My Beautiful Enemy
Berkley / August 5, 2014 / $7.99, print & digital
Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.
Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart.
Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again…
Wow. I loved this book. There are so many Good Things I could talk about, but I want to highlight something that Sherry Thomas does that almost no one else does well: The Flashback.
We meet Catherine Blade in “present day” Victorian England, as she is getting off a boat from India and being introduced to the family of fellow boat passengers when she hears a voice.
She shivered. The timbre of that quiet voice was like the caress of a ghost. No, she was imagining things. He was dead. A pile of bones in the Takla Makan Desert, bleached and picked clean…
But now he turned partly toward her - and she gazed into the green eyes from her nightmares.
If shock were a physical force like typhoons or earthquakes, Waterloo station would be nothing but rubble and broken glass. When remorse had come, impaling her soul, she'd gone looking for him, barely sleeping and eating, until she'd come across his horse for sale in Kashgar.
It had been found wandering on the caravan route, without a rider. She had collapsed to the ground, overcome by the absolute irreversibility of her action. But he wasn't dead. He was alive, staring at her with the same shock, a shock that was slowly giving way to anger.
Doesn't this make you wonder what happened in the Takla Makan Desert? How did they come to meet in such a place? What were they to each other? How did he die and why does she feel remorse over it?
She glanced to Leighton Atwood. He appeared so . . . very English, so very proper and buttoned up. She could not imagine this man riding across the length and breadth of Chinese Turkestan in a turban and a flowing robe, sleeping under the stars, and hunting her suppers with a slingshot.
What adventures they must have had together. And who is the real man - the adventurer or the English gentleman? What are Leighton's thoughts on seeing Catherine again?
Most of the time, Leighton Atwood could hike for fifteen miles and not feel a twinge of discomfort, his limbs as fresh and nimble as those of an adolescent. This state of health and well-being would go on for weeks, sometimes months. And then, without warning, without rhyme or reason, the agony would return, like a hook piercing through his flesh.
In much the same way, the girl from Chinese Turkestan would fade from mind, long enough for him to almost believe that she no longer mattered to him. To almost cease turning sharply in the street when a dark-haired woman of similar figure and gait passed by. But the memories always came back: her face in the firelight, her laughter, the dirty overcoat she had worn as part of her disguise, the embroidery on the lapels hopelessly soiled.
He preferred the physical torment…Against the pain of her, however, there was little he could do. He would jerk awake at night, unable to breathe for the weight on his heart. There were others he missed as ferociously, but they were dead, whereas she was presumably still alive, still somewhere in this world.
How did Leighton get his injury? How did they come to mean so much to each other in such a place - and in disguise? How did they part and why, when there was such love and passion between them?
Miss Blade smiled. “What a lovely invitation,” she murmured. “But I don't wish to intrude on an intimate family gathering.”
He could not get used to her demureness: The most decorous of spinster aunts would barely rival her in propriety - this, from the same woman who had once said, The girls there would fuck my horse if he trotted in with enough gold.
That might have been the moment he fell in love with her.
Leighton is just as taken aback by her “Englishness” as she is by his and having trouble reconciling her now to the wild girl he knew. Between the “present day” scenes, Thomas weaves in moments from those different lives of eight years ago when Leighton and Catherine met, fell in love, had adventures and apparently, parted badly. Sometimes flashbacks can be jarring and intrusive on the “present day” story, but not in Thomas's deft hands. The hints of backstory in the narrative only made me more eager to get to the flashbacks and find out what happened. And when I came across, in the flashbacks, an explanation for a question I had, it made me smile and gave me a sense of connection with Leighton and Catherine, in both the “present” and the past. I felt I had a greater knowledge and investment in their lives, their losses, and the great depth of their love.
This is a love story not to be missed.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.