Protector With A Past by Harper Allen
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1091, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27161-1
****
Julia Stewart has retreated from everything and is fighting the ghosts of past failures. Her two biggest regrets remain leaving her past love, Cord Hunter, and what she sees as her failure at her previous job as Child Protection Specialist. She gave up both at about the same time because she thinks she canít be what she needs to be for Cord or her work.

Julia is not allowed to stay alone, however. Years after their breakup, Cord bursts into her remote cabin with a small child. Lizbet is their godchild and her parents have just been killed. Lizbetís father was a cop and Cord is certain the deaths have something to do with her fatherís work.

Since Cord was Lizbetís fatherís partner, it also has something to do with him and possibly with Julia. Julia at first refuses to deal with the child or the investigation into the deaths, but her old protective instincts kick in and she becomes more and more involved.

This is a complicated novel and Julia and Cordís relationship is complicated as well. Their past and present relationship is intense and consuming. The characters themselves are a mixed bag. Julia gradually grows on the reader, but she starts out as so paralyzed with guilt and remorse that itís hard to enjoy her. And how could she have ever given up the hero? If Cord has any flaws at all, itís that heís too good and too sexy to be real.

This guy is the quintessential gentle yet macho male. He has always loved Julia but was baffled by her sudden refusal to be a part of his life. The reader may be a bit baffled at first also. The event that precipitated her withdrawal, though horrible, was a close call for a child. The child wasnít killed but Julia feels guilty. Later Juliaís history is revealed and both Cord and the reader grow to understand that she blames herself for a childhood tragedy and has always been afraid she will fail others.

All of this unfolds as Julia and Cord frantically search for the killer who always seems one step ahead of them. The deaths of Lizbetís parents is only the start of what the villain has planned. More murders are in store - and the villain has their deaths in mind for the grand finale.

Protector With a Past is a tightly plotted story with many complex shadings. The only drawback is that sometimes Julia is let off too easily. The worst things she blames herself for always turn out to actually have been someone elseís fault. In real life, though perhaps not in romances, that isnít always the case and it might have been good for Julia to learn to forgive herself for some real mistakes she has made.

Otherwise, though, the romance is combustible, the villain scary, and Protector With a Past is a page-turner.

--Irene Williams


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