The Badge & the Baby

The Bane Affair

Larger Than Life

Beyond a Shadow
by Alison Kent
(Brava, $14.00,R) ISBN 0-7582-1114-7
Schoolteacher Alexa Counsel has carved herself a comfortable niche in Comfort Bay. She has great friends, a satisfying job and zero interest in a social life. That is, until Ezra Moore comes to town. Her best friend's handyman is stirring up trouble and emotions Alexa thought had gone the way of her ex-husband.

But Ezra has his own agenda and it doesn't include becoming fast friends with his employer's daughter or dallying with the local schoolmarm. But between Emily Rose's sad demeanor and Alexa's considerable charms, a man has to reserve the right to change his mind, right? As long as he remembers his main agenda: to bring down a powerful company luring away the youth of his homeland (San Torisco, a Carribean Island).

So far so good, right? Not quite. There's a detachment in the telling of Spectra IT (the prerequisite big bad), that didn't make the story hit home for this reader. We get the gist: Spectra offers lucrative positions to the youth of San Torisco, then involves them in drugs and prostitution. But what we don't get is an emotional connection. Something in the story just didn't resonate with me. Maybe it's Ezra's detached nature, maybe it's the lack of a real storyline there - it's just exposition. No matter what, in a thriller you have to care about the protagonist, and I totally didn't.

Now I'm going to be petty. There was one huge thing that bothered me about this one. Everybody is referred to by their whole names. I know, I know. That's not story. But it is very disconcerting to read "Alexa Counsel" and "Ezra Moore" a billion times. And it's not like it's just a character quirk, everyone in the town does it! Look, it's a small town; people just don't do that. You say, "Ezra, oh, you know Ezra, the new guy?" or something similar. You don't say his full name in a town where he's the only Ezra for miles. As I said, it's petty, but it seemed very unrealistic and served no purpose other than to pull me right out of the story.

Another "pull me out of the story" moment came at an incredibly crucial time. Just as Alexa finds out the truth about Ezra's identity, she goes from boring as drying paint to too stupid to live. Ezra shoots a man holding her captive - as in shoots him while he's still holding her. Now, what's a girl's natural reaction here? I'd think she'd want some answers, not some action. Not Alexa, nope, she decides they can wait until after the hot little sex scene to get her answers. And even then, does she get angry? Sure, but not angry enough to stop sleeping with the guy who endangered not only her, but also every single person she loves. Yeah, that strikes me as a heroine to look up to. Actually, it struck the floor that way, since there's where there it landed after that scene. I know erotica is about exploring means of non-verbal communication, but come on. Some things just need to be said. Especially if those things are along the lines of "this is why you were almost killed."

The only thing that saved this one from the dreaded one heart rating was the scorching hot sex scenes. Yes, I can be as shallow as the next girl. Kent's sex scenes are graphic, bold and incredibly sensual. While I can't see Alexa and Ezra as a happily ever after (nor do I want to), I can totally understand the initial attraction. While the story itself falls short of my expectations, Kent (and her characters) certainly know their way around a bedroom. Now if they just knew how to talk, all would be well.

--Amanda Waters

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