HARLEQUIN PRESENTS #417
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Reviewed by Introvert Reader
Charlotte Lamb’s Stranger in the Night deals with a sensitive topic she’s approached several times: rape. No, it does not employ the controversial trope of “dubious consent” found in many Harlequins from the 1970s and 1980s. This is a healing love story about a traumatic assault that upended a woman’s life and almost destroyed her ability to find a romantic relationship.
On the surface, the set-up of Stranger in the Night might share some commonalities with Emma Darcy’s Don’t Ask Me Now, which had an actual love triangle plot. Here, the heroine Clare is living a good life as a successful actress. She has a male friend Macey, a writer and producer whom she keeps at bay, however much he adores her.
Macey is also a nice guy, one of the most gentle and understanding heroes in an old-school Harlequin Presents. Not a “beta” male, mind you, but a decent man whose aura commands respect. He’s supportive, assertive–not domineering–, and quite sexy to boot.
Macey’s more possessive instincts come to the forefront when a fellow from Clare’s past comes back into her life. While she and this handsome man, Luke, share a past connection, it’s not what Macey thinks. Nine years ago, Clare was a student at a party where she imbibed a bit too much alcohol. The predatory Luke took advantage of Clare and violated her.
Clare and Macey
In the ensuing years, Clare’s built herself a solid career on stage and screen. Along the way, Macey has been there as a trustworthy friend. He’s never hidden his attraction, even though Clare has no desire for romantic entanglements. For years Macey suffered in silence from unrequited love, never pursuing her in a predatory manner. Macey knows that would scare Clare away, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend instead of not being there at all.
At first, Macey thinks Luke broke Clare’s heart long ago, making him insecure and jealous. It takes some time for the truth to be revealed, and when it is, Macey provides Clare a strong shoulder lean on. He’s there for her to unload the emotional baggage she’s been carrying all alone for so long. What’s more, he wants Luke to pay for the brutal crime committed against the woman Macey loves.
As usual, Lamb’s strength is in her characterization. Clare and Macey seem like authentic people with genuine concerns. Macey’s love for her is evident, but Clare struggles to deal with her feelings of sexual desire for him. In the end, Clare must learn to put the past behind her and not allow one horrific situation to define the rest of her life. Love is an emotion she needs to experience in order to heal.
Final Analysis of Stranger in the Night
Charlotte Lamb readers might note the similarities between this book and her full-length novel, A Violation. Both stories feature a heroine named Claire/Clare who must deal with the aftermath of rape and how it affects her and the people in her life. Where A Violation read more like women’s fiction with a Happy For Now conclusion, Stranger In the Night is a true romance with a Happily Ever After.
The only flaw in this book is that A Violation had the luxury of being twice Stranger In the Night‘s length. So some scenes come off a bit rushed and condensed. Regardless, this Harlequin Presents by one of my favorite authors is a book I could not put down. It’s a keeper for an indomitable heroine and a wonderful hero whose love is strong but never forceful.