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What the Heart Knows

The Man She Once Knew
by Jean Brashear
(Harl. Super #1595, $5.50, PG) ISBN 978-0373-71595-4
The Man She Once Knew is not a story that will make one smile. There is a lot of angst here and at times, it seems like a lost cause. I struggled getting through it but ultimately, the love story won the day.

Sixteen years ago, Callie Hunter spent a year in the little town of Oak Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She was staying with a distant aunt because her mother could not take care of her. Callie tried to adjust but really struggled. She had low self-esteem and a whole host of issues going on in her head. She found one friend in a boy named David Langley. David was the All-American boy – star athlete, great student and hope of the town. He was to get a scholarship and be a celebrity. But when David hooked up with Callie and she got pregnant, David gave it all up to stand by her and offer her marriage. Before that could happen, Callie lost the baby and was sent back to her mother. David struggled and wound up in prison, having confessed to killing his stepfather. The town hated David. The man he killed was a big developer and had promised the townspeople jobs and prosperity. Now they had nothing.

Callie’s aunt died and she has returned to Oak Hollow for the funeral, where she discovers that she was her aunt’s only heir. But of course, there is a stipulation in the will. Callie’s Aunt Margaret was also a big member of the town. She owned a slew of homes and the citizens owed her rent. Callie is to get them all, but only if she lives in the town for at least thirty days.  Otherwise, all the homes are to be sold and people pushed from their homes. Callie is a lawyer in Philadelphia, but has had a rough time of it lately and was just recently told to take a leave of absence. Now she has to deal with her past.

David, meanwhile, is out of prison and in Oak Hollow only to help his mother. He works a menial job and is forced to take insults from the townspeople. The sheriff watches him closely and he feels isolated. He resents that Callie is back and is fearful that she will kick his mother out. He can’t support her and this town is all his mother has. He goes to Callie and they forge an alliance. She agrees to help with his mother’s rent if he helps her inspect the properties and make needed repairs.

This story progresses on the strength of their relationship and all the history they have. Callie can’t believe that the David she knew would ever kill anyone. David struggles as the townspeople assume he is guilty when someone accuses him of assault. As they learn about each other now as adults, they have to lay some of the ghosts of their past to rest.

I felt depressed at times when reading this story because it seemed hopeless. There was an aura that nothing could ever work out. Even when things were going well for Callie, they weren’t for David. And then the opposite happened. 

Ultimately, everything is resolved and the secrets of the past are revealed. This allows things to progress in the present. David and Callie are able to try to live and see their lives in a fresh way and start over. It is this turnaround that kept me from feeling dissatisfied at the ending.  The Man She Once Knew will tear at you at times; it will even depress you at times; but its hopeful ending will eventually gratify you, too.  

--Shirley Lyons

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