The daughter of a courtesan, Genevieve LaLande spent the formative years of her youth simply struggling to survive on the cruel streets of Paris, until she was arrested and taken to a charity house funded by the king. Life there wasn't much better with her working her fingers to the bone daily for meager rations. All Genevieve has ever dreamed of is having a place to call home and a family of her own. In a bold bid for freedom, she switches places with another young woman from the impoverished nobility's wing of the charity house who was slated to become one of the King's Girls, a group of women who were being sent to Canada as wives for the men there. The plan works, but Genevieve arrives in Canada weakened by seasickness and another illness that had spread throughout the ship. A man comes to claim her as his wife, but her wedding is nothing but a blur until she wakes up in a hospital several days later with her new husband nowhere to be found.
Andre Lefebvre is a fur trader with a powerful yearning for the open spaces of the unexplored wilderness. He had no intention of ever marrying until the government mandated that he must in order to obtain his trading license. All Andre wants is to get the license so he can get back to his beloved wilderness. Not really caring who he marries, he chooses the sickliest girl, thinking she won't survive, but he couldn't have been more mistaken. When Genevieve recovers and tracks him down in Montreal just as he's about to leave on his latest expedition, he tries to send her back to Quebec, but she'll have none of it. Believing she will be begging to return within a couple of days, he drives the trading party hard, but is surprised when the little spitfire keeps up the grueling pace without complaint and even tries to seduce him along the way. Andre can't help but admire Genevieve's tenacity and her passionate nature is driving him to distraction, but he still has every intention of annulling their marriage when they return to Montreal in the spring. Will Andre and Genevieve finally give into the love and passion that is growing between them, or will the secrets of their pasts come back to haunt them, ruining their chance at happiness?
Heaven in His Arms was a refreshing change of pace for a historical romance that was filled with unusual elements. First of all, it takes place in 17th century, colonial Canada when the country was still known as New France and largely unexplored. Both lead characters are also French. The heroine trades places with one of the King's Girls (the equivalent of a mail order bride, except she was sent by King Louis XIV's decree) who was bound for Quebec to become a wife to one of the men who was already settled there. The hero is a fur trader and intrepid explorer who loves the land and can't stand to be cooped up in a settlement. The characters take part in an expedition from Montreal to a tiny outpost on Lake Superior, battling nature and the elements all along the way, so fans who like epic adventure mingled with their romance should really enjoy this one. Despite all the exciting uniqueness of the story, I can't say that I fell in love with it immediately. The hero does a few things in the beginning that made me want to slap him, and early on, the adventure element seemed to outweigh the romance. However, the further and further I got into the story, the more and more it drew me in, until I was fully invested in all the ups and downs of the relationship and couldn't wait to see what challenges they might face next.
As I mentioned, Andre, the hero, kind of got on my bad side at first. Initially, he doesn't seem to have a compassionate side at all. He appears to be a stubborn man with selfish ambitions whose mistress is the land and she calls to the wanderlust in him constantly. The last thing he wants is a wife to muck up his plans of adventuring in the wilderness, but the government has decreed that he must marry in order to receive his fur trading license. He goes to meet the King's Girls, not really caring who he marries. He'll take anyone as long as he gets his license and can get away from the settlement as soon as possible. Andre chooses a sickly girl, simply because he doesn't think she'll survive, which will leave him free to do as he pleases. He seemingly has no care for his new wife whatsoever, leaving her to languish in a hospital for days without ever checking on her and only leaving instructions for her burial. When Genevieve recovers and goes after him, he doesn't recognize her at first and is ready to cheat on his wife with her, not knowing that she is his wife. As one can see, there doesn't appear to be much to recommend the guy at this point, but as the story progresses, I discovered that he was not as bad as I originally feared. In fact, I came to admire and appreciate him very much. Even though Genevieve is doing everything in her power to seduce him, Andre refuses, for quite a while, to take her virginity on the hard ground within earshot of his men. His excuse was that he still wanted to seek an annulment when they returned to civilization, but it was pretty obvious that he was protesting too much. As it turns out, there are events in his past which make him quite vulnerable and afraid to allow himself to fall in love. We also find out that Andre has done some very nice things for some of his men, but he hates for anyone to know about them or make a fuss. In the end, Andre did harbor a soft heart beneath his hard body and stubborn personality. It just took a while for him to let it show, but when he finally did, he gave himself fully to Genevieve, body, heart, and soul and trusted her even when he found out the truth about her origins.
Genevieve was a strong, brave young woman to do what she did by switching places with the King's Girl. For years, her life was a desperate fight for survival, and finally tired of that, she took measures which she hoped would ensure her future. She aches for a home, husband, and family to call her own, and is willing to marry a stranger to find that peace she craves. She is just the kind of spitfire heroine I love, one who is tough and feisty without being TSTL or annoyingly obstinate. I liked her spunk in chasing after her errant husband and forcing him to take responsibility for her. It was pretty ingenious how she essentially blackmailed him into taking her with him on his expedition by threatening to go the governor and request an annulment on the grounds that he was mistreating her. Andre expects Genevieve to cave no more than a couple of days into the journey and start whining to return to civilization, but she surprises everyone with her fortitude and determination. She's suffered through far worse than trekking through the wilderness, so she's not about to complain. She also doesn't want her husband to set her aside when they do return, so she's also determined to seduce him and consummate their marriage if it's the last she does. Genevieve's backstory made her an incredibly sympathetic heroine who I greatly admired. She has many secrets in her past which she doesn't share with Andre, but she does share every other bit of herself with him and loves him to distraction. I liked how Genevieve intuitively knew that Andre was in love with her too even though he stubbornly refused to admit it for a long time. She just instinctively knew that he couldn't possibly treat her with such gentleness and passion if he weren't.
Andre and Genevieve made an interesting pair. They both have very troubled pasts, but are not what I would traditionally call tortured. This is because neither of them is particularly dark and brooding. Instead, they are both strong survivors who will do anything to stay alive which I admired a lot. Andre and Genevieve both have very bold personalities, so they begin the story spending quite a bit of time arguing. This isn't usually something I care for in a romance, but it didn't annoy me like it usually would, because it fit the situation and they gradually simmered down as they fell more and more in love. Their butting of heads also made for some amusing moments too. It did create a rather tumultuous relationship, but at least, I felt like I understood them most of the time, even though their stubbornness sometimes kept them from communicating effectively. When Andre and Genevieve finally give into their feelings for one another though, their passion is explosive and their love scenes are some of the most sensual I've read in a book that is only moderately descriptive.
In addition to the wonderful characters, Heaven in His Arms has richly drawn settings with lots of descriptive narration. I felt like I was there with Andre, Genevieve, and his men in this pristine, virgin wilderness. It makes me think of all the men and women of old who sacrificed in order to settle the western lands of North America, and yet, for someone like Andre, it really was no sacrifice. He loved the wilderness so much and was so curious about what was still out there that it was no hardship for him to explore, but it was still very dangerous. If it were not unfriendly Indians, then Mother Nature could take her toll on expeditions like theirs. Still, reading about their adventures left me feeling invigorated, so a part of me can understand why they would want to go on these journeys. It was like the setting became a character unto itself. Anyone who enjoys their romance laced with adventure should really like this one.
Heaven in His Arms was a very well-written book that was quite different then any other historical romance I've read and one that I would highly recommend. The story may have gotten off to a slightly slow start for me, but it just got better and better as it went, making it a keeper in the end. This was my first read by Lisa Ann Verge, but it certainly won't be my last. It appears that her career as a romance writer was somewhat short-lived and more recently she has been writing women's fiction, but I'm certainly looking forward to checking out some of her other works.
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