Lisa Kleypas isn’t hiding the fact that this title is a rewritten version of her first published Avon Books novel, Only in Your Arms. I’m not sure how different the first version is from this one since this is an entirely new book to me!
Lysette Kersaint is being forced by her stepfather to marry a man she doesn’t love and is disgusted with. She vows never to be like her sister and runs away on her way to meet her fiancé in New Orleans. Only she never expected the Louisiana bayous to be such a dangerous place – she’s lost and half-eaten by mosquitoes when Philippe and Justin Vallerand caught her stealing their pirogue. Phillippe, at least, is never one to dole justice on his own and decides to take her to his father to deal with.
When Max Vallerand learns that Lysette is his nemesis’ betrothed, he keeps her in his estate to ruin her and force Etienne, Lysette’s intended, to a duel. But Etienne is only one devil that Max chases away everyday – since he found his philandering wife strangled, everyone had assumed he was the killer… and his life has never been the same since.
Ms. Kleypas does a fantastic job in introducing the nuances of Creole society that explains very well the anguish Max and his two sons, not to mention his mother and brothers, went through after such a scandal. I found no holes to poke at since I was thoroughly engrossed in the story of Max and Lysette’s romance as well as Max’s involvement with the still geopolitically divided United States (it was just a couple of years after the Louisiana Purchase when geographical boundaries were still a bit hazy). And we even get to know a little of Aaron Burr… along with a theory of why he shot Alexander Hamilton in that duel! (Ever saw that Got Milk TV ad?!)
However interesting that is, it is Max and Lysette’s romance that is engrossing. Max admires Lysette for her fearlessness and loyalty for someone so young. When everyone doubted his innocence in his wife’s murder, Lysette stared him in the eye and believed him. Lysette, on the other hand, is not only plucky but curious as well – while everyone hushes at the past incident, she pushes to find to real killer and bring some peace to Max and his two sons.
There’s lots of stuff going in When Strangers Marry that you can get immersed in easily. All the characters are interesting as you go through Max’s household with Lysette – his twin sons, his mother and two brothers. Even Max’s life outside the plantation, his political alliances and enemies, and the society that surrounds them, add much to the story as it gives a glimpse of the real (I hope) Creole culture in the 1800s.
But then again, I’ve always loved Lisa Kleypas’ stories so the fact that When Strangers Marry is a well-written, well-rounded sensual romance is no surprise. Even if you’ve read the original version, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed in this refreshed adaptation.