Eclipse Bay by Jayne Ann Krentz
(Jove, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12801-5
****
Eclipse Bay may be a small town, but that doesnít mean itís immune to scandal. The influential Harte family and the passionate Madison family have been at odds with each other for three generations. So when sensible Hannah Harte finds herself entangled with devilishly sexy Rafe Madison, the gossip mill goes into overdrive.

Eight years earlier, Hannah and Rafe innocently encounter each other late one night on a secluded beach. Hannah had just walked out on a very pushy date, and Rafe was unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. The two share some conversation, and Rafe escorts Hannah home. When the police show up at her doorstep the next day, Hannah is more than a little surprised.

Rafeís girlfriend, Kaitlin was found dead at the bottom of a cliff. Rafe is the natural suspect considering he is the town bad boy and everyone knew that Kaitlin was seeing other men. To the shock of everyone (including Rafe), Hannah confirms his story that they were together at the time of Kaitlinís death.

Fast forward eight years, and Hannah is a successful wedding planner with a big problem on her hands. Her great aunt has just died and left her expansive mansion, Dreamscape, to both her and Rafe! Hannah wants the mansion to start a new business, and since Rafe refuses to communicate via lawyers, she returns to Eclipse Bay. But Rafe has plans of his own, and the two quickly find themselves at odds.

Besides the Dreamscape issue, there is still the mystery of who killed Kaitlin. While the police ruled it an accident, no one in town really buys that theory. After Hannah provided Rafe with an alibi, there are still some who say she lied to protect him, and that they did more on the beach that night than just talk. So who really killed Kaitlin and why? What will happen with Dreamscape? Will Hannah and Rafe end the family feud?

I was drawn in the minute I met Rafe Madison. I have a weakness for bad boys, and Rafe is the baddest of the bunch. When he first meets up with Hannah he tells her his main goal in life is to stay out of jail -- sexy and a sense of humor. Heís even more appealing eight years later, when he shows up with a Porsche, a mysterious cash flow, and great cooking skills.

Hannah is somewhat less appealing. I kept getting the feeling that she could use a few stiff drinks. Sheís so tightly wound, that I had to wonder how she survived life being so high strung. She also has this nasty habit of lecturing, and does come off a bit uppity at times. But these characteristics, while slightly annoying, are a good contrast to the more laid back Rafe. Their scenes together are electric, full of chemistry and sexual tension.

Iíve always believed that romantic suspense is a hard genre to pull off for a writer. You have to blend in elements of mystery and romance, without sacrificing either one. Krentz does an admirable job, seamlessly blending in the mystery of Kaitlinís death with the budding romance of Hannah and Rafe. Each element of the story was nicely fleshed out, and both were given equal time in the spotlight.

One small problem with the story was the supposed family feud between the Hartes and Madisons. When I think of feuding I conjure up images of the Hatfields and McCoys and the Montagues and Capulets. The conflict in Eclipse Bay is like the diet version of feuding. Outside of a fistfight between the grandfathers years ago, there really arenít any showdowns to speak of. In fact, when Hannah and Rafe begin to become involved, there are no big family controversies over it -- even Rafeís grandfather approves, which didnít strike me as a feuding mentality.

Thereís also this constant annoying dialogue about the characteristics of Hartes and Madisons:

ďI wasnít going to say that. That sounds like something a Harte would say, not a Madison.Ē

Similar statements are liberally peppered throughout the story, and got tiresome after a while. Iíd hate to think that my personal behavior is automatically assumed just because of my last name.

Eclipse Bay is actually the first installment in a brand new trilogy, and the mystery and romance were so well written, that my problems with Hannah and the feud were just minor annoyances. Krentz has penned a solid story sure to find its way into several beach bags this summer.

--Wendy Crutcher


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