McIverís Mission by Brenda Harlen
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1224, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-27294-4
*****
In the introduction, the editor notes that Brenda Harlen makes her debut with McIverís Mission. If this is any indication of things to come, Harlen will quickly join my list of definite-buy authors.

Arden Doherty is an attorney who specializes in helping battered woman. She does this both in her own practice and in her pro bono work. Arden is passionate about her work, and this leaves her little time for romance. She has had relationships in the past, even an almost fiancť, but her work and her motivations keep her from serious relationships. Her motivations come from her past experiences.

Shaun McIver is also a lawyer, specializing in criminal law. Their paths rarely cross, except on a few family occasions. Shaun is the brother of Colin, who just happens to be married to Ardenís cousin, Nikki. Nikki and Arden are like sisters, so Shaun has seen her several times.

The story opens on the day of a funeral of one of Ardenís clients - a client who was trying to leave her abusive husband with Ardenís help. The client made the mistake of letting her husband in her house one last time, where he proceeded to kill her, their child and then himself. Arden feels partly responsible. She is feeling quite sorry for herself when she decides to sit in the park near the courthouse. Shaun sees her and stops by. His words of comfort lead to an emotional meltdown. Shaun takes her to dinner and their relationship has started.

Neither want to be involved with the other, but things just seem so natural. They start off by being friends and naturally develop into more, with Arden and Shaun struggling all the way. They feel instant attraction, which then creates lustful feelings, followed by caring and love. Arden offers more resistance, as Shaun realizes much sooner that Arden is the person he wants to spend his life with, and he patiently allows her to catch up.

Complicating all this is a series of threats against Arden from an apparent stalker. Police have no idea who is behind this, yet things seem to be heating up. The notes go from subtle to more direct and from being mailed to being left in her bedroom. There is also a fire, discovered to be arson, in her apartment building and a bomb threat at her office.

The story moves along on the strength of the relationship with this threat creating a great conflict. These two lovers argue about fidelity, trust and their independence within the boundaries of themselves as a couple. These areas are all normal things people have to work out in a relationship.

Arden struggles with her sudden need to be cared about, a situation unique in her life. She loves, but is fearful of that emotion. Shaun, too has been burned, so is somewhat hesitant to put himself out there too quickly. But they both are smart enough to know a good thing when they find it, so they argue and forgive. They make up and get jealous, only to realize how silly that is, and then they make up again. Both show their hurt feelings, and are willing to forgive and move on. Their lovemaking is good, but is just one facet of their full relationship.

There is little to detract from this story, except for one moment towards the end. I thought Arden was going to wimp out and go hide, but she recovers herself quickly, and does the right thing. Looking at her history and all the things revealed in the end, even this moment of hesitation is made understandable. The mystery is well written with enough twists to keep it from being totally predictable.

The secondary characters add to the overall tale. They are developed enough that one can like them or not, and see how they fit into Shaun and Ardenís life. Even the villain is seen as a person, not a stereotypical bad guy.

McIverís Mission should go on the top of your to-be-read pile. It is a suspenseful story with a wonderful romance, strong characters, and a decent mystery in an easy to read style.

--Shirley Lyons


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