Carnal Gift

Hard Evidence

Ride the Fire

Surrender

Sweet Release

 
Unlawful Contact
by Pamela Clare
(Berkeley Sensation, $7.99, R) ISBN 978-0-425-21762-7
****
It's been a while since I've read a really good romantic thriller. Admittedly, it's a difficult genre to pull off, requiring as it does edge-of-the-chair suspense, authentic settings, unexpected twists, strong characters, and passionate relationships. All too often, writers skimp some place or another. Not so Pamela Clare in Unlawful Contact. This story about an investigative journalist who teams up with an escaped convict to unveil corruption in the Colorado prison system blends realistic characters, page-turning revelations, touching romance and really hot sex to produce a highly memorable read.

Sophie Alton knew Marc Hunt when he was the high school bad boy. His reputation neither stopped her from seeing another side to him, nor diminished his attraction to her. On his last night at school, she gave him her virginity and urged him to reach for the stars. Hunt joined the army, where he earned medals in his attempt to make something of himself. Then, he went to work for the Department of Drug Enforcement. Things took a bad turn several years later when Marc was convicted of killing a fellow DEA agent and of drug dealing.

At the beginning of Unlawful Contact, Mark is serving a life sentence in a high-security penitentiary. He learns that his younger sister Megan, who has just been paroled, is suspected of drug-possession and is on the run. Because he knows there is much more to the story than meets the eye, Marc is determined to break out and protect his sister any way he can. When he sees the by-line on a newspaper article he knows that Sophie Alton is his ticket-out. He arranges for her to interview him.

Sophie does not suspect that the boy she knew and the convict she is about to meet are the same person. She agrees to the interview because she finds the circumstances surrounding Megan's disappearance strange and wants to get to the bottom of them. Instead, she is taken hostage and used to guarantee Hunt's safe passage out of prison. She has no intention of making life easy for her captor, even when she learns his true identity. So she is surprised when he leaves her in an out-of-the-way cabin and arranges for law agents to rescue her.

Sophie is even more astonished when Marc, still on the lam, makes a second appearance in her life. He asks her to help him find his sister and what she is running from. Sophie agrees for both professional and personal reasons, and soon finds her own life on the line. She refuses to give up her search for the truth and the possibility of happiness with Marc.

Sophie and Marc are well-rounded and appealing characters who could easily carry the book on their own. Both are both respectful of each other's independence and committed to the ones they love. Both have hidden vulnerabilities and weaknesses that make them all the more believable. Their desperate circumstances make their romance all the more moving, even as their sexual relationship becomes hotter and hotter.

Clare went the extra mile to give her story a realistic touch: she spent time in jail to research her subject. Her efforts paid off: her gritty, hard-hitting descriptions ring true. Her attention to realism also means that, as a story-teller, Clare rarely takes the easy way. Although a happy-ending is obviously ensured, it is not handed to her characters on a platter. They have to pay for their mistakes, however honorable their intentions may have been.

Most importantly, Clare does not neglect her story in favor of her research. True, one or two moments read like diatribes against prison conditions, and my calculated guess at who the villain was proved right. Most of the time, however, she knows exactly what her readers want. Thanks to excellent pacing, non-stop action and unpredictable complications, our interest in the story and the characters is never lost. What better recommendation for a gripping and heart-warming read?

--Mary Benn


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