Gage Butler's Reckoning by Justine Davis
(Silhouette Intimate Moments #841, $4.25. PG) ISBN 0-373-07841-2
****
Detective Gage Butler's reckoning comes after an intense struggle with his obsessive workaholic approach to life. The past eight years as a Juvenile Detective at Trinity Street West Precinct have put him on a collision course with burnout. His fellow officers, introduced in Davis's three previous books in this series, are aware of his problem, but powerless to convince him to change his behavior.

Gage has just arrested a successful businessman for the rape of a young, poor sixteen-year old girl. He hurries off to share his victory with Caitlin, the founder of "The Neutral Zone," a haven for young teens. While talking with Caitlin, an attractive young woman suddenly launches a vicious, verbal attack upon Gage.

He recognizes her as Laurey Templeton, a girl he had arrested when he was an undercover narc at her high school during her senior year. Laurey's complicity was unknowing and tangential to the drug ring, and unknown to Laurey, it was Gage who arranged to have the charges against her dropped. Her reaction to him is way out of line for a casual grudge, and we begin to realize it's based on an old crush on Gage.

After she cools off, she realizes how irrational her response to him had been and she scurries off to apologize. While they are together, an attempt is made on Gage's life -- thinly disguised as a hit and run. This accident brings back the emotional trauma Laurey went through when her own sister was killed in a like manner six months before.

Davis moves this novel at a fast pace, and very soon another attempt is made to kill them both. Each time Gage interposes his own body between Laurey and the source of danger. After a while they end up in a safe house together.

At this point the novel intensifies, revealing the cause of Gage's driven behavior. Guilt, rational or not, is a powerful motivator, and its reconciliation is the true subject of this novel. Laurey comes to see Gage through different eyes and their romance matures at an intellectual, emotional and physical level.

Technically, this story is well crafted with sympathetic characters, which are subjected to believable conflicts in a consistent framework. And the author's experience as a policewoman certainly shows from the realism brought to the story. But Davis's greatest quality is her compassion. With great sensitivity she brings that trait to every novel she writes, and this one is no different.

However, Gage Butler's Reckoning lacks her usual exquisite pacing. It is unrelenting and intense, and therefore may not be everyone's choice of a "keeper". Having used the word intense three times in this review, I trust my point is made.

--Thea Davis


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