In Lynn Raye Harris’ new Harlequin Presents book, Strangers in the Desert, widowed Prince Adan ibn Najib Al Dhakir is weeks away from remarrying so he can officially take his throne when he gets a report that his first wife, who is presumed dead, is actually alive. Adan immediately goes to collect Isabella only to find that she has amnesia. He doesn’t believe her claims, however, Isabella’s surprise at hearing she has a husband seems real, as is her shock at learning that she has a young son.
Whitney: Poor Isabella, Lynn Raye Harris doesn’t pull any punches when setting up this scenario.
Morgan: Actually, I think Isabella has a great life. She lives in Hawaii working as a singer that has got to be pretty comfortable.
Whitney: But then Sheik Adan bursts into her life and tells her that not only is he her husband, but she has a two-year-old son that she abandoned.
Morgan: Over a year ago, it seems, Isabella wandered into the Jahfaran desert and into a sand storm. Nobody thought she survived.
Whitney: The only question was whether or not she chose “death by desert” or if it was an accident.
Morgan: And Isabelle is unable to answer this because she has partial amnesia, and cannot remember the past several years of her life.
Whitney: Which means Adan and her two-year-old son Rafiq have been literally erased from her mind.
Morgan: I absolutely cannot think of a worse fate. Losing memories of years of your life is bad enough, but such important things happened to her during that time: her marriage, the birth of her child. It’s heartbreaking!
Whitney: Agreed, but it is really interesting to watch Isabella’s struggle as she tries to re-claim her identity.
Morgan: Harris makes it very clear throughout the story that the conflict between remembering and forgetting mirrored the character’s struggles growing up as half American and half Jahfaran, but not belonging in either culture.
Whitney: Adan remembers Isabella as a quiet submissive wife, the perfect Jahfaran woman. But Isabella 2.0 is self-possessed and strong.
Morgan: It is like losing those years in her life freed her from the Jahfaran cultural restrictions, so Isabella is able to become the woman she was always meant to be.
Whitney: But when she does, she’s not someone that Adan recognizes. Isabella 1.0 wasn’t much to write home about. I mean, she was attractive, but the thing that Adan remembers most about her is her blandness.
Morgan: I love this part of the story. Unlike in most romances where there’s usually a spark or something about the heroine that makes her stand out, Isabella pre-life in Hawaii was submissive and just not someone Adan was interested in.
Whitney: Well, the new Isabella sure has his attention. But not necessarily in a good way.
Morgan: He is so angry that Isabella left her son, that he watches her like a hawk. There is no way that he will let her hurt Rafiq again.
Whitney: And Adan is also looking out for his own heart as well. Before he is reunited with Isabelle, Adan made plans to marry his childhood friend, Jasmine, who he’s sure will be a good wife and mother.
Morgan: Right, because Jasmine will fade into the background, not make any demands on Adan and give him the space to run the country while she will take care of Rafiq and any children they have.
Whitney: Adan wasn’t interested in Isabella 1.0 because she was forgettable and now he wants to replace her with a different boring wife. And isn’t that a Double Standards Pie with a heaping dose of Hypocrisy on top?
Morgan: I think he is just trying to protect himself. If he doesn’t feel any true passion in his new marriage, he doesn’t have anything to lose.
Whitney: That makes some sense. (Although to me it sounds like he’s deliberately choosing to enter into a marriage where he knows he won’t be truly happy.) It also explains why he is so uncomfortable with how much he wants Isabelle 2.0.
Morgan: And at least part of his discomfort has to do with the way that Isabelle reacts to Adan. She is hell bent to stand on her own two feet, which means more than a little stepping on Adan’s toes.
Whitney: I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I mean she’s staying strong on important issues, like her conviction to spend time with Rafiq. Adan’s all “I don’t want you to see our baby” and Isabelle’s all “I respect your rights as a father but the child is our baby.”
Morgan: And she is totally right, of course. Isabelle has a very sensible attitude if you ask me.
Whitney: But Adan is not so sensible. He graciously allows (can you smell the sarcasm right now?) Isabelle to spend two weeks to spend time with her son as long as she’s willing to promise that she will not tell Rafiq she is his mother.
Morgan: Because this could really confuse the toddler.
Whitney: She’s not interested in confusing him, just connecting with him. And the scenes that Isabelle spends with her newfound son as especially moving. She may not have been there when he was an infant, but she certainly makes up for her time away in the tender loving care she showers on Rafiq.
Morgan: It’s so sweet when she sings for the little boy. And over the course of the story, we see Isabelle and Rafiq getting closer in a very real way. She falls into motherhood like she was just waiting for the chance.
Whitney: And along the way also falls back into Adan. (Bow Chica Wow Wowww!) But I really mean that in the best of senses, co-parenting rekindles their passion.
Morgan: In no small part because Isabelle is no longer a wilting flower. Her bravery and confidence shine through, Adan even calls her luminous.
Whitney: Not so bland any more, huh Adan?
Morgan: Not even a little bit! And Adan learns to respect that Isabella is willing to fight for what she wants.
Whitney: Which is her husband, son and her life back. But readers want to know how this comes about will have to pick up your own copy Strangers in the Desert.
Lynn Raye Harris’ Harlequin Presents series romance Strangers in the Desert is available now. And while you’re shopping, you should also check out Taking a Shot by Jaci Burton which guest Dish-ers Dawn Crowne and Janine Johnston will be blogging about next week!