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Phantom Marriage by Penny Jordan

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The “hero” of this book is a solid-gold angry misogynistic bastard. I spent every page being glad that he had been deprived of knowing his children for six years. It was the least he deserved.

James is a decade older than Tara and is married to her friend’s mother (a weird sort of blackmailed non-consummated marriage, but whatever). He seduces Tara when she is a 17-year-old schoolgirl and then fucks off to the US and never makes contact again.

Tara finds herself pregnant with twins. She spends the next six years bringing them up, struggling to make a living, and being a single parent. She never dates anyone else. She never sleeps with anyone else.

Then, when the twins are six, she bumps into James again. With no idea that the twins are his, he is VILE to her from the start. He constantly taunts her with being a bad mother, with being a whore, with being promiscuous and setting a bad example for her children. He has zero evidence for this, of course. He keeps trying to force himself upon her, then pulling back and accusing her of cockteasing him.

When her children run away, and her boss is comforting her while they wait for the police to update them, James starts bitching at her again for being a whore. He’s just shown up at her home because it turns out the twins have been at his house all afternoon, while he was out, and the housekeeper didn’t know who they were.

“My God!” he whispered savagely. “Even now with your children missing you haven’t a thought in your head but your own physical satisfaction!”

He has zero empathy, to the point of being sociopathic. He is also stupid. There is Tara, someone with whom he had unprotected sex seven years ago, and she has six-year-old twins. The twins are also the spitting bloody image of him. To the point where Tara’s friend/James’ former stepdaughter Susan even remarks on how alike they are.

I honestly don’t know what the hell Penny Jordan was thinking of when creating this man. He is so deeply unpleasant that I honestly wished he could have a car crash and disappear forever. There was absolutely zero joy in the ending.

Still, it kept me gripped, wondering when and how he would find out the twins’ paternity. But even that wasn’t very satisfactory, as it happens “off stage” – apparently he looked up their birth certificates at Somerset House, when trying to find out more details of Tara’s (fictitious) late husband.