Good romantic elements can’t overcome a weak suspense story and characters who are hauling around more baggage than cross dressers on a world tour.
Maggie Chantel has been “running from reality for a year.” Her marriage is over, destroyed when her husband refused to believe that his business partner, Brent Templeton, tried to rape Maggie in their home. Her sister is dead, and no one wants to believe that Brent debased and killed her after Maggie rejected him. Maggie has created such a fuss, though, seeking justice for her sister that no one wants to hire the personal trainer. Unable to get work, she steals Brent’s young dog (also a target of abuse) and leaves town.
Maggie has no reason to believe anyone is after her, so she’s not really on the run from anything in particular except her guilt and despondency. After about a year, she lands in a small town on Lake Michigan, deciding that this is where she will start a new life and, oh, by the way, overcome her fear of water.
One of the first people Maggie sees is Nick Alessandro, jogging beside the road. In addition to her appreciation of his physique (purely professional, of course), she decides that he is “prowling over the darkness in him, seeking and frustrated, and fighting the realities he’d found.” This seems like a lot to deduce just from watching the guy jog a few steps, but the book is full of people who ‘sense’ or ‘just know’ amazingly profound things about each other.
She’s right, though; Nick is a tortured man. He has spent twelve (twelve) years flagellating himself for the death of his wife and unborn child. He cannot love again - he’s too busy wallowing.
There is also a full-fledged psychic. As soon as Celeste sees Maggie, she realizes that death is approaching. Tarot card readings tell Celeste that the death will be her own, a fate she calmly accepts.
The thing I liked about this book was the romance. At first glance, Nick is the typical alpha male, barking orders and smoldering, and Maggie looks like the traditional abused female, timid and repressed. Then, our assumptions get tossed on their ear. Turns out Nick is the emotional one, and, holy smokes, he has the range of a dramatic tenor. He’s all man, don’t get me wrong, but you never have to guess what the guy’s feeling. Maggie turns out to be the closed-off one, tough, defensive, emotionally isolated, even downright insensitive. She wants great sex with no strings; he makes love to her because it’s the only intimacy she’ll share. (Plus, it’s great sex.)
I enjoyed this role reversal; unfortunately, the result is predictable. They’re great in bed, but almost all they do out of it is wrestle for control. It makes the lust story believable, but not the love story.
It also sabotages character development. Apparently, hormones and emotional torment are the only interesting things about Nick and Maggie. We hear about them endlessly. The lust has some nice results, but the angst, with little else to leaven it, gets tedious.
The villain is equally monotonous. Every time the story switches to Brent’s point of view, we hear exactly the same thing. He hates Maggie. Maggie destroyed his life. Maggie must suffer. Maggie must die. Unfortunately, telling readers that a character is dangerous doesn’t create tension. Telling us over and over doesn’t help.
There are also far too many plot elements that go nowhere, and too much of the important stuff happens offstage only to be reported to us later. After twelve (twelve) years of guilty torment, Nick just kinda gets over it. Maggie’s fear of water disappears. Celeste ‘passes’ her psychic powers on to Maggie, and that’s the last we hear of them. A nasty secondary character has a sudden change of heart and comes to the rescue. It all makes the author’s life a lot easier, but it’s deeply unsatisfying for the reader. Rigorous editing would have done this book a world of good.
I can only recommend this book to readers who just can’t get enough angst. Those who are looking for taut suspense will be disappointed.
-- Judi McKee