The Heart of Blade Duology #2
Adult Historical Romance
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.
Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart.
Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again…
My Beautiful Enemy is a second chance romance; a story that alternates between the couple's original courtship and the distance that exists between them at present as they're forced to both emotionally and physically battle their shared past. While Ms. Thomas is a gifted storyteller with the ability to write deeply layered characters, the past vs. present setup of this novel works to the detriment of the overall romance, so much time spent reliving the past with Catherine and Leighton that we don't get the opportunity to really embrace the people they've become since then. It's certainly vital to their story to understand what happened to both all those years ago, but we can't help but wish the story wasn't split quite as equally between the two moments in time and instead focused more on rebuilding what a miscommunication brutally tore down.
Part of the reason the split format of this novel is a touch frustrating is due to the fact that every intimate moment between them, aside from a few fade to black love scenes toward the end, happens in flashback. We're left then with scenes that should be full of romance and tenderness, but casting a shadow over what's taking place on page is the knowledge that at present, while we're reliving that time with them, Leighton is engaged to someone else and Catherine is haunted by his abandonment and the many losses she suffered as a result. Every time we're sucked back in time, the itch to return to the present and watch the hand of fate work is nearly overwhelming, and we find ourselves rushing through the Chinese Turkestan chapters to get back to present-day (relatively) London.
Despite the emotional distance our repeated jaunts through Catherine and Leighton's painful past causes, both Catherine and Leighton are still a couple with whom it's easy to spend a few hours. Catherine is a bit of a badass, her extensive martial arts training allowing her to throw a blade with ease, move undetected when she wishes it, and hold her own against men twice her size, and it's only too easy to smile at how much enjoyment Leighton gets out of the fact that she could either best him physically or rob him blind before he knew it. Their banter and lightheartedness in the flashbacks are a painful contrast to the coolness and insecurity plaguing their every interaction in the present, drawing us into their story even if we do find ourselves favoring one timeline over the other.
Overall, My Beautiful Enemy features an extraordinarily strong heroine and a perfectly charming hero, but the complexity of the historical aspect of the story (including hard to remember location names) combined with the lack of a true spark romantically in the present-day keeps this tale from making its way on to the shelf of favorites.