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Haunting Rachel by Kay Hooper
(Bantam $22.95, PG) ISBN 0-553-09950-7
Kay Hooper has written another entertaining suspense novel with a touch of the supernatural. I've always found that this author is stronger on plot than on character, and Haunting Rachel is no exception.

Rachel Grant has returned to her childhood home in Richmond for the first time in almost ten years. The event that precipitated her flight to New York years ago was the death of her charming but irresponsible fiancé, Thomas. Unfortunately, death has again transformed her life. Both of her parents have been killed in an airplane crash, and Rachel must now come home to settle their affairs and decide what to do with the family-owned bank.

Strange things begin happening upon her return. At first Rachel thinks she sees Thomas watching her, but manages to convince herself that painful memories of their love are playing tricks with her mind. Then she falls victim to a series of mishaps that are too personal to be accidental. While recovering from one of these near misses, a man appears at her door who could almost be Thomas' identical twin. Adam Delafield, Thomas' doppelganger, claims to have sought Rachel out solely to let her know that, years ago, her father lent him three million dollars to finance Adam's start-up electronic gadget firm. He intends to pay it back to Rachel in full. But Rachel has no record of the loan and can't believe that Adam would be so honorable to pay back a loan that no one can prove ever existed. There must be more to his story than he will admit.

As Rachel gets to know Adam, she finds herself attracted to him, but she questions both her motives and his. She wonders if she is only looking for a substitute for Thomas. She wonders if Adam could somehow be behind the attempts on her life. She wonders if her strange dreams linking Thomas and Adam are messages from her ghostly ex-fiancé.

I could not put down Haunting Rachel – at least, for the first half of the novel. I was dying to know the truth about Adam's identity and was sure it had to be something unusual. Unfortunately, the answer did not live up to my expectations, and the second half of the book was a letdown. Much of the plot hinged on Adam's willingness to slowly expose the truth to Rachel, and I started to resent her inability to control her own destiny.

Their romance was sweet but unremarkable, and in fact took a backseat in my mind to the secondary romance between Rachel's friend, Mercy, and Nick, the man who co-owned the bank with Rachel's father. Some men are so ugly that they are cute; Nick Ross isn't one of them. He looks like "ten miles of bad road," and he keeps his emotions hidden to avoid heartbreak. When Mercy finally breaks through his shell, the results are inspiring.

Haunting Rachel features an interesting mix of "secret agent man" and ghostly presence. It was a quick, fun but unmemorable read. After decades of romance writing, I doubt that Kay Hooper is going to change her style, but if she could strengthen her characterization skills she could make a quantum leap like her former Loveswept peer, Deborah Smith.

--Susan Scribner

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