Gallant Waif

The Perfect Rake

The Perfect Waltz

Tallie's Knight

The Perfect Stranger
by Anne Gracie
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-21052-9
The Perfect Stranger continues the adventures of the Merridew sisters, this time featuring the impulsive and unconventional Faith Merridew. Author Anne Gracie veers from the previous books by setting this story on the Continent, and it’s a delicious change of pace.

Faith has always dreamed of following her heart and marrying for love, as her late parents did. Her dreams appeared to come true when she met the dashing Hungarian violinist Felix Remavska and eloped to France with him. But Felix was not at all what he seemed, and neither was their “marriage.” When the story opens, Faith is on her own and trying to get back to England. Penniless, she’s being chased down a beach by three men who intend to rape her. She calls out for help, and a stranger comes to her aid.

Nicholas Blacklock was a hero at Waterloo, but since then has lived the life of a nomad. His former manservant, Stevens, and a hulking Scot named McTavish are his companions, along with a large dog nicknamed Wulf. Nicholas is astounded to find a slightly-built English lady in the middle of nowhere, but being a gentleman, he cannot abandon her. And when he hears Faith’s tale, he proposes a marriage in name only. Faith can return to his family home in England and live with his widowed mother; Nicholas will continue his rather secretive quest, which will apparently end in Spain. There will be no heartache involved.

Nicholas is hiding something from Faith. He suffers from sudden, intense headaches; his best friend (and Stevens’s son) was killed in battle at Vittoria; and Nicholas is determined to return to the scene. His secret may take the reader by surprise; I certainly didn’t see it coming.

But first he must contend with a wife, whom he is beginning to care for very much. Faith, who reluctantly agreed to the marriage as the only way to salvage her reputation, finds she is falling in love with Nicholas. Along the way, side characters are added to the mix, such as Estrellita, a Spanish “gypsy” who intrigues the woman-hating McTavish. Faith refuses to return to England when the opportunity arises, having become too enamored of her husband to abandon him.

While The Perfect Stranger is a well-done road romance, it does tend to lose its focus a bit. The character of Estrellita, for instance, felt as though it was introduced to keep the plot moving, and she added a degree of coincidence to the tale that may have some readers rolling their eyes. Her romance with McTavish is sketchy and based on little more than physical attraction, so it’s more filler than anything else.

The novel works best when the focus is on Faith and Nicholas. He’s gallant without being overbearing; she’s smart without being headstrong and foolish. Theirs is a good match, and their romance develops slowly, in a way that feels natural. The fact that Faith was “married” allows their relationship to become physical without any tiresome guilt about lost virginity, either. It works.

Faith is quieter and more reserved than her sisters, and it’s fun to watch her character overcome her natural shyness and stand by her man. There are several small scenes where Faith is forced to take charge, and she does so with aplomb. As Faith gives up her dreams of a dashing romance, she finds something even better in the arms of her husband. Their physical relationship is spicy and sensual, and it’s through this vehicle of attraction that Nicholas finds he’s becoming as bound to Faith as she is to him. Lovely.

Let’s hope that Ms. Gracie has plans for Grace, the youngest (and most delightful) Merridew sister and will find a way to give her a book as well. In the meantime, The Perfect Stranger will definitely satisfy readers’ appetites for a poignant, tender romance. If you’ve enjoyed the previous installments in this series, you’re in for a happy reading experience!

--Cathy Sova

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