Shadow Touch
by Marjorie M. Liu
(Love Spell, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-5055-2630-1
****
Marjorie M. Liuís Shadow Touch is the second in a series about Dirk & Steele, an agency that offers a home to those who have unique skills. Fast-paced, gripping, and unique, this book treats readers to an unconventional love story.

Elena Baxter has had a healing touch for as long as she can remember. She knows this gift makes her different, but sheís determined to use it. This naturally leads her to work in a care center, where she quietly provides aid to whomever she can. Her ability doesnít go unnoticed. One minute she is healing a woman; the next, she is drugged and taken to an unknown facility.

Dirk & Steele operative Artur Loginov also has a magical touch, although itís different from Elenaís. Artur touches people or objects and instantly knows things about them. His work has led him to dark places, which have taken a physical toll on him, making him experience excruciating headaches. After an unpleasant mission, Artur returns home and is captured. Like Elena, he is taken to a strange facility, where he is isolated and studied.

I am reluctant to say more about the plot of Shadow Touch other than it is a dark and fascinating story. Readers who have read Liuís previous book in the series, Tiger Eye will not be expecting a lighthearted tale. Readers who are new to Liuís writing should be prepared. The R rating is more for the subject matter than the sensuality level.

The story may be dark, but itís full of action and intrigue. Readers become part of the journey as they wonder, like Elena and Artur, who is behind the abductions and what purpose the facility serves. The first section of the book is completely riveting, since itís clear that the abductors will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. I read this part in one evening, then raced home from work the next day to finish the book.

The characters are the strongest part of the story. The world of Dirk & Steele is interesting, and the adventure is riveting, but without characters you care about, the story wouldnít be as good as it is. Elena and Artur are complex people who are easy to like and root for. Youíre likely to find yourself wanting to know more about them.

The secondary characters are also excellent, whether they are foes, friends, or a possible combination of the two. Several characters in this world would be great protagonists in their own stories.

If there is a weakness, itís that the romance could have been stronger. There is a romance ó a nice one at that ó but the plot prevented