The Bodyguard's Bride

Lonesome No More

A Family Secret

Healer

Millionaire in Disguise

Texas Royalty

What the Heart Knows

 
A Real Hero by Jean Brashear
(Harl. Super. #1190, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71190-5
***
Roan O’Hara doesn’t believe in heroes. Not anymore.

A lifetime of lies from those she cared about most has left her unwilling to trust again. There’s no one she can rely on, so she struggles with her demons, her pain and her fear alone.

Then she meets Zane MacAllister, superstar actor turned personal champion. Haunted by the suicide death of his ex-girlfriend and trying to avoid the media, he’s traveling incognito from New York to his family’s home in Texas. A quick stop for supplies in the mountains of North Carolina turns into a relief mission when he encounters a pale, thin, wisp of a woman who desperately needs his help.

Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it? A young woman with a sketchy past is “rescued” by a wealthy, successful businessman/ actor/ military officer. Think “Pretty Woman.” And then think again.

In her latest release from the Harlequin Superromance line, author Jean Brashear offers another look at what makes “A Real Hero.” Fairy tales and romance novels have long reinforced the stereotypical image of a man who rides in on a white horse to save the day. Her script is a bit weak and the ending forced, but what saves this book from Hollywood mediocrity is the way Brashear has eschewed typical characterizations. She uses Roan (and, to a lesser extent, Zane) to remind us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes ... and can be found in the most unlikely places.

Roan isn’t your typical heroine, but the label applies when Brashear returns to the definition: She’s someone who shows great courage or strength of character in the face of adversity. Brave, in a different way. An addict, she offers none of the possible, viable excuses for her behavior (fractured childhood with alcoholic mother, oppressive marriage to abusive husband, devastating loss of her baby daughter); she simply wants to recover. Her grandmother’s ramshackle cabin has become her sanctuary as she struggles with sobriety, but it’s in poor condition. When Zane arrives, she doesn’t want his assistance, but is wise enough to recognize that she needs it.

“You’ve got some misguided Galahad complex and a strong back. I’m determined to make it through the winter after getting a late start. You want to help, and I’m saying yes. Let’s get to it.” Amazingly enough, she found that accepting his help made her feel better, not worse. Not weaker.

She was the one doing the choosing.

He’s heroic because he voluntarily stops to help a complete stranger, but she has to be even stronger to resist not only drugs, but the temptation to rely on him to be her solution. Roan may not appeal to everyone, but her character is three-dimensional and real. Whether we want to admit it or not, drug and alcohol abuse are a problem - not only in the big cities, but also in middle America; not only for the poor, looking for a way out, but also for the wealthy, like Zane’s ex.

To her credit, Brashear doesn’t rush their development and the story, for the most part, unfolds at an even pace. Zane accepts that Roan has a problem - everyone has secret demons - but it’s only in the later pages that he learns the what and why. Maybe she just doesn’t want to know, but Roan doesn’t find out Zane’s real name and occupation until she has to rush him to the hospital.

Unfortunately, stellar characters can’t make up for a lackluster romance. It’s obvious that Zane feels some responsibility for her welfare, but it’s hard to believe he develops any deeper emotions where she’s concerned. Brashear makes a point of describing Roan as “a skinny wraith,” “thin to the point of starvation,” but somehow Zane is still aroused by her. Huh? He oscillates so frequently between his alleged desire for her and his desire to walk away that, while some hesitation is understandable, the reader is left more confused than he is. We never really see him cross the line between taking care of her and caring about her.

In the end, Brashear returns to true Hollywood form and manages to wrap up 285 pages of conflict in one brief chapter. The sister-in-law who offers Zane advice sounds like she’s reading from a textbook on addicts; her comments are more clinical than insightful. While Brashear deserves kudos for her handling of several difficult and sensitive topics, it’s important to remember that real life isn’t that easy.

-- Melissa Amy


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