Lena West and Adrian "Trig" Sinclair have known each other since they were teenagers and Trig was best friends with her brother, Jared. Despite being attracted to her, Trig followed the bro code of his best friend's sister being off limits to him. When they grew up, they all joined the Australian Intelligence Service, and together, the three of them became part of an elite reconnaissance team. On their final mission together, Lena was shot, causing extensive damage that took months for her to recover from. Trig stayed by her side, while Jared went off the grid trying to track down whoever was responsible for the attack. They haven't heard from Jared in nineteen long months, and Lena is worried about him. Now fully recovered, she is determined to find him. Trig refuses to let her go alone, so together, they board a plane for Turkey, Jared's last known location, in search of her missing brother.
During a trip to the bazaar in Istanbul, Lena is mugged by a street gang. A bonk on the head during the attack, results in a concussion and temporary loss of her short-term memories. Since Lena's ID was stolen, Trig pretends to be her husband at the hospital in order to expedite her receiving treatment, but back at their hotel, he can't seem to resist keeping up the ruse. Now Lena thinks she and Trig are on their honeymoon and is trying at every turn to seduce the man she's been in love with from afar for years. When his "bride" regains her memory will she be able to forgive Trig for the deception, or will his misstep ruin his chances of ever having a real relationship with Lena?
I requested a review copy of What the Bride Didn't Know, because it sounded like a fun premise and I wanted to try out the new Harlequin Kiss imprint. The story certainly fits with the line's description as being fun and flirty. It also had some decent entertainment value, but ultimately, I didn't really feel the emotional connection between the hero and heroine in the way I would have liked. Trig and Lena have supposedly been in love with one another since their teens. They spent a whole lot of years dancing around their feelings, but when Trig finally revealed his affections for the first time, he just sort of blurts it out with no warning and no buildup to the moment. He supposedly did it that way, because he knows Lena doesn't do romance very well, but since the story is a romance, I couldn't help thinking there should be some in it.:-) For two people who've loved each other from afar and had the hots for each other for years, their relationship just didn't express the intense passion and sexual chemistry I would have expected. It all came off in a more matter of fact way. I also didn't see any particularly compelling reason why they couldn't have been together years ago. The cover blurb mentions Trig following the bro code of his best friend's younger sister being off limits, but other than one unspoken exchange between the two in the prologue when they were teenagers, this wasn't brought out as a major source of conflict.
The primary conflict ended up being Lena's temporary memory loss following a bonk on the head which led to Trig allowing her to believe they were married. The initial ruse made sense given that Lena's ID had been stolen. Trig pretending to be her husband helped to expedite her medical care and allowed him to communicate with the doctors, both giving and receiving information about her medical condition. However, once they returned to the hotel, his reasoning for continuing the charade seemed rather weak. I think maybe a part of him wanted it all to be true, but in my opinion, it resulted in what little romance occurred between them during that time being built on a lie, even though everything Trig said to Lena with regards to his feelings was true. Since Lena couldn't remember recent developments in her relationship with Trig and thinks they're married, she's more free with expressing her attraction for Trig than she might have been had she not lost part of her memory, but at the same time, it's impossible for her to fully comprehend the ramifications of what she's asking him for when she requests that he make love to her. Granted, Trig did put forth quite a bit of effort to avoid that, at least for a while, but in the end, he succumbed, making the one love scene feel somewhat tainted. Because of this, I fully agreed with Lena being so upset with him when she finally did regain her memory.
There were a few other general story weaknesses too. Only minimal background information was given on Trig and Lena's work for ASIS (Australia's version of the CIA) or how and why Lena got shot while on a mission for them. I was also a bit confused as to why Lena's brother, Jared, was in Turkey, tracking down leads on an operation gone bad in East Timor which is thousands of miles away. The nude co-ed Turkish bath appeared to be largely a figment of the author's imagination. Given that Turkey is a Muslim country (ie prudish), I was highly skeptical of this scene from the start. Out of curiosity, I did some quick Internet searching of my own and turned up only one co-ed bath in Istanbul, operated primarily for tourists, but they don't go in nude. Ultimately, I think this sequence was meant to build a little sexual tension, but it was merely a fantasy that in my opinion, lacked credibility. I also thought it fell somewhat flat in its purpose too, because despite an obvious attraction, Trig and Lena only minimally peruse each other's bodies during the experience. Instead, they spend most of their time at the bath just talking. As an aside, and I know this isn't the author's fault, but the female model on the cover doesn't match the description of the heroine. The model has blonde hair while Lena's is black. It's a small thing, I know, but a little disconcerting for me when I'm trying to imagine Lena as she's described and kept seeing someone who looks completely different. Also, the blurb isn't a particularly accurate representation of the story which was a bit misleading since it doesn't even mention the amnesia which was a major plot point.
The upside to the book and the reason I didn't give it a lower rating is that the author did give both Trig and Lena some internal issues that made them relatable and sympathetic. Lena has a bit of an inferiority complex due to her siblings being geniuses while she's more on the normal side of smart. She considers herself to be the ordinary one in a family of extraordinary people. Her extensive physical scarring from being shot only added to her self-consciousness and made her feel like she wasn't good enough for a perfectly gorgeous guy like Trig. For his part, Trig harbors a certain sense of responsibility for Lena getting shot. I wish these insecurities had been brought out a little more though. I think they could have added to that all important emotional connection, but at least, they served to give each of them a little more depth in characterization.
I didn't find out until after reading it that What the Bride Didn't Know is the third book in the West Family series. I did wonder, because Lena's siblings are a fairly significant part of the story, with her brother Damon happily married and her sister, Poppy, in a serious relationship. Apparently, both of them had their stories told in a pair of Harlequin Presents books that preceded this one. According to the author's note at the beginning of the book, there is also a prequel novella that was just recently released entitled The Night Before Christmas in which Trig and Lena have supporting roles and it apparently shows more of their relationship as teenagers. Lena's older brother, Jared, although barely seen, is a strong influence in the background of the story. I have no idea if Ms. Hunter has a book planned for him, but if she does, it has the potential to be an interesting one. Overall, What the Bride Didn't Know may have had some weaknesses but I would still call it a worthwhile read, especially for readers who enjoy lighter romances.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.
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