Don’t Tell by Karen Rose
(Warner, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-446-61280-4
Caroline Stewart and her son Tom have lived in hiding in Chicago for seven years. Married to a policeman in North Carolina who brutally abused her, she disappeared and changed her identity from Mary Grace Winters. When her car is discovered at the bottom of a lake, her husband realizes she’s not dead. He’s obsessed with recovering his son and punishing her for her actions.

Mary Grace’s and her son Robbie’s disappearance has been treated as a missing persons case. With the discovery of the car, it’s now a suspected homicide. Special Agent Steven Thatcher of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, a widower with three sons, is called in to assist the local police in their investigation.

Caroline has struggled to achieve her current position. She earned her GED and started college. She works as secretary to the head of the college History Department and is close to graduating. Her next objective is to go to law school and study to become a lawyer specializing in family law.

Her new boss is Max Hunter. Once a professional basketball player, he was seriously injured in an accident. With therapy he is again able to walk with a cane. His brother David has spurred him to obtain his doctorate, but he’s still filled with regret over the loss of his first career. Originally from the Chicago area, his new position with the college has brought him home again to his large, loving family.

He and Caroline are immediately attracted, but Tom is worried that the much larger Max is a threat to his mother. What none of them know is that a much greater danger is threatening: Caroline’s husband is hunting her.

This debut book has three separate focuses: Caroline and Max’s evolving relationship, Winter’s search for his wife, and the police investigation headed by Steven Thatcher. The most vivid character is Rob Winters, Caroline’s brutal husband. While the sections featuring Winters are disturbing, the narrative is more intense and animated when he’s center-stage than in the tamer scenes with Caroline and Max. The unexplained wonder is that no one other than his wife has picked up on his twisted mentality prior to this story.

Don’t Tell is being marketed as romantic suspense. While the suspense level is high, the purported romance left me somewhat uncomfortable.

Sometimes there’s a heroine I want to tell, “Don’t be so hasty to marry this guy.” This is one of those times. Caroline was abused by her parents as a child, then abused by her husband. Now she’s attracted to Max who has a flash-point temper and leaps to the worst possible conclusion not once but several times until his brother David makes him see the light. Max’s and Caroline’s relationship could use some serious counseling. Just because Max has a lot of sex appeal and doesn’t beat her up on a daily basis doesn’t make him Mr. Right ... not because he’s a bad man but because she’s so vulnerable. Even though she fled from Winters, Caroline has years of experience of being a victim. Until Max makes more progress dealing with his resentment over the loss of his basketball career and his oh-woe-is-me assumption that everyone’s out to gang up on him, I worry that in time Caroline is going to find herself in a possibly emotionally abusive relationship.

There is another character who has real hero potential: Steven Thatcher. The author’s website indicates that her next book is his story. I’ll be looking for it.

If you’re looking for a light, sweet tale of nice people falling in love, Don’t Tell, with its theme of escaping abuse, isn’t the book for you. This is a novel with more graphic violence than most romances (the R rating is more for violence than sexuality). But if you’re looking for an intense story, this might be a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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