Monday, July 28, 2008

Until You by Judith McNaught *****

Until You is the next in the series after Whitney, My Love. Whitney is an AAR Top 100, and is also a frequently discussed book – it contains a couple of scenes that offend our current sensibilities (rightly so, in my opinion) and which border on rape and brutality in its first iteration. It was subsequently rewritten in a less offensive manner, but still pushes the boundaries. Until You didn't affect me in that way and contains no rapes or beatings.

The story is of a young American woman, Sherry, who travels as a companion to England – her charge Charise elopes before they arrive, and our heroine Sherry must break the bad news to the charge's overthrown fiancé. However, the fiancé has had some bad news as well – seems he got foxed and stepped in front of Stephen Westmoreland's carriage, and is now, well, dead.

Stephen is the brother of Whitney's hero Clay. He's an earl in his own right, by virtue of a deceased uncle. He is, however, a confirmed bachelor thanks to a bad experience with a woman several years ago, which I believe is outlined in Whitney. He's feeling pretty bad about killing the young fiancé, so he meets the ship to let Charise know the bad news. Assuming Sherry is the fiancée Charise, he gives her the news mere seconds before she is whacked in the head by a crate at the dock. The head injury puts her out for a few days, and when she awakes, she has amnesia and doesn't know who she is. Needless to say, she never had time to actually introduce herself or tell Stephen that Charise has eloped.

Stephen doesn't know who she really is either – and her and her charge's trunks all went back to America. So he and the doctor tell her who they think she is (Charise, not Sherry), but not wanting to upset her further, they start – or continue – a ruse that Stephen is the man she came to England to marry. Since she has no memory of having had a fiancé, he just passes as himself.

This is a complicated ruse because she recovers from her injury but still has only flashes of memory (think Overboard). She asks him about how they met, and whether they are in love – and he has to make up stories. The doctor thinks she might recover faster if she can see her family, but then they learn Charise's father has died. In another and further complication, of course Stephen falls in love with her and she with him. He is forced to introduce her as his fiancée to his family, then he lets them in on the ruse – and they decide to somehow get her out on the town and find her another man/fiancé. Well, as I said, it's complicated but somehow logical.

McNaught did a fine job of weaving the story and the lies so that they actually made sense – the convoluted way Stephen arrives at the decision to go ahead and marry her was justification in his own mind because he did indeed love her even if he couldn't bring himself to admit it. But when the facts are laid on the table, Sherry comes to a different conclusion – and it makes sense how she arrives at her conclusions.

I liked it better than Whitney, and McNaught used a scenario that frankly always gets my gut tied up in knots – the hero, in his anger over Sherry's reaction and especially over his own wrong conclusion about Sherry's behavior once true her identity is revealed, takes back up with his mistress and with other women, and Sherry is aware of it. I think of the discussion on AAR about Big Misunderstandings that could be solved with a 5 minute discussion – I do see why and how each Sherry and Stephen came to the conclusions they did, and even though it's possible a 5 minute conversation might have cleared things up, neither was in the mood to listen and comprehend. They did know the facts but they used the facts to come to wrong conclusions, and I found their conclusions believeable.

5 stars because it did what I like in romances – it made me FEEL what the characters were feeling.

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