|When A Stranger Loves Me is a special kind of love story. While the characters are well written and the plot is as straightforward as it is interesting, the emotional depth with which Julianne MacLean writes makes it a truly compelling read.
Lady Chelsea Campion is a twenty-five-year-old woman with a busy past. She currently lives a fairly secluded life with her mother, brother and sister-in-law on the isle of Jersey, where she is hiding from both her past and her future. Her late father was the Earl of Neufield and had vast political ambitions and around the time he sought to promote himself, Chelsea ran off with a fortune-hunting rake, causing a massive scandal in London. Even though she and her fiancé were caught prior to their marriage, Chelsea and her family were subsequently shunned by polite society. They retreated to a house on Jersey, where they have lived for the past seven years.
Although Chelsea considers herself content with her family and enjoys her days writing by the sea, there is a huge problem she needs to face. As her brother Sebastian and his wife Melissa have been wed 10 years without producing a child, Lady Neufield has decided that Chelsea must wed her Father’s aged and disgusting cousin, Lord Jerome, through whom the Neufield title will pass. Chelsea is angry that she will have to lose her freedom, go back to society and be stuck in a loveless union, but she will do it to ensure her family’s security, if it is the only way.
Chelsea is walking one morning along the shore when she finds a young, injured man in a cave - nude. She immediately begins to invent a romanticized tale in her mind, that he is some sun-washed Apollo swept in from the sea for her to care for. She quickly realizes the folly of her tale when the man awakes, angry and sullen, and without his memory.
Chelsea tends to him as he heals, and they soon discover a shared artistic talent. While Chelsea writes, Jack, as she calls him, sketches. Chelsea is deeply attracted to Jack and comes up with a plan that may save her family - without marrying Lord Jerome - and hopefully not hurt anyone. She decides to seduce Jack and bear his child, which she will give to Sebastian and Melissa to raise as the Neufield heir.
Jack is conflicted and frustrated. He is falling in love with Chelsea, but he has a nagging sense that he is neglecting his duties, whatever they may be, and has no idea who he is or what he has to offer anyone. Chelsea begins to fall in love with Jack and feels torn about her deception, until her mother accidentally lets the truth out and Jack’s rage replaces his feelings for Chelsea. Then Jack’s family shows up to claim him and it turns out that his family has a very complicated story to tell him.
When A Stranger Loves Me is an honest love story. The characters are open, clear and without a sweet façade painted over their intentions. Our heroine Chelsea is imperfect, smart, creative, and funny. She feels devoted enough to her family to try to help them out of their circumstances, however twisted her methods. She also recognizes her own emotional reaction to her circumstances and tries to figure out her next steps. What I liked best about Chelsea was her ready willingness to truly apologize to Jack for her deceit. She is so raw, so openly vulnerable when she confesses to Jack that it may be the best scene in the book.
Jack is a dutiful, hardworking son who has lost his memory, his sense of self, his whole life, only to be betrayed by the one person he thinks he knows in his strange new life. His rage is palpable, his grief and confusion completely understandable. As he heads back to his old life, he is really struggling to reconcile the responsible man he was with the new, unfettered person he has become.
If Chelsea or Jack had played manipulative, childish games with one another after the initial deception had been exposed, then this story could have easily become clichéd and tedious. The fact that Julianne MacLean kept the emotions honest throughout is a testament to her writing skill and makes When a Stranger Loves Me shine.