As Gwyneth Atlee

Touched by Fire

Trust to Chance

Night Winds

Dangerous Attractions by Colleen Easton
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7337-2
The unusual setting of this novel - Key West, 1857 - was one of the things that captured my interest in Dangerous Attractions. Author Colleen Easton does a terrific job of bringing the Keys and the people who live there to life.

Genna Whitworth spent her childhood in the Florida Keys, where she and Eli Blaylock were great friends. Eli was illiterate son of a poor fisherman, far beneath the notice of Genna’s proud mother. Nevertheless, Genna and Eli fished and played together, until the night the Seminoles attacked their village and their lives were changed forever. Genna, her mother, and her siblings left the Keys, never to return.

But now Genna is back, though not willingly. The ship she has been traveling on is wrecked off the Keys, and Eli Blaylock, now one of the best salvage captains in the Keys, is head of the crew that comes to the rescue. To his shock, the unconscious woman he carries off the ship is his old friend, Genna. When Genna comes to, she’s equally astonished to see Eli. Their friendship blooms again instantly, but there are serious obstacles in their way.

Genna is fleeing a scandal in Boston. A talented wildlife artist, her illustrations have graced the pages of several well-known books written by her brother-in-law, Theo. Genna, however, received no credit, though her work was lauded as brilliant. And since her brother-in-law ran through Genna’s inheritance and she depended on him for support, she was in no position to defend herself when he drugged her one night and took advantage of her. Stealing some of Theo’s money and running away to her brother in California is all she could think of to do. Now here she is, stranded in the Keys, and she knows Theo will try to follow her rather than lose the illustrator who makes his books sell.

Eli, meanwhile, is expected to marry the daughter of Jeremiah, his mentor. This is a marriage neither of them seems to want, but Jeremiah is dying and wishes to see his daughter married before he goes. Eli and Genna can’t deny the attraction they feel, but what can they do? And what really happened that night seventeen years ago when Genna lost her father and Eli lost his whole family?

Eli Blaylock is a fine romance hero. He struggles to do the right thing and honor his obligations, but is drawn to Genna in ways he’s never experienced with his almost-fiancée. Eli battles his emotions and recognizes them for what they are. This was a refreshing change from the usual stubborn hero with an “I’ll never love again” attitude. Genna is more passive, and the weaker of the two characters. She refuses to tell Eli why she’s really headed to California, though the reader knows full well that he’d defend her from Theo. Genna should have realized it, too.

The structure of the first half of the book was awkward. The story jumps from 1857 to 1840 and back again, over and over, doling out the backstory of the Indian attack in dribs and drabs. Rather than building any kind of tension, this simply irritated me. The thread of the story got lost and my concentration was broken because I’d be caught up in Genna’s story, and then bam! tossed back seventeen years. Annoying. Really annoying. Furthermore, the backstory wasn’t all that compelling, since Eli and Genna were both children and could hardly have saved anyone anyway.

The author does a fine job of detailing the lives of the “wreckers” and their rather dangerous occupation. Key West is brought to life as the author makes good use of the setting to add details to the story.

There is a surprising secondary romance that helps to resolve the problem of Eli’s almost-engagement, and several other characters add color to the story. Overall, Dangerous Attractions is an enjoyable romance that steps outside the boundaries of traditional settings. If you don’t mind bouncing back and forth for the first half of the book, you may enjoy it even more than I did.

--Cathy Sova

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