The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling

4.5 65
by Iris Johansen

View All Available Formats & Editions

If fate suddenly made you more beautiful that you ever dreamed possible, would it be the beginning of a fairy tale, or your worst nightmare?

The brutal attack should have killed anybody, but Nell Calder did more than survive. She emerged a woman transformed, with an exquisite beauty found only in fairy tales. Nell Calder deserved a happy ending. Instead, her… See more details below


If fate suddenly made you more beautiful that you ever dreamed possible, would it be the beginning of a fairy tale, or your worst nightmare?

The brutal attack should have killed anybody, but Nell Calder did more than survive. She emerged a woman transformed, with an exquisite beauty found only in fairy tales. Nell Calder deserved a happy ending. Instead, her descent into terror has just begun.

Her attacker is still on the hunt, determined to finish what he's started. And Nell, protected by a new face, is just as determined to fight back and take her revenge. But to catch her prey, she will have to expose herself—even if it makes her a killer's prime target.

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
With this spectacular tale of revenge, betrayal and survival, Johansen (Lion's Bride; Forecasts, Dec. 4, 1995) shows why, after 50 paperback originals, she is at last getting hardcover treatment. Nell Carter is plain and plump-and, for some mysterious reason, the target of a drug cartel hit that maims her but wipes out her husband and young daughter. Her world destroyed, Nell wills herself to die, until a stranger gives her a purpose to live: revenge. The mysterious Nicholas Tanek, once master of his own criminal network, will do anything and use anyone to destroy the drug cartel that, he tells Nell, murdered a 'very close' friend. But recruiting the vengeful woman proves a big mistake for Nicholas, for she awakens in him new and unsettling emotions that threaten his mission. Given a new face and identity, Nell throws herself into guerrilla and martial arts training with Nicholas. The two become lovers, but that won't keep Nell from finding and punishing her daughter's killer-with or without her lover's help. The romance here is suspenseful, and the suspense is romantic; for fans of each, this is a keeper.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A woman seeks revenge on the drug cartel that maimed her and killed her husband and child. (Dec.)
Library Journal
A tale of romantic suspense from the author of The Beloved Scoundrel (LJ 12/93).
Brad Hooper
In Johansen's hands, the romantic suspense genre is done a good turn. Nell Calder was born plain of face, and her mother let her know in no uncertain terms that "this" ugly duckling would "never" turn into a swan. Flash to the present day, and Nell, despite her mousiness, is married to a handsome executive on the rise and has a wonderful little daughter. Nevertheless, she is never "not" self-conscious about her lack of dazzle. At a big social-business affair on a Greek island, the party is attacked by masked assailants, and Nell is horribly wounded and her husband and child killed. She emerges from the resultant plastic surgery as the stunning beauty she could never imagine being. With a new intrepidness to match her new looks, she sets out to find the man who slashed her face and murdered her daughter. And, of course, at the same time, there is a burgeoning love interest.
Kirkus Reviews
In a successful hardcover debut, megaseller Johansen abandons the lush historical romances that have made her reputation and stakes out the proven market of Nora Roberts and Sidney Sheldon.

Nell Calder is the Ugly Duckling—plump and plain, with mousy brown hair and a "predilection for chocolate cake." Her world revolves around her four-year-old daughter, Jill, and not around her arriviste banker-husband Richard. Why then would a ruthless French drug lord target such a mouse for assassination at a glamorous party on a private Greek island? And why—as a bejeweled crowd cavorts below—would a psycho killer throw Nell off her balcony, shoot her husband, and knife her young daughter to death? That's what dark and sexy Nicholas Tanek wants to know. Nicholas—gentle with women, deadly with enemies—is pursuing the drug lord, who murdered his mentor/surrogate father by infecting him with an unspeakably awful South American virus that slowly devours the organs of its victims. Interestingly enough, meantime, the fall has completely destroyed Nell's face. And so, in order that she doesn't "live the rest of her life looking like a gargoyle," Nicholas takes her back to the States to plastic surgeon Joel Lieber, a genius who transforms her into Helen of Troy. Newly gorgeous and bent on vengeance, Nell persuades Nicholas to take her to his well-protected sheep ranch in Idaho (three electric fences) to teach her martial arts. Formerly a great flower arranger, the once "ugly little mouse" now turns into Bruce Lee. As Johansen quick-cuts back and forth between the good guys and the bad, in tried-and-true Sheldonesque style, the plot eventually delivers just deserts to all—thanks to inventive surprises and a large broad sword.

