Family Ties, Jacquelin Thomas’ fifth novel, is a love-your-enemy story.
As a 15-year-old high school senior, Kyla Reynolds came home to find her mother dying from a drug overdose. She graduated at 16 and went away to college, and later attended medical school at Harvard. Along the way, she legally changed her name, combining her middle name and grandmother’s last name. More than a decade later, Dr. McKenzie Ashford is a respected AIDS research specialist.
She still wants to punish the man she thinks is responsible for her mother’s death. Armed with a faded photograph and a memory of the face of a man she glimpsed leaving her home on the day her mother died, McKenzie is convinced Marc Chandler is that man. (He was introduced briefly in Jacquelin Thomas’ novella “Heart to Heart” in the 2000 Valentine’s Day anthology.) She vows to get her mother’s younger lover for supplying her mother with the drugs that killed her. Marc heads Chandler Pharmaceuticals, a California company working on an AIDS vaccine. McKenzie has left Florida and taken a job with his firm, to work on the vaccine, to get more information about Marc and to plot her revenge.
But if McKenzie plans on being the woman to bring pain and suffering on Marc Chandler, she’s going to have to take a number and stand in line. To say Marc has a bad track record with women is a gross understatement. An ex-girlfriend was responsible for his arrest on drug charges. Another claimed he was the father of her unborn baby. He caught the most recent one in bed with another man when he arrived early for their date. Even his mother kept a secret from him.He has never forgiven her for it - more than three years after her death.
Marc and McKenzie are immediately attracted to each other. But she’s got an agenda and he’s got issues. Marc comes with enough baggage to put a Samsonite wearhouse to shame. Frankly, I didn’t like him very much. His characterization is one of the things that makes Family Ties a weak three-heart read for me. I found it hard to see him as heroic.
Marc has a mean streak and his treatment of McKenzie - even before he learns of her deceit -often leans precariously close to emotional abuse. Their first sexual encounter comes at a time when it is quite obvious she has had too much to drink. He tries unsuccessfully to resist her. His morning afterglow leaves a lot to be desired. And, because of his experiences, he holds a low opinion of most women: ”Today’s woman wants to stay at home, sitting on her butt watching soaps all day long. She wants to shop, drive expensive cars, living in a mansion-.”
As in most revenge stories, McKenzie’s resolve weakens in direct proportion to the growing strength of her love for Marc. Predictably, when her deception is discovered, her world implodes.
Family Ties is essentially a story about compassion and forgiveness. The novel also provides an interesting look at AIDS research. Secondary characters try to hold up the novel against the heaviness of the hero and heroine’s ongoing turmoil. As a result, I found the relationships between Carla and Jim and between Calvin and Ellen far more interesting. Laine Ransom, the hero of Thomas’ next book in the Ransom family saga, makes a cameo appearance in Family Ties.