Behind Closed Doors

Standing in the Shadows by Shannon McKenna
(Kensington Brava, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-0453-1
Erin Riggs’ life has gone straight to hell. Her FBI agent father is in prison, her mother is popping Vicodin like vitamins, and her younger sister is flunking out of college. Erin, who lost her cushy museum job thanks to her father’s very public exploits, is now working a crummy temp job and trying to hold the family together. She thinks her ship may have finally come in when eccentric millionaire Claude Mueller starts hiring her to examine his collection of Celtic artifacts. Then Connor McCloud has to show up and ruin everything.

Connor is a former FBI agent who not only busted Daddy Riggs – but also rescued Erin who had been kidnapped by the evil Kurt Novak. They haven’t had a whole lot to say to each other, neither one willing to bridge the gap, even though they both have feelings for one another. That is until Connor hears that Novak and his henchmen have escaped from prison. Novak is just twisted enough to come after Erin, and Connor takes it upon himself to guard her. Thing is, he’s the only one who thinks she in any danger – as Novak appears to have been spotted in Europe. When he hears about Erin’s generous millionaire friend, who she’s never met, his radar immediately starts sending out warning signals.

McKenna’s sequel to last year’s Behind Closed Doors is most definitely a sequel. While the author does a decent job of catching the reader up to speed – the motivations of the villains aren’t entirely fleshed out. I have read Behind Closed Doors, exactly one year ago, but I’ve read a whole lot of books since then. I needed a little refreshing, and all I got out of Standing In The Shadows was that the bad guys were really, really bad.

So if the novel doesn’t necessarily stand alone, why am I planting a juicy four heart rating on it? Two words: sexual tension. Standing In The Shadows has some of the best sexual tension I have read in ages. Connor and Erin both have deep feelings for one another from the start of this story – but neither is willing to take the risk of making the first move. Connor literally bears the scars of Daddy Riggs’ betrayal, so that’s keeping Erin away. Connor is staying away because he not only arrested her father, but she also witnessed the fallout of her rescue. When these two finally succumb it’s enough make the pages spontaneously combust.

Erin is a sweet girl – a bit on the naïve side as she’s one of those dreaded “only had one sexual partner who called her frigid so she must be a sexless freak” heroines. The nice change of pace here is that McKenna doesn’t write her heroine to conform to the cliché. Erin is a quick learner, and isn’t about to let Connor’s alpha tendencies push her around. She gives as good as she gets and I applauded her growth by the end of the novel.

Connor McCloud (am I the only one who wants this name banned from the romance lexicon?) is an interesting blend of a wounded, alpha and beta hero. He has a real tender spot for Erin, yet he has the hero complex of an alpha cop. His physical scars seal the deal by giving him a bit of an introverted side – the kind of guy who wants to crawl into a hole and lick his wounds but won’t leave the love of his life unprotected.

The suspense angle is more cat and mouse than mystery – just as in Behind Closed Doors. McKenna does revisit the hero from that first book briefly, while the past heroine stays off-stage. The author also fully fleshes out Connor’s two bothers – both of whom have delicious possibilities, and one of Novak’s henchmen – a woman who could write new definitions to the term “bad girl.”

Standing In The Shadows is an admirable follow-up to a notable debut. McKenna’s pacing is much improved, and her sexual tension is still sizzling. The suspense angle keeps things humming along, and the danger element ratchets up the energy another notch. Readers who have been unmoved by Brava’s brand of naughtiness thus far may want to consider giving McKenna a shot – her steamy sex scenes are extremely well-written and her characters stay with you long after the final chapter. Here’s your chance to catch a rising star on the way up – consider yourself informed.

--Wendy Crutcher

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