Little Girl Lost by Marisa Carroll
(Harl. Super. #1113, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-711113-1
Two and a half years ago, six months after her husband and unborn child had been killed in a car wreck, Faith helped runaway teenagers Beth and Jamie when their daughter was born in a deserted, wintery park near her isolated home. Scared that they couldn’t take care of a baby, Jamie gave her to Faith, and drove away, over Beth’s protests. Days later, Faith saw a newspaper article about their deaths in a huge, multi-car pileup blamed on a winter ice storm. It seemed like a miracle. Faith had the daughter she’d lost six months before. The ice storm had kept her and the baby snowed in, and all she had to do was say she’d had the baby during the storm, all by herself. The pieces fell into place seamlessly, and Caitlin was Faith’s daughter right down to her birth certificate, and the center of her mother’s life.

Hugh Damon is convinced that Caitlin is the daughter his younger sister Beth abandoned. Beth’s injuries from the accident have caused amnesia, and all she can remember of that afternoon is the baby crying in the snow and butterflies. Faith lives in the right area, has a butterfly farm, and a daughter the right age who strongly resembles Beth. So Hugh decides to stay in one of the guest cottages Faith rents and investigate. But his plans go awry when Beth calls to say that Jamie’s wealthy, selfish and self-centered parents are harassing her about hypnosis to help her remember what happened to the baby, the only part of their son that’s left. Hugh knows how fragile Beth is, both physically and mentally, and invites her to stay with him, hoping that seeing Caitlin will job Beth’s memories loose.

Much to Hugh’s frustration and Faith’s relief, that doesn’t happen, even when Jamie’s parents arrive a week or so later, and instantly decide that Caitlin is their granddaughter, and begin legal proceedings to take her away from Faith. Add to the mix the intense chemistry and attraction Hugh and Faith have been struggling against, and it’s clear that things are going to get really complicated really fast.

Faith knows that Beth is Caitlin’s mother, but is in no shape to take care of a child until the mysteries of her past have been resolved. Hugh has to admit that Faith is a wonderful mother, and that Caitlin is a bright, happy, well-adjusted child. And while they don’t admit it to each other, neither of them want Caitlin to end up with Jamie’s possessive and manipulative parents, who were the reason the teens ran away in the first place.

Little Girl Lost differs from the standard romance novel in both plot and characters. Faith did indeed break the law when she decided to keep Caitlin. Beth is entitled to raise her daughter, and Jamie’s parents, repulsive as they are, are entitled to know their grandchild. But what is right for all concerned, especially Caitlin, is something quite different.

The tension in the plot is about right vs. wrong, and the suspense about where Caitlin will end up is fairly well-maintained, drawing the reader more deeply into the story. Beth’s gradual recovery of her mental strength and her lack of maternal feeling for Caitlin help make her a more realistic character. Faith and Hugh struggle over their moral and ethical dilemma, trying to find a solution that will result in a happy ending. And Jamie’s parents are the kind of selfish people it’s a pleasure to hate. Faith’s older sister and her family also have minor roles to play that impact the eventual outcome.

Marisa Carroll has created nonstereotypical characters, plot, and setting that work together to make a fast-paced and enjoyable read.

--Joni Richards Bodart

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