Forbidden Stranger by Heather Graham & Julia Justiss



3-star
Forbidden Fire by Heather Graham

Impoverished heroine works as maid for her wealthy best friend's household in exchange for schooling & living expenses. When her best friend's father dies, she & her best friend (BFF) switch identities so that her BFF can marry the man she loves but still get her inheritance. When things become more complicated than expected, heroine proposed a marriage of convenience (MOC) with her BFF's legal guardian. Due to their increasing attraction to each other, their MOC soon becomes a real marriage. But heroine still keeps her secrets from Hero. When the truth gets revealed, will heroine's fears come to pass? 

This was an average read. The biggest draw of this Graham book for me is the story's background. It was interesting to read about San Francisco before & after the big 1906 earthquake. The romance itself was average & so were the pacing, sexual chemistry, &emotional involvement of the book. Sex scenes were generalized. Characters were ok. I liked heroine's survival skills, loyalty to her loved ones, & ambitiousness. Hero wasn't very memorable. His was reactive to heroine. She made him assess what kind of life & r/s he wanted in his life. 

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Seductive Stranger by Julia Justiss

23yo plain-looking heroine has been in love with neighbor & friend Hero since they 1st met 5 years ago. Wanting to push their r/s to a more intimate level, heroine takes advantage of being in London for her sister’s society debut by dressing more seductively.  Hero becomes captivated by her. But he fears losing their cherished friendship if their romance goes awry so he tells her they’ll stay only as platonic friends. Although she’s hurt with his decision, heroine is determined to experience sexual passion with him & seduces him incognito.  He becomes torn b/w his growing feelings for his best friend (the heroine) & his mysterious & sensual lover.  

This unrequited & friends-to-lovers romance had some good points. Overall writing, pacing, & sexual tension were all good in this Justiss book.  Sex scenes were sizzling.  

The lower rating was due to some disturbing aspects of the story.  It greatly disturbed me that Hero had a 3-night stand with another woman while contemplating marriage to heroine, even though the “other woman” was really the heroine in disguise.  He didn’t know it was heroine the whole time he was having sex with her. It was emotional infidelity at the least. He felt guilty about it & justified it by saying heroine rejected his marriage proposal so therefore they weren’t truly involved. BUT he was still planning on pursuing marriage to heroine while having an affair with “the other woman”.  He had romantic feelings for both & was even comparing them. It was good for him that he got both women but it makes me wonder what would’ve happened if it was another woman who seduced him.  And what would happen in the future if their marriage is on shaky ground & another woman seduced him?  Would he make excuses like he did before?  
Hero didn’t strike me as a man who was deeply in love with heroine.

My doubting Hero’s love for heroine is also due to his lack of interest in heroine until he saw how good a body she had. That was the major push that made him seriously consider marriage to heroine & not her many fine character attributes.  It made him look superficial & his view of marriage shallow.  Another aspect that disturbed me was heroine forcing her r/s to Hero to change.  She overrode his clear choice to have them remain friends only by deceiving him with her seductive-other-woman disguise.  It just made her look very desperate, pathetic, & manipulative.

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