Chasing a Dream
by Beth Cornelison
(Five Star, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 1-59414-514-8
**
Domestic violence is all too prevalent, and getting away from it is not as easy as might seem. Beth Cornelison has done her research about survivors and their coping mechanism for her romantic suspense novel. Too bad she ruins the effect by giving her lackluster characters a flair for melodrama and an oversimplified route to empowerment. Oh, and did I mention the dull characters?

Tess Sinclair has been living in an abusive relationship since a teenager, but only plans her getaway once she realizes her common-law husband is responsible for several murders, including her sisterís. Not long after she hits the road, she runs a flat tire and reluctantly accepts the help of a hitchhiker. Because one good deed deserves another, she overrules her danger signals and offers him a ride. Stupid, stupid, I was thinking and it wouldnít be the last time. But for the hero, this friendly overture is proof of Tessís resistance to the cynicism and bitterness so frequent in survivors like her. Whatever.

So where exactly is Justin Boyd coming from? Well, at least, heís not another undercover FBI agent like so many in this genre. Heís a small town boy, hoping to hit it big on the Nashville stage. His profession aside, heís just as guilt-ridden as others of his ilk. See, Justin didnít do enough to get his sister out of a violent marriage. Now itís too late for her, but not so for Tess. No dream-chasing for him until heís certain sheís safe. With her husband vowing to take back whatís his, it might take a while.

Needless to say all that time in the car breeds romance. Or it would once Justin and Tess get their priorities straight. He thinks heís not worthy of her; she thinks sheís putting him in danger. Which means neither comes clean about imminent danger. At one of their stops, she sees a flyer with her face on it. Does she tell Justin? Of course not. He would only worry about her. At another resting place, he is presented with the same picture and asked if heís seen the missing woman. Does he warn her theyíre looking for her? No way. He wants to protect her. I guess they deserve each other, but by this point, I didnít care.

Justin and Tess eventually talk with each other, only to have to deal with even more threats. Several tame sex scenes are interspersed between their tragic confessions and the escalating danger. They help with the pacing of the book and lighten its tone, but they didnít do much to improve my impressions of the characters. If you knew someone was in hot pursuit, would you stop on the side of the highway for a quickie? If you sensed danger, would you spend a night on the town dancing? And these are only some of the stupid things these runaways do.

An authorís note appended to the book promises to donate a portion of the sales to help survivors of domestic violence make a new start. Iím all for this initiative, but I wonít let it guilt trip me into recommending Chasing a Dream. If you feel charitable, cut out the middleman: give the full $26.95 directly to the worthy cause.

--Mary Benn


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