Her stepfather, Gamil, seemed to be a loving and attentive man at first, but once the wedding took place, his behavior took a one-eighty and his true colors showed through. He became obsessive while controlling the household in crazy ways, following everything his wife did out of sheer jealousy. She may have died from cancer, but her spirit and will to live was gone long before.
After her mother's death, things were in no way better for Lelia - given she is from a middle eastern country named Bakhara, where their laws are such that until she turned 25 or was married, a daughter or step-daughter is fully under the control of their guardian. Arguably, however, this was not the kind of control they meant - Lelia was kept prisoner in her home, all her actions watched and controlled, everyday things such as the internet, newspapers and books were taken away. She tried escaping a couple of times, but it never got her very far; after her last attempt she was even locked in a small room with only bread and water as sustenance.
When the day came that Gamil announced to her that she was being married to a man she never once met, for the main purpose of getting rid of her, she actually welcomed it. It would mean her freedom - away from her stepfather, to get her inheritance (of which she doesn't realize has actually been long since gone thanks to him), and with the money, hopefully start her own life, in a cozy, welcoming home, perhaps after a separation from her new husband.
Joss has had his share of women, but emotions totally are forbidden in the relationship. This stems from his childhood, which perhaps wasn't at the level that Lelia experienced, but was bad enough. His mother was a drama queen, everything has to revolve around her, his father was aloof; his sister, after years of being torn between the differing expectations of her parents and the depression and anorexia from it, ran away at 15-years-old. When his mother told him that his sister died, she told Joss it was because she was wrapped up in her own problems and not caring about her mother's. To him, there was no way he was going to continue to procreate this dysfunctional family. All he wants is a wife on paper, who will fulfill hostess obligations, gain her oil-rich parcel of land inheritance to expand his projects (the only thing of hers that her stepfather couldn't use up himself), and otherwise stay out of his way. This is to be an absolute marriage of convenience - no intimacy, no children, no feelings - especially not love.
When they meet for the first time, she picks up that he won't hurt her; he picks up from the impression she wants to give him that all she is interested in is the money he will provide, and the shopping she can do. But there is an immediate attraction from both for each other - making them both realize that this could actually end up being pretty dangerous.
Once they are married, life changes, and they start seeing each other for who they really are. They gradually realize there is more to the other than what meets the eye, but could that lead to a real relationship and most especially, a real marriage between the two?
Now this is an example of a Harlequin Presents story that is done so very well - a hot alpha male that still has a caring, comforting side and a heroine, who while boxed into certain circumstances, still manages to be strong and hopeful. They both come from very lousy upbringings, but they end up realizing that they can have or deserve love, and with each other. Oh, and of course, we can't forget their mighty nice chemistry with each other as well. This book is an incredible story of survival, learning to accept love, with all the things you can expect from a Presents story - definitely worth reading!