri is horrified at this new unveiled aspect of her personality. Rolfe, however, finds it intriguing. He said they didn’t have the chance to get to know each other the first time around, so maybe this time, he could get it right with the wooing.

And it’s rapidly becoming clear to Capri that she and Rolfe must have been having trouble with their marriage even before her holiday. When she presses him to talk, he admits that things haven’t been right between them since her miscarriage. Her miscarriage? She was pregnant?! There was a genetic deformity in the baby and that was why she miscarried. He said after she lost the baby, she became extremely cold to him and refused to go to bed with him anymore for fear that she’d get pregnant again. Knowing she was adopted—ANOTHER REVELATION!—she became obsessed with finding her birth parents and researching her genetic background, so she could figure out why her baby died and/or if she will miscarry any of her future babies. That was what she was doing in Australia. She and Rolfe had a big row about it because Rolfe wanted her to wait until he had some time off to go with her, but Capri stormed off, yelling that Rolfe’s business had always been more important to him than her.

As if that weren’t a big enough shocker, Capri finds out that she’d been cheating on Rolfe with the next-door-neighbor, too, and the next-door-neighbor is obsessed with her. Her lover insists that Capri had been planning to leave Rolfe to be with him and this incarnation of Capri is beyond mortified. Wow, she was a shitty, shitty person. Rolfe was such a good, patient husband and she repaid him by being a spoiled brat and cheating on him. Their mutual friends at a party confirm that yep, she’d been cheating on Rolfe, all right, and yep, Capri was a serious party girl. Capri resolves to become a better person and that she will do everything possible to become a better wife to Rolfe.

At this point, words like “psychiatrist,” “marriage counseling,” and “psychotherapy” are being bandied about and ROLFE IS TOTALLY COOL WITH IT! What?! That’s rare for a Harlequin Presents hero. Aren’t they all advocates of the power of Sexual Healing? Doesn’t he know that the Mighty Peen can cure anything from sterility to depression to hysteria? And then he wonders out loud if amnesia could cause a complete personality overhaul… hmm…

Record Scratch—Zack Morris calls for a “Time out!”

OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. What, are you not from around here? Has your avid reading of Harlequin Presents taught you nothing? TRUST NO ONE.

Would you like me to tell you how Capri gets her memories back? Okay, throughout the book, she and Rolfe make out a lot and have several close calls, but Capri always pulls back at the last possible second telling Rolfe she’s just not ready to make that jump because he’s a stranger. And he doesn’t call her a tramp or a whore! He just… backs off. Man, by HP standards, Rolfe is a frickin’ saint. But one night, Rolfe takes Capri to some erotic Irish Lord of the Dance thing and they both get really randy for each other and Rolfe says something like, “If we don’t make love tonight, I think I’ll actually go insane.” Throw the man a bone, Capri! So she does.

Click here for the spoiler. Yeah, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I liked the development of the relationship between Capri and Rolfe and how Daphne Clair carefully dropped the details little by little until the story was complete. Capri is not a complete ninny, nor is she annoying. She's actually remarkably self-assured for a woman whose brainpan has bullet holes all over it. She acts like a woman in her situation would: she's lost, she doesn't know what's going on, she's being told all these things but she doesn't know what is true. She's attracted to this man, but she doesn't know him. And yet, she's not annoyingly neurotic about it. That’s refreshing. Rolfe is not crazy-alpha, either. In fact, if it weren’t for the amnesia angle, I’d call it boringly normal. I guess I’m all right with the “tweeest” but I would have preferred it if it were a true “amnesia as a reset button” story.

Daphne Clair writes extremely well and is in my Top Ten Favorite Harlequin Presents Author List, but without the amnesia angle (view spoiler), this story would have been just about a couple trying to rebuild their relationship after a traumatic miscarriage when the husband is a workaholic and the wife might be having an affair. Yeah, that sounds a little too heavy for me. Daphne Clair tends to write with...restraint. I'd almost say she's a classy broad. The only way I’d read a "mundane" story like that is if my boo Sally Wentworth wrote it. I'd take that train all the way to Crazy Town and come back for more.

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