Mary Jo Putney
Not Quite a Wife
Zebra / August 26, 2014 / $7.99 print, $7.59 digital
James, Lord Kirkland, owns a shipping fleet, half a London gaming house, and is a ruthlessly effective spymaster. He is seldom self-indulgent...except when it comes to the gentle, indomitable beauty who was once his wife. Laurel Herbert gave James her heart as an innocent young girl - until she saw him perform an act of shocking violence before her very eyes. That night she left her husband, and he let her go without a word of protest. Now, ten years later, a chance encounter turns passionate, with consequences that cannot be ignored. But as they try to rebuild what was broken, they must face common enemies and a very uncommon love.
Very often in romance, the hero will kill someone during the novel, especially if he is in the Spy Biz. The deed is usually done without much thought or care for the consequences—the villain needed killing, so he was killed. But what happens when the novel's heroine is a very moral person with a deep sense of what is right and wrong? What if she can't accept that the man she loves is an instrument of death? This is the theme Mary Jo Putney explores in her latest novel, Not Quite a Wife.
Laurel and James fell in love at first sight and married very young. After a romantic, year-long honeymoon, they settle into their home in London where mere days later, she sees her loving husband transform before her eyes when he kills an intruder in their home.
“But horrible as it was to see murder done, worse was seeing James's expression. He looked up at me, and he was . . . a stranger. A monster. I saw no remorse or shock. He looked . . . evil. I'd been sharing my bed with a soulless murderer.” Her bed and her body. The vile thought had made her ill. “My husband was a man I didn't know or want to know.”
Horrified, she fled and they have remained separated for ten years. However, circumstances now dictate that they try to repair their marriage, though Laurel thinks it a hopeless business.
“Youth wasn't our only problem, my lord,” she said with deadly precision. “How many men have you killed since then?”
His expression blanked. “Very few, and none that didn't need killing,” he said with matching precision. “Would we be having this conversation if I were a soldier instead of a laborer in the murky fields of intelligence gathering?”
It was a fair question, so she thought before replying. “I would be uncomfortable knowing you were a soldier with blood on your hands,” she said slowly. “But at least I would understand. Murdering that man in front of me was very different.”
She closed her eyes, wishing she could block out the horrific image. “When you looked up and saw me, your expression was monstrous. Evil. It revolted me to think that you were my husband. How can I allow a murderer near my child?”
Through all this, Laurel and James have never stopped loving each other and this provides a few deliciously despairing moments. Laurel is torn between her faith and her love for James, and James wears his heart on the proverbial sleeve in unguarded moments.
“We can't recapture the past, but my greatest hope is that we can find our way to be truly married again. You're the only wife I've ever wanted, Laurel.”
She raised her head, her perfect profile silhouetted against the window. “You've ruined me for any other husband, James, but I don't think I can be what you want. What you deserve. My mind understands your actions, but my emotions - my sense of right and wrong - can't deal with the violence. Even if it's justified.”
Putney explores Laurel's morality without being preachy and in a world of increasing violence and a society increasingly inured to it, it is a discussion I welcome.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Not Quite a Wife by Mary Jo Putney, available August 26, 2014:
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.