Phantom Marriage

Tara is a single mom of twins; the story is that her husband died in an accident whilst she was pregnant with them, and now she’s too busy being a single mother to get involved with anyone, even with her employer, who’d clearly like to.  But she has a secret, about the real father of the children.

When Tara’s old school chum comes back into her life, her nerves are all a-jangle, especially when Tara discovers that Sue’s step-father James is still in her life.  After their one night of passion seven years before, when Tara was still a youngster of seventeen, he’d vanished from Tara’s life, and Tara believed that he had never really loved her.  He got back to London from a visit to the States, and heard that she had married after a whirlwind romance to someone else, and his heart was broken.

But, see, that marriage never happened–there was no other man, for Tara.  The children are his, but she’s maintained the fiction of her “deceased husband” all this time, so he doesn’t know it.  And when they’re thrown back together at Sue’s country place, with the children obviously smitten with James, they have little choice but to start sorting things out.

I had a little trouble with this story.  The first time James starts to get physical with Tara, it’s rather non-consentual in tone, and that bothers me a little.  Clearly, he’s running under his (false) assumption that she’s rather loose, including with her employer, a photographer who is often in the gossip sheets for his own wild behavior.  But I don’t think anything justifies his almost forcing himself on her.

The animosity and sniping at each other continue until very late in the book, as they both start to realize that despite all the things that are wrong–which are, it turns out, fictions–they each are still crazy for the other.  Finally, James retrieves birth certificates on the children, and sees his own name there…

The confrontation that brings everything to light is in the final chapter, and predictably starts with “why-did-you-hide-my-children-from-me?”  And finally, as they should have all along, they start talking, and each tells what happened after their one night together from their own perspective.  James gives us some history about his marriage to Sue’s mother, which suddenly makes a lot of things make more sense.  They get to the “oh, my, I’ve loved you all along,” then we hit the back cover.

My problem here isn’t really what happened; this kind of misunderstanding is common formulaic stuff, really.  But it seemed to me to be a bit abrupt; they went from at-each-other’s-throats to let’s-get-married really, really fast.  As our own Anne Neville put it when I was talking about this with her, “like Pride and Prejudice, without all the subtle character development.”

I liked this story, truly I did, even though parts of it kind of scrape on me; James’ rather-brutal treatment of Tara all the way up to the finale just really annoys me; the man clearly has issues, even if a lot of them were caused by the misunderstandings between he and Tara.  I don’t think it is plausible that a few minutes of dialogue could heal seven years of hurting, for either of them.  They probably should spend a good bit more time talking to each other–or therapists–to get all that squared away.   Despite the problems, though, this is a good read, that’ll challenge your mind some, and push your limits.

My ratings:

Story Quality:
Character Chemistry: