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The Perfect Stranger

 

The Perfect Stranger
June 2006
Berkley Sensation USA

They vow to love, honor and cherish ... and then get to know one other...

With her signature spirit, Faith Merridew has left everything she’s ever known for the man she thought was the love of her life. Instead he leaves her name—and dreams—in the dust. That is, until she crosses paths with Nicholas Blacklock, a Waterloo veteran, who offers to save her reputation with a marriage of convenience.

A hardened soldier, Nick hides a deadly secret—and tries to keep Faith at arm’s length. But even though Nick can command legions of men with a word, his orders go sweetly ignored by his convenient bride. And as they come to know one another more deeply, she brings out in him things he thought dead: gentleness, laughter…and love…


Read reviews
Read an Extract
Read Readers' letters.
Images of some things which appear in the story:
Lace
Guns
Places
Read how I came to write this story

Romantic Times nominated THE PERFECT STRANGER for a critic's choice award (best Regency-Set Historical) Thank you, Romantic Times!

What reviewers have said:
Book three in Gracie's "Perfect Series" is enchanting. Faith is an inspiring heroine as she conquers her fears and overcomes betrayal and heartache. And the way she battles her way into her new husband's heart is equally entertaining and moving. SENSUAL
—Maria Ferrer
~ Romantic Time
s 4.5 stars

Anne Gracie possesses the rare talent of tugging the heartstrings and tickling the funnybone while creating lovable characters with individual personalities, even for minor characters. (snip)
For RRT's Perfect 10s to have the strongest meaning, we all try to be as stingy as possible with them. I don't know how I refrained from giving 10s to the first two of Anne Gracie's Perfect series, but THE PERFECT STRANGER certainly merits one. It's rare to find a novel that's so moving and entertaining at the same time. (snip) I'd give a 10 to the whole series if that were possible.

Be sure to add A PERFECT STRANGER to your reading list and, if you haven't already read them, add the first two books as well. After all, there is no such thing as too much perfection.
(
Jane Bowers ~ Romance Reviews Today)

THE PERFECT STRANGER is one of those books that needs to be read from beginning to end in one sitting. Honestly, I couldn't put it down. From the very beginning of the story when Faith is being chased and literally lands in Nicholas's arms, to the ending that makes you believe in the power of true love, THE PERFECT STRANGER is a must read!
Julie Kornhausl of Romance Reader at Heart

As Faith gives up her dreams of a dashing romance, she finds something even better in the arms of her husband. Their physical relationship is spicy and sensual, and it’s through this vehicle of attraction that Nicholas finds he’s becoming as bound to Faith as she is to him. Lovely.
The Perfect Stranger will definitely satisfy readers’ appetites for a poignant, tender romance.

--Cathy Sova of The Romance Reader

If like me, you love Anne Gracie’s stories, you should not miss this book. It definitely goes to my keeper shelf.
A Romance Review

Once again Anne Gracie delivers! This third installment, "The Perfect Stranger," in the Merridew sisters series was a deeply satisfying read, proving to be as absorbing and as compelling as the other two books in the series ("The Perfect Rake" & "The Perfect Waltz"). . . (snip). . . a very satisfying, romantic and moving love story, well worth the cover price, and the 5 star rating. (Tregatt, on amazon.com five stars.)

I've been waiting for this third installment of the Merridew sister's saga and it did not disappoint. It's nice to have read the two previous books but it stands alone very well. . . (snip) . . . This is essentially a marriage of convience/ road romance with a fresh twist. I appreciated that we were spared all the usual London Season hoop-la. Interesting secondary characters and great sexual tension makes this an outstanding read.
(Texasmom, amazon.com five stars.)

Extract

Voices. There were voices in the dark, in the sand hills. Men's voices.

Faith sat up. A light bobbed in the sand hills above her. It was moving slowly, unevenly towards her hiding place.

"Où es-tu, ma jolie poulet?" Where are you, my pretty hen? The man sounded drunk, whoever he was.

She heard another man stumble in the dark, crashing into one of the low bushes that dotted the sand hills. He cursed. "Are you sure she's here?" he asked in rough French.

"Oui. I watched her go in, and not come out. She's waiting, snug in her little nest for us." The speaker laughed coarsely. Two others laughed with him. Three men, maybe more.

Faith didn't wait to be sure. She snatched up her homespun woolen cloak and her reticule and keeping low, began to creep away as fast as she could.

Behind her lay the town; before her, who knew? But she had no intention of heading back to town. Not at night. The town would offer her no sanctuary. She'd discovered that the hard way. The town was full of men like these. Men who'd driven her to hide in the sand hills in the first place.
There was no alternative. She made toward the beach.

"Là-bas!" Over there! They spotted her and gave chase.

It was too late to worry about noise. She ran as fast as she could, waving through scrubby bushes and low grasses. Her skirt caught on twigs and spiny thorns. She snatched it up in desperate fists and ran on. Sticks and thorns slashed at her legs, but she was oblivious. Behind her, men crashed through the undergrowth. They were gaining on her.

Thump! Faith tripped over a root and crashed into the ground. Pain exploded in her face. She lay on the sandy ground, winded, her empty lungs gasping frantically for breath that would not come. Finally air gushed back into her and she could breathe.
She scrambled to her feet and listened for her pursuers. And that's when she heard it. Music. Soft, but not far away.

Where there was music there were people. People who might help her. Or not. They might be like the men in the town, like the ones who were chasing after her.
No choice. She could not let herself be run down, like a hare by hounds. She had to risk it. She would run, run to the music, and pray for safety.

Music had once been her refuge. And lately her downfall.

Risking everything for the sake of speed, she plunged onto the open beach, down to the very water's edge where the sand was firmest. Shafts of pain jabbed her ankle with every step. She heard shouts as her pursuers spotted her. Faith ran, ran for her life, ran towards the music.

Her heavy boots slowed her down. They'd protected her feet in the rough scrub — her own slippers would never have stood that punishment — but now the boots were heavy and the soft sand sucked at them. No time to stop and take them off. Her breath came in great gasps. Pain bit sharply into her side. She ignored it and fled on.

She rounded a small headland. Fire glowed in the base of the sand hills. Lungs heaving, she ran towards it. A campfire. A cooking pot hung above it. Fishermen?

A solitary shadowed figure sat beside the fire, playing music softly; Spanish sounding music that rippled out into the night like water, or wine. A man. A gypsy? A huge dog rose out of the shadows. Faith froze. She'd had dogs set on her twice in the last week. This one was of a size to rip out her throat in one bite.

"Là-bas!" Her pursuers came crashing across the headland. Nothing, not even a hound from hell, could be worse than what these men planned. Terror drove her forward.

"Aidez-moi!" she gasped raggedly as she stumbled towards him. "Aidez-moi... je vous implore!" Help me, I beg of you!

The music stopped. The dog's low growls blossomed into a frenzy of rage.
"Silence, Wulf!" The deep barking stopped instantly, though the dog kept growling.

"Aidez-moi!" she gasped, her breath sobbing from exhausted lungs. The words came out as a whisper.

Somehow, he heard her. He held out his hand towards her, a dark lifeline etched in flame. "A moi, petite," was all he said. To me, little one.

His voice was deep and calm and sure and it seemed to speak to something deep inside her. And so, despite the fact that she could not see his face, despite the huge snarling beast at his side, Faith gathered the last of her strength and stumbled towards him. He was so tall and solid, and that voice, she imagined, held strength and reassurance. He could be no worse than those behind her, she thought, and besides, she had reached the end of her tether.

The toe of her boot caught again in the undergrowth. Her bad ankle buckled and she pitched forward and crashed into the man. He caught her hard against his chest, but the impact knocked him backwards and brought him down, flat on his back.

She lay for a moment on top of him, exhausted, gasping for breath on his big, hard body. Beneath her, the man lay still, as if his breath, too had been knocked from him. His arms had closed around her. Hard, strong muscles. He smelled clean, of salt and wood smoke and soap. And man.

The dog barked again, but now its menace was directed into the darkness. Her pursuers must be almost here.

As she scrambled off him, Faith tried to think of the words in French to explain, to beg for help. Not a single word or phrase came to her frightened brain. She knelt beside him in the sand, struggling to pull her wits together.

His features were in shadow, silhouetted against the fire. "Mademoiselle?" His voice was harsh, deep.

Her mouth opened and closed helplessly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she whispered in English. "I can't think of the words. Oh God!" She could not see his face. Her own was lit by his fire

His voice sharpened. "You're English!" He stood abruptly. He seemed immensely tall.

Faith nodded. "Yes. Yes, I am. And you—" His words pierced the fog in her brain. He was English too.

"Thank God, thank God," she whispered. Though why she should feel safer with him just because he was English as well as clean was a mystery. But somehow, she did.
The dog suddenly broke into a renewed frenzy of barking and she pulled herself together. "Those men, they'll be here any minute—"

He did not so much glance away. He bent down and held out his hands to her. "Can you stand?" Distantly she realized he spoke with no hint of an accent. Spoke, in fact, with the tones of a gentleman.

She nodded, though her legs were shaking. He helped her to her feet with strong, gentle hands. She stared fearfully into the darkness. The dog snarled and growled, clearly sensing her pursuers, though they'd gone very quiet. "Enough, Wulf!" The dog ceased its barking but growls rumbled deep in its throat.

Three silhouettes were dimly visible against the glimmer of the sea and sky.
"They're after me."

