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LynneC’s review of The Husband She Never Knew by Kate Hewitt
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents 16 Oct 12

This is one of the most interesting, although flawed, reads I’ve had for a while from the Modern/Presents line. However, I’d far rather have something flawed and interesting than perfect and boring. That goes for my men, too.

Ammar and Noelle were married ten years before, but the marriage was annulled for non-consummation. Now working as a buyer in Paris, Noelle meets Ammar at a party, and he asks to speak to her. She refuses, not wanting to open the scars of the past, but she knows he’s been in a helicopter crash, in which his father was killed, so she shows some sympathy. But Ammar won’t take no for an answer, and he pursues her in a shocking way.

The hero of this book does something I’d usually find unforgivable. He kidnaps the heroine. But because Hewitt lets us into the mind of the hero, we understand why he does it. He is locked up, can’t communicate and finds it frustrating, but he doesn’t know how to mend it. That, and the horrendous things he’s done in the past with his father’s encouragement, made it understandable, if not excusable.

And because the heroine is suitably angry and doesn’t immediately fall into his arms, I accepted the action and moved on. At first, Noelle makes the book more palatable, and I read on for her, but eventually, I was reading for Ammar.

Ammar is horribly crippled by the knowledge that he’s done what his terrible father wanted and built his business in a corrupt and damaging way. His near-death experience makes him reassess, and now he’s trying to put things right and get back the woman he’s never stopped loving. But he is ashamed and can’t open up to her.

Is such a hero redeemable? There does seem to be a move towards heroes who have not just bad-boy backgrounds but really bad backgrounds recently. Even I’m thinking of writing a story about one! Their redemption is so much harder, but it does depend, as Hewitt does here, on the reader knowing what the hero is thinking, even if the heroine doesn’t.

I like that the journey didn’t come easy for either of them, although Noelle fell too easily back with Ammar. The length of the book dictates that, and several incidents were shorter than I would have liked. For instance, Noelle’s acceptance of her captivity during a weekend. I’d have liked her to hold out for longer. But she loves him, and since he never told her how badly he’d behaved, she can’t understand why he keeps pushing her away.

I like his inability to articulate what he feels for her until one heartbreaking scene when he’s brushing her hair. That scene is a lovely example of a breakthrough scene, and it’s framed so that you know it’s meant to be so.

Later in the book, Noelle is confronted directly by one of Ammar’s victims. I don’t like the way Noelle brushes aside a horrible thing that Ammar did in the past, as if it meant nothing because she loves him. That demonstrated the kind of blindness Ammar had been using for years.

I try to avoid using spoilers, but this one is why I found the book flawed.  Spoiler alert!!!

What would have made this book infinitely better would have been if Ammar had been allowed to be impotent. All through the book, until the lovemaking scene, he starts making love to her, then, overwhelmed by guilt and feelings of I’m-not-worthy inadequacy, he turns away.

I thought Hewitt was heading towards a confession of impotence through most of the book, when he starts to make love with her. I strongly suspect that her editor made her change it, or the requirements of the line encouraged her to move away from that, because later in the book Ammar confesses he’s had meaningless affairs, and then has no problems at all getting it up.

It seems that Harlequin alpha males don’t have potency problems. Making him impotent would have externalized Ammar’s internal conflict and lovemaking would have shown a reconciliation with his desire to make everything better and start a new life. It would have delved deeper, been more heartbreaking, and understandable, given Ammar’s alpha nature, why he threw up walls around himself to shield him from his shame.

End of Spoiler!!!

I still enjoyed the book, but if Hewitt hadn’t delved so deeply into the hero’s psyche, it might have been a DNF because of the awful things he does at the start, but because we understand, we want him to make good and learn how to open up and communicate. Noelle is a strong enough heroine, but I would have liked her to fight harder occasionally. However, a category length book makes it harder to explore more issues in more depth.

I’d be interested to know what other people felt about this book. Do you feel, as I did, that going the whole hog, so to speak, would have strengthened it?

LynneCs iconGrade: B+


What he wants, he takes!Cruelly discarded on her wedding night, Noelle Ducasse buries the shame of being an untouched bride—creating a new, glamorous life to mask the relentless ache of loneliness. Until Ammar returns…

The image of Noelle’s guileless eyes lingers with Ammar still. Noelle can refuse him all she likes, but this time the ruthless Ammar will not be denied. He’ll spend each moment of each night proving that—no matter how much her mind denies it—she will melt under her husband’s exquisite touch.…

Read an excerpt.