Where You Least Expect It
by Tori Carrington
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1600, $4.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24600-5
***
Love. Perhaps Phil Collins explained it best:

You can’t hurry love, oh you’ll just have to wait
She said love don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take
You can’t hurry love, oh you’ll just have to wait
Just trust in the good times, no matter how long it takes (1982)

Sometimes, you just have to wait for love to find you. It may even be waiting “Where You Least Expect It.” But romance authors take note: You can’t rush the development of love either. Give the hero or heroine a push in the right direction, but don’t force either to act out of character.

Author Tori Carrington’s latest release pairs up unlikely lovers Penelope Moon and Aidan Kendall - polar opposites, but somehow still perfect for each other. Three-dimensional individuals interact in a unique setting, trying to resolve a conflict that will stir your emotions. But it’s Carrington’s talent for crafting detailed characters that sort of backfires here.

A lifelong resident of Old Orchard, Penelope is still an outsider. She’s a beautiful person, inside and out, but no one has taken the time to get to know her. Labeled everything from simply odd to a practicing witch, she’s “unmarried in a family with a history of unmarried women” and lives with her eccentric grandmother; her mom committed suicide when she was still young.

Penelope still lived in the same house she’d grown up in, accepted that she would always be looked on as peculiar by the town, and appreciated every moment she stood above ground rather than lay buried in it.

It’s ironic, then, that relative newcomer Aidan is more a member of the community than she is. After only a year in Ohio, he’s become involved in small town life; she only watches from the doorway of her New Age bookstore and herb shop. He teaches at the neighborhood school, is on the planning committee for the local July 4th celebration and is generally accepted without question, despite the fact that he isn’t very forthcoming.

As the book begins, he wanders into her shop on a hot summer morning. “Isn’t it enough to want to stop and say hello to a friend?” he says. She blushes prettily, and the reader gets the impression, despite his words, that she doesn’t know him all that well. If, as he indicates, they are friends and he’s known her for most of the past year, she doesn’t act like it. She jerks away from his touch and giggles uncharacteristically.

The next thing you know, she’s leading him to her bedroom and stripping off her clothes. Huh? She’s shouldered a lot of responsibility in the past five years - taking care of her grandmother, running the shop and paying the bills - but she’s still young, very innocent and naive about the ways of the world. Even accounting for attraction, her actions are more than a little out of character. Some of the townspeople consider her a free spirit, but she’s cautious, even hesitant, most of the time. For example, she follows the same routine every day, afraid or unwilling to deviate from a familiar pattern.

Still, once you get past their jump from not-quite-friends to hot-and-heavy-lovers, the story is well written and intriguing. Taken individually, Carrington’s hero and heroine are appealing, multi-faceted and unique. They’re both loners, but for different reasons, and the juxtaposition only amplifies the sense of isolation.

The third-person narration shifts from her perspective to his, which allows the reader to share his agony and confusion as he tries to stay one step ahead of his demons, while at the same time observing how she cares for him unquestioningly. It’s heart-wrenching when, overwhelmed by Penelope’s generous spirit, he opens up to her, physically and emotionally.

“I tried to keep you at arm’s length. I tried to block you out. But you wouldn’t let me ... I’d been living in a monochrome hell for the past year, and you splashed your buckets of vivid color over it until I started to see things clearly again. More than just clearly. I started to see, period. ... I started to see you.”

Carrington, actually the husband-wife team of Lori and Tony Karayianni, is popular, and for good reason: They offer well-crafted stories that tug at your heart. Where You Least Expect It is very good, but, for just a little while, Penelope isn’t what we were expecting. Unfortunately.

-- Melissa Amy


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