Public Wife, Private Mistress by Sarah Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reunited lovers and estranged spouses just don't work for me as a theme. I tend to avoid these books like the plagues of Egypt. Too much baggage for this reader. However, Sarah Morgan is an author that I really enjoy reading, and I will collect all of a favored author's books (for the most part). So, I grabbed this book off my bookcase with trepidation. I was not disappointed. I ended up thorougly enjoying this book.
There were issues in Stasia and Rico's marriage before they parted: a lack of communication a big one. Stasia started to feel neglected, almost like a mistress. She barely saw Rico other than when he came home to have sex with her. When he found a naked male in her bed, that was the end of their marriage. A year later, Rico has his lawyers drawing up the divorce papers, ready to get his faithless wife out of his life for good. That is, until his younger sister is gravely wounded, and calls out Stasia's name. At that point, Rico is willing to bring his estranged wife back to Sicily if that will help his sister come out of her coma. He is determined to keep her frozen out of his heart, and to maintain a distance between them for the time she is in Sicily.
When Rico shows up on her door, he's the last person Stasia wants to see, even though she's still in love with him. He hurt her terribly by not believing she was innocent, and not coming after her when she walked out. He even blocked all her calls. She's tried to build a new life for herself, a life without him. When he demands that she comes back to Sicily to help his sister, she wants to decline, but can't. Her good heart won't let her.
The close proximity that this estranged couple share breaks down the walls of distrust and resentment, and soon they are hot and heavy again. There was never much ability to resist the fiery attraction between them. If only they can overcome the issues that tore them apart to begin with.
I liked that this book featured a hero and a heroine who were both good people, even if neither of them were perfect. Stasia is very passionate and impulsive, and her anger caused her to walk away instead of defending herself. Rico felt that when Stasia left, she was leaving for good and admitting her guilt. His possessive jealousy throws him into a rage that she cheated on him with another man, when he tried to give her everything. He tried to wash his hands of her and to learn to hate her, but he couldn't. When they are reunited and forced to live as man and wife again, because his sister has amnesia and thinks they are still married, they have to deal with each other and their issues. Much like Capelli's Captive Virgin, this book won me over because the characters actually do talk out their issues and spend a certain amount of time communicating in ways other than physical. This book is pretty steamy with plenty of love scenes, but the emotional interactions between Rico and Stasia really make it a worthwhile read for me.
One thing that frustrated me was how Chiara (Rico's sister) got away with murder (at least figuratively). Her immaturity and selfishness ruined Rico and Stasia's marriage. I disliked how Stasia allowed Chiara to shirk her accountability because she didn't want Chiara to hate her any more than she did. I also disliked that Chiara never came clean about her culpability in the situation that lead to their marriage breaking up. Stasia was a nice person, but she was too nice. The bratty sister should not have been allowed to come between Stasia and her husband. In the long run, that was not good for building that young woman's character to get away with her unconscionable behavior, and for Rico to be none the wiser about his sister's real personality. I understood that there were bigger issues, like the lack of communication that Stasia felt ruined her marriage, but this certainly was the icing on the cake. It inflamed my sense of justice for this to have happened the way it did, although the truth does come out in the end; inadvertently through Stasia, not through Chiara.
Public Wife, Private Mistress was a great surprise. Not in the sense that I expected the writing to be bad. Sarah Morgan is a proven author. It just surprised me how much I liked this book, because this scenario is one of my least favorites in a romance novel. But, Ms. Morgan did a great job with it. That's why I gave this book five stars.
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