Harlequin Presents #569
3 1/2 stars
Penny Jordan’s Escape from Desire was for me a very satisfying, yet silly read.
Tamara is on vacation on the island of St. Stephen, all by herself, as her stuffy fiancé has no time for frivolities like lounging in the sun. Tamara is typical of Penny Jordan’s heroines, slightly repressed due to an overbearing aunt who raised her. But as she sunbathes on the beach, Tamara’s doubts about her engagement come to a head. While Malcolm is everything Tamara thought she wanted in a husband–staid, unemotional, professional–she recalls the happy, loving marriage of her parents and ponders if she can go through a loveless union so different than that of her deceased parents.
Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger on the beach admires her bikini-clad body with his eyes. When he notices her engagement ring, he’s cruel to her, thinking she’s just out in the Caribbean for one last hurrah.
Tamara signs up for a jungle trek to take her mind off her worries when who should show up, but the mysterious stranger from the beach, our hero Zach Fletcher. However, what should have been a three-hour tour turns into a nightmare when the guide lures them into a trap. Rebels armed with Ak-47s take the group hostage for the usual political reasons. Zach manages to convince the terrorists to release all the hostages except himself. Unfortunately, the terrorists, thinking Tamara is Zach’s woman, demand Tamara stay as well.
Days pass, and eventually, when the terrorists make a supply run, leaving behind just one man to guard the pair, Zach makes his move. It appears that Zach is no run-of-the-mill Harlequin Present m/billionaire hero; he’s a member of Special Air Service of the British Army and had been recently scarred by a melee in Africa. As their captor attempts to force himself on Tamara, Zach stabs him dead, and the couple flees through the jungle.
The near-death/near-rape experience is traumatizing for Tamara and Zach, and they make love. Zach is shocked to find that she’s a virgin, but rather than handling the situation with normal, human-like emotions (This is, after all, a Penny Jordan HP), he accuses her of having held on to her virginity to tease her fiancé. On their march through the rainforest, Tamara gets bitten by a lethal spider, and she awakens in a hospital, safe and sound, but dismayed to hear that Zach hightailed it back to England.
The life-and-death trauma awakens something in Tamara, and she vows to change her repressed ways, first by getting a makeover and then by dumping her stuffed-shirt fiancé. But as I said, this being a Penny Jordan HP, normal human-like behavior is not be expected, so instead of breaking up with her boyfriend ASAP, Tamara waits until they’re on a weekend trip at his parents’ home in the Cotswolds. Then, to save face, Malcolm asks Tamara to temporarily pretend their engagement is still on, when who should show up but Malcolm’s parents’ new neighbor… Zach!
Zach is disgusted with Tamara and accuses her of being a slut. Sure, she was a virgin when she slept with Zach, but now that she’s not a virgin, certainly, she’s sharing all her newfound sexuality with her fiancé. (None of this sounds like standard human thinking, but something like Tommy Wiseau would come up with.)
Tamara goes on with her life as an assistant to an editor when she finds out she is pregnant. She’s delighted by the fact but vows never to let Zach know the truth. Why? I don’t know, Zach was mean to her, and that’s reason enough to hide her child’s parentage.
But Zach is still not out of her life because in coincidence number #2, who should be the secret client her boss has been trying to lure? Why it’s Zach, of course! Zach’s writing a book and demands Tamara as his secretary. Unfortunately, Tamara’s morning sickness is of the virulent type, and Zach realizes she’s pregnant. With her fiancé’s child, of course, the slut! Sure, she was a virgin up until she met Zach, but virginity was only a tool to get her fiancé. Then after Zach initiated Tamara in the ways of love, she used that knowledge to dig her claws into her fiancé some more. And now she’s utilizing the oldest trick in the book to keep her fiancé. The tramp!
Despite it all, Zach can’t keep his hands off Tamara, who he believes is engaged and pregnant with another man’s child. And Tamara loves Zach, but she can’t let him know. Why not?
Will these two crazy kids ever get over their hang-ups, and just be honest with each other? Sure, they could, but it’s more dramatic when a letter reveals all the truths because communication is for human adults on Planet Earth not for our heroes and heroines of HarlequinPresentslandia.
What a crazy, unforgettable read!