Harlequin Presents: Passionate Stranger by Flora Kidd

Original Publication Year: 1981 Hello, kiddies. I know “rock star” romances are hot right now, but back in 1981, Flora Kidd wrote this rock star story like a boss. It may not look it from the cover, but this is a pretty good rock star story. I was entranced from first page and read 187 pages in less than two hours. Turn the lights out, it’s time to get romantic.

Janos Vaszary, Hungarian violin virtuoso extra-extraordinaire, is the real deal. He’s got the talent, the looks, and the absolute conviction that he’s the best violinist ever and will become really famous one day. He starts out as a refugee from Hungary who is seeking asylum from the U.K. when he meets a young, flighty British girl who promises to marry him so he can gain immigrant status, on the condition that he can get himself to England. A couple of years later, Janos is on British soil and knocking on the door of the young girl’s flat, ready to get married.

passionate-stranger-backThe door is answered by Sara Cranston, cousin to Cecilia (the girl who promised to marry Janos), who now lives in the flat in place of Cecilia. She is shocked at first by the man’s appearance and mistakes him for a vagrant, since he looks dirty, pale, underfed, and wearing a trench coat. Sara’s first instinct is to slam the door in his face and throw the deadbolt, but is unable to do so when the man sticks his foot inside to keep the door from closing. He insists on seeing Cecilia, who no longer lives in the flat. When Sara tells him so, he sways on his feet and looks about ready to faint. Rather than have an unconscious man lying in her front door, Sara helps him to the couch and gives him food, with the plan to kick him out after he was finished eating. But Janos soon fall asleep and Sara is unable to wake him up. In a panic, she calls Cecilia, who is staying with her parents up in the north and getting ready for her wedding the next day. Cecilia tells Sara to stall Janos for as long as she could, at least until Cecilia could get married and safely leave the country. Sara is like, “What, how am I supposed to do that?” And Cecilia’s all, “Do whatever, just keep him with you. Oh, and don’t tell him I’m getting married!” When Janos wakes up, he thanks Sara for her hospitality, and asks what transportation he should take to where Cecilia is. Sara’s all, “Well…shit.” She was planning to drive up for the wedding, anyway, so she asks Janos to ride along with her, thinking she could take the longest route to get Cecilia’s wedding so by the time they got there, Cecilia would be gone. Perfect plan, Sara.

On their way there, they take a wrong turn and Sara’s car crashes into a snow embankment. Sara bumps her head and while Janos is checking on her, the two of them start macking on each other (by the way, Janos cleans up quite nicely). Because ain’t nothing hotter than blood and concussion. After they manage to extricate themselves from each other, they hike to a nearby inn, where they share a room… and one thing leads to another, and yada-yada-yada, three weeks later, they’re married. They’re lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, then BAM! We have our first Big Misunderstanding and the two of them break up, with Sara yelling that she never wants to see Janos again. EVER.

Fast forward two years, and Sara is sitting in the audience of a concerto in California when she finds out that the main act is, in fact, her estranged husband Janos, who is now quite famous and better-looking than ever. Sara tries to avoid seeing him after the show, but Janos seeks her out, with the intention of repairing their marriage. Sara is convinced that Janos only married her because he needed to stay in the U.K. and never really loved her, but Janos tells her that he’s been celibate for the last two years because they were estranged and he would never cheat on her. Sara doesn’t believe him. Janos chases her around and tries to convince her he loves her. Sara’s response is to basically cover her ears while yelling, “Na-na-na, can’t hear you!” Janos gets tired of being rejected because he has his own pride, after all, and says peace-out to Sara. Sara, who learns that Janos didn’t need to marry her to stay in the U.K. because he had his papers in order all along, is all, “But…but…he didn’t really love me.” And the whole time, I was like, “Shut up, Sara.”

Your Heroine Sara is rather daft. She listens to everyone else who’d tell her that Janos never really loved her and was just using her, instead of sitting her ass down for two minutes so the two of them can talk like grown-ups. Her boss, who is in love with her, tells her that Janos conned her; a seventeen-year-old girl who has a giant crush on Janos tells her that Janos only married her so he could stay in the U.K. Both of these people have ulterior motives, but Sara, deeply insecure, chooses to believe them over the guy saying stuff like, “Hey, I think you’re the most beautiful person in the world and I love spending time with you. I love you, girl.” How could such a beautiful, talented man ever really truly love her, anyway? she asks herself despairingly. Oh, and he loves his music way more than he loves her and that’s just how it is… and… and…

The thing is, we don’t find out why Sara is the way she is. She doesn’t have a deep-seated childhood trauma that could make her so insecure. She is pretty, has her own career, and her relatives seem to love her. She has had a pretty normal, boring life by all accounts and the author doesn’t really give us a lot of background on Sara, so we don’t get to find out her motivations or why she thinks the way she thinks. I would have liked to see what Sara experienced in her life that could make her so neurotic. Oh why, oh why would a rock star fall in love with little old me? Meanwhile, she continually pushes him away, then wonders why he doesn’t come after her.

Your Hero Janos is a dreamboat. He is very charming, handsome, talented, and has the best dialogue. He says such ridiculously cheesy romantic things, yet he’s just so in love with Sara and happy to be with her that the stuff he says comes off cute and adorable. He’s not super-duper alpha and is totally cool with Sara having her own career. Dude was a rarity in the romance novel realm of haughty, condescending, patronizing men who always know what’s best for the little lady. Compared to the macho, chauvinistic assholes that dominated romance novels back in the day, dude was practically beta. And he just seems so happy for a supposedly tortured artist.

Oh My Word This is the prototype for all the “rock star who falls in love with normal girl” trope which has been really popular lately. I liked that the story uses the “present time” as a framing device for how Sara and Janos met and fell in love. Their “meet-cute” is totally cute and Janos is swoon-worthy, especially in the beginning when he’s trying to woo Sara, and at the end, when he buys a house next to the inn in the small village where they fall in love.

I wish we’d gotten more in the way of Sara’s motivation and why she thinks the way she does. The whole story is from her point-of-view and she was such a depressing little sad sack at times that she seemed to drag the story down. It’s conflict for the sake of conflict and there’s really no reason why the two of them become estranged and stay apart for most of the novel. This is again one of those situations that could have been resolved in ten minutes if only the two of them sat down and talked.

TL;DR Sara falls in love with a Hungarian refugee destined to become a very famous, world-renowned musician. Somehow, she becomes convinced that he only married her for a green card, so she pushes him away and they’re estranged for two years. Sara realizes she’s been an idiot all this time and reconciles with Janos. The end.

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