The Desert King's Pregnant Bride by Annie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book made me cry a little bit. That doesn't happen a lot (in fact it's pretty rare). It really affected me how deeply unwanted Maggie felt, growing up with a cruel, withdrawn, bitter father who never even celebrated birthdays or Christmas. She went home one day and her mother had left, taking her sister with her. So she is a character who really does have good reason not to believe that the hero might love and desire her.
I could totally understand why it took so long for her to believe that Khalid loved her. It was pretty sad that she thought he only had sex with her the night they conceived their baby out of pity. She walks in on her beau having sex with his married lover. It turns out he was just using her to keep suspicion off his relationship with the married woman. Heartbroken, she is wandering down the road in the rain, and Khalid gives her her a ride. He takes her back to his suite to dry off, and she more or less seduces him (with him being completely willing). He makes her feel very good and appreciated, but the next morning she leaves, not wanting to subject Khalid to any morning after explanations.
Flash forward one month and she is in Shajehar working as a groom with the horses from the sheikh's stud farm in Australia. She sees Khalid (now the sheikh since since his brother died the night that they made love) again when he helps her get control of an unruly horse (although I like that this book showed that Maggie probably could have handled the situation herself). She doesn't know it, but Khalid has her brought there so he can continue the relationship with her. With her low self-esteem, she doesn't see how a sheikh could have feelings for a lowly tomboy groom. Because the horse knocks her down, Khalid insists on her having an exam by the doctor, who does a test since Maggie said she was feeling dizzy. It turns out she's pregnant although Khalid scrupulously used protection.
Khalid insists on marriage, although Maggie is very resistant at first. I liked that he did try to consider her feelings and give her time to make a decision instead of blackmailing her and threatening to take her baby as some HP heroes might have done. Maggie feels the responsibility to do what is right for her baby and give it a family, so she says yes.
The rest of the book shows the tug of war that Maggie has with her feelings. She falls deeply in love with Khalid, but doesn't believe he loves her. She even thinks he consummates the marriage out of duty instead of desire. Again, this might cause some readers to roll their eyes, but I could see that she viewed everything through the eyes of an unwanted, rejected child. It would make her doubt any genuine affection from others. She really enjoys his desire and lovemaking, but it breaks her heart because she doesn't think he loves her and she needs his love. She grows increasingly withdrawn as she tries to protect her heart.
Khalid feels intense attraction and desire for Maggie from the beginning. This is one of those books where the hero sees the heroine as beautiful although she doesn't feel attractive because of being raised like a boy. Khalid has a struggle ahead of him. He lost his childhood love and wife tragically, and subsequently doesn't want to fall in love. He has had no-string sexual relationships with women and no trouble walking away when they are done. What he feels for Maggie is much more intense and different (eventually he realizes it's even more profound than his love for his deceased wife). He feels he can compartmentalize his strong feelings for Maggie as affection and desire, and the possessive feelings a man has for his wife and the mother of his child. But love creeps into his heart very quickly, although he makes the mistake of not telling Maggie this until it's almost too late. She just thinks he desires her and feels an obligation towards her because she's pregnant with his child.
This theme may not work for some readers who don't like heroines who have low self-esteem. However, this book affected me because of the sadness that Maggie had endured as a child, and the fact that she has trouble believing that she is loved. I like heroines who have emotional struggles ahead of them and need to grow. I think it's unrealistic for every heroine to be strong and confident, and to have hearts that are emotionally whole. Life isn't like that for most women. And it's nice to see women who have struggles with self-esteem find happiness in romance novels.
I think Annie West is a really good author, teaming sensual love scenes with intense emotion between the characters. She's great at creating strong, masculine heroes who are never domineering and cruel to their heroine. This kind of hero is sorely needed in this line of romances, and I can say that as a longtime fan of Harlequin Presents, but one who doesn't really like how cruel and overly arrogant and macho the heroes can be.
I was glad that I got the chance to read this emotional, well-written book, and will be adding it to my keeper shelf.
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