In the Arms of a Hero

Lone Wolf's Lady

Every Move She Makes
by Beverly Barton
(Zebra, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-6838-7
It has generally been my experience that when I read a romantic suspense novel, the romance is better than the suspense. Barton’s new release turns my experience around. The suspense is very good but the romance was less successful. Perhaps the reason has to do with the setting. Every Move She Makes takes place in Alabama and I can only describe the atmosphere as “Southern Gothic.” I’m not sure that even Tennessee Williams at his most outrageous created a more complex and destructive set of “family” relationships!

Fifteen years ago, Reed Conway was sent to prison for the murder of his stepfather, Junior Blaylock. Nobody had blamed Reed for beating the louse within an inch of his life. After all, Reed had found the man attempting to rape his eleven year old half-sister. But the fact that Reed apparently returned and cut the unconscious man’s throat with his pen knife had been too much. The then district attorney and now senator, Webb Porter, had prosecuted Reed, even though the young man had protested his innocence. It was an open and shut case. Now, Reed has been paroled and is returning to Spring Creek, determined to find the real murderer.

Reed is welcomed with open arms by his mother and sister, but the rest of the town is not happy that a convicted murderer is back in town. The senator is particularly unhappy, in part because early in his sentence, Reed sent suggestive letters to Ella, the senator’s daughter. Ella adores her father who likewise dotes on his adopted daughter. Ella has followed in his footsteps, becoming first a lawyer and now a judge. Ella’s relationship with her very proper mother is more problematic. Over thirty years earlier, Carolyn Porter was paralyzed in a riding accident and remains bound to a wheelchair.

Ella believes that her parents have a loving and devoted marriage when in truth the two are estranged. While Ella has a most suitable suitor, she is reluctant to marry him because she does not love him as she thinks her parents love each other.

The reader is soon aware that someone in town is very worried about Reed’s return and is willing to do just about anything to get him sent back to prison. Then Ella starts to receive letters very much like the ones Reed sent her years earlier. We know that these are the first step in the villain’s campaign to destroy Reed, a campaign that escalates as the story progresses. When Ella confronts Reed about the letters, he denies sending them. From this first meeting, it is obvious that sparks are flying between the two. For reasons he does not understand, Reed thought constantly about Ella while he was in prison while Ella had always been aware of the “bad boy” who was the son of her aunt’s and uncle’s housekeeper.

The plot thickens as the author reveals that others had strong motives for wanting Blaylock dead. Included among the possible suspects are members of Ella’s family - her promiscuous aunt, her proper husband and perhaps even her father.

Ella gets to know Reed better in every way and comes to believe his claim that he did not murder his stepfather. The dramatic climax reveals long buried secrets that shock and surprise the reader.

The question of who killed Junior and is now trying to destroy Reed truly engaged my interest and the denouement was indeed a shock. Likewise, the convoluted personal relationships that linked the characters were quite fascinating. What keeps me from recommending this book is the romance. While there is perhaps a latent attraction between the hero and the heroine, what propels them into each other’s arms seems rooted in lust rather than love. This is not my preferred romantic scenario.

In actuality, I enjoyed the secondary romance between Reed’s sister and her employer more than the romance between Reed and Ella.

This is not to say that I found the hero and heroine uninteresting characters. If prison had hardened Reed, it had not destroyed him. He is determined to clear his name and to regain the life he has lost. He is the perfect example of the “bad boy” hero and an attractive one at that. Ella is also complex character and the author clearly shows us the roots of both her achievements and her insecurities.

Every Move She Makes comes pretty close to a four-heart read. Those who do not share my preferences about how a romance should develop may well find it more enjoyable than I did. Certainly Barton knows how to put the suspense in romantic suspense.

--Jean Mason

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