Slick, knowing stuff. The myth of the ugly duckling is a seminal women's fantasy, exploited here in streamlined and product-tested style.

From the Publisher
"A spectacular tale of revenge, betrayal and survival." —Publishers Weekly

"A real knockout...[an] intense thriller...bravo!"—Atlanta Journal

Read More

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

He had come for nothing, Nicholas thought in disgust as he gazed down at the surf crashing on the rocks below. No one would want to kill Nell Calder. She was no more likely to be connected with Gardeaux than that big-eyed elf she was now lavishing with french pastry and adoration.

If there was a target here, it was probably Kavinski. As head of an emerging Russian state, he had the power to be either a cash cow or extremely troublesome to Gardeaux. Nell Calder couldn't be considered troublesome to anyone. He had known the answers to all the questions he had asked her, but he had wanted to see her reactions. He had been watching her all evening, and it was clear she was a nice, shy woman, totally out of her depth even with those fairly innocuous sharks downstairs. He couldn't imagine her having enough influence to warrant bribery, and she would never have been able to deal one on one with Gardeaux.

Unless she was more than she appeared. Possibly. She seemed as meek as a lamb, but she'd had the guts to toss him out of her daughter's room.

Everyone fought back if the battle was important enough. And it was important for Nell Calder not to share her daughter with him. No, the list must mean something else. When he went back downstairs, he would stay close to Kavinski.

"Here we go up, up, up
High in the sky so blue.
Here we go down, down, down
Touching the rose so red."

She was singing to the kid. He had always liked lullabies. There was a reassuring continuity about them that had been missing in his own life. Since the dawn of time, mothers had sung to their children, and they would probably still be singing to them a thousand years from now.

The song ended with a low chuckle and a murmur he couldn't hear.

She came out of the bedroom and closed the door a few minutes later. She was flushed and glowing with an expression as soft as melted butter.

"I've never heard that lullaby before," he said.

She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten he was still there. "It's very old. My grandmother used to sing it to me."

"Is your daughter asleep?"

"No, but she will be soon. I started the music box for her again. By the time it finishes, she usually nods off."

"She's a beautiful child."

"Yes." A luminous smile turned her plain face radiant once more. "Yes, she is."

He stared at her, intrigued. He found he wanted to keep that smile on her face. "And bright?"

"Sometimes too bright. Her imagination can be troublesome. But she's always reasonable and you can talk to—" She broke off and her eagerness faded. "But this can't interest you. I forgot the tray. I'll go back for it."

"Don't bother. You'll disturb Jill. The maid can pick it up in the morning."

She gave him a level glance. "That's what I told you."

He smiled. "But then I didn't want to listen. Now it makes perfect sense to me."

"Because it's what you want to do."


"I have to go back too. I haven't met Kavinski yet." She moved toward the door.

"Wait. I think you'll want to remove that chocolate from your gown first."

"Damn." She frowned as she looked down at the stain on the skirt. "I forgot." She turned toward the bathroom and said dryly, "Go on. I assure you I don't need your help with this problem."

He hesitated.

She glanced at him pointedly over her shoulder.

He had no excuse for staying, not that that small fact would have deterred him.

But he also had no reason. He had lived by his wits too long not to trust his instincts, and this woman wasn't a target of any sort. He should be watching Kavinski.

He turned toward the door. "I'll tell the maid you're ready for her to come back."

"Thank you, that's very kind of you," she said automatically as she disappeared into the bathroom.

Good manners obviously instilled from childhood. Loyalty. Gentleness. A nice woman whose world was centered on that sweet kid. He had definitely drawn a blank.

The maid wasn't waiting in the hallway. He'd have to send up one of the servants from downstairs.

He moved quickly through the corridors and started down the staircase.


Coming from the ballroom.


He tore down the stairs.

From the Paperback edition.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >