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Irresistible Stranger
by Jennifer Greene
(SRS #1637, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN# 0-373-278707-8
***
When Lily Campbell was a small child twenty years earlier, her home caught on fire, and she and her two sisters were saved by the heroic actions of her father, who perished with their mother in the fire. At the time Social Services split the sisters up sending them to three different foster homes.

The memory that haunts Lily is hearing the sheriff tell the fire chief not to investigate the fire too closely since Lily's father had lost his job and no doubt was depressed; the inference being that her father had started the fire.

Lily teaches school in Virginia; summer has arrived and she is traveling to Pecan Valley, Georgia, the town of her early childhood, to see if she can discover what really happened that horrible night. She does not expect to make a lot of friends in this venture but she has put this challenge off as long as her conscience will let her.

She rents a room in a bed and breakfast and is headed toward the sheriff's office to procure a police report of the incident when she finds an excuse to dawdle on the way. An ice cream store promises to mitigate the effect of the blistering heat, and it is here she meets Griff Blanchard, owner. Not only does he personify the flirtatious, lazy bad boy image, but he seems to employ only those young boys that society usually dubs as punks.

Lily finds the sheriff is reluctant to dredge up this old event but eventually, grudgingly, goes along with her request although urging her to put it all behind her. It is from the report that she learns that there had been several other fires set in the period prior to her parent's fire. The similarities were there in the choice of accelerants, although prior fires had not resulted in any loss of life, only property damage.

She is puzzling her way through this when the closed mill where her father had worked burns, the actions of an arsonist. The town now whispers the obvious, now that she has returned the fires are starting again.

She knows that since Griff is so well loved by the town she should distance herself from him in order to preserve his reputation, but the initial attraction to his newly patented ice cream flavors and his charm make this hard to do. Things come to a head fairly quickly when his ice cream shop burns. Since Lily was with him when it happens, there is no way to pin the crime on her, but the town still talks. Lily gradually realizes that there is a deep seated reason that Griff is serving as a protector for the young boys who work for him, and that Griff is not what he appears to be.

The character development in the story is very well done, and the pacing is good. The author manages to balance the mounting tension from increased burnings, with the growing attraction between Griff and Lily resulting in some steamy love scenes. The plot is fairly simple, and the ending predictable but the getting there is an enjoyable experience.

--Thea Davis


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