"So I presumed. But why are these ruffians chasing you? Did you steal—"

"No!" she said indignantly. "They want— they think— they think I am—"

His gaze ran over her, coldly assessing. "I understand," he said in a clipped voice.

He did too, she could tell from his tone. She hung her head, too mortified to speak.
"Sit down over there, near the fire," he ordered. "I'll deal with them."

"But there are three men! Maybe more."

His teeth glinted in a savage smile. "Good."

Good? Faith stared at the shadowed face, wishing she could see him properly. What could he possibly mean by good?

A voice from the darkness shouted roughly in French, "Hey, you there! That woman is ours."

"Oui, give her back and there will be no trouble," another added.

The tall man answered in French. "The woman is mine."
The dog snarled, as if to reinforce his words.

The woman is mine. An implacable statement of fact.

* * * * *
Readers letters are starting to come in. This is what they've said about Perfect Stranger:

It was very difficult to read this book because I was in tears more than half the time. I have enjoyed all three of the "Perfect" books but this last one is a true gem. Thank you.
Bonnie
I'm emailing you to let you know .... I loved "The Perfect Stranger". I just finished it, minus some sleep and can't be more happier or ready for The Perfect Kiss. I fell upon the sisters one winter day while I was in my "romance novel slump". Couldn't find anything I wanted to read then I read the first 2 pages of Pru's story and that was it. I bought both books and waited impatiently for The Perfect Stranger release. The sisters are so loveable and their heros are just "ahhh!". That's really all I wanted to say ... So, take care.
Hugs
Terra
PS Thank goodness that The Perfect Kiss is slated for a Jan '07 release because I don't think I could wait another year.
Hi Anne!
I got ‘The Perfect Stranger’ in yesterday’s mail and sat down to read a chapter or so with my dinner (I should be furiously studying away for an exam on Wednesday but decided I deserved a break while I ate).
Well, I just finished reading it – I couldn’t put the blasted book down because I wanted to know what he was planning to do after Bilbao. So much for study!!
And, you made me cry. I never, never, never, NEVER cry. Up until now there has been only one book that’s done that to me (and considering I read a LOT that’s saying something). Anyway, you did it. There are now two books that have made me cry.
Brilliant book, Anne ;-)
I love it!
 Cheers, Judy.
I wanted to personally tell you how much I loved it.  The Perfect Stranger was a fantastic book!  I couldn't put it down and I read it in just one day.  This past weekend I went out and bought The Perfect Rake and The Perfect Waltz.  I can't wait to read them. I'm looking forward to reading The Perfect Kiss. Congratulations for writing a terrific book!!!
Julie
I finished The Perfect Stranger last night and it is a wonderful addition to the Merridew saga.  I loved it ! Keep up the inspired work!!!
Lee Ann

re THE PERFECT STRANGER : I just finished this and it was fabulous!
Tell me, is there another???
Martha

Yes, Martha -- there is a fourth book in the Merridew Sisters series -- THE PERFECT KISS -- Grace's story. It comes out in January 07. Anne

THE PERFECT STRANGER was a perfect book!!  What a charming, well written love story thank you so much.  I can't wait until I can read your next one in January!!
Your characters seem so real and such nice, caring people I wish I could find more books like yours!  Keep up the good work.
Mary

Hi Anne,
I wanted to let you know how well The Perfect Stranger is doing with my Readers.  We really enjoyed The Perfect Waltz and I have just opened a box of stock with yet more Perfect Strangers inside and thought I would send you a quick email.
All the best and may the writing flow...
Margaret (Bookshop owner)

Hi Anne, I love reading and I picked up your latest book, “The Perfect Stranger” at a store and really enjoyed it.  I went to the bookstore and got the other two in the series and same result!  However, the bookstore does not have any of your older books in stock.  I was wondering where I can order some of your older books and I had no luck on Amazon.com either. Lily
I'm sorry, maybe one day Harlequin will reissue my older books. I don't know. Anne.

    Thank you for such a beautiful story I loved all the Merridew stories, but this one was my favorite. I laughed, loved and (when I read chapter 15) cried.
    Please continue to write for many years. I own all of your books and will continue to buy all new ones. I look forward to Grace's story.    Cheri

Some of the things in the story...

Hand made lace appears several times in the book. As a child I saw ladies in France and Belgium making lace, their fingers flicking turned wooden bobbins around pins with apparent ease and randomness. The piece below is made of pieces of antique lace sewn together.

I've never forgotten my fascination with those ladies at their art and craft.

The pic below might help you imagine the clothing mentioned in the story.

I did a little bit of research to find some likely guns for my people and was entranced by the beauty of these. And I'm not at all the sort of person who likes guns.

Below is a lady's muff pistol, small enough to be carrief in her muff or reticule or pocket.

Dover Harbour 1820

Above are the sort of mountain where the last part of the story takes place . These are the mountains near Vitoria.

 

 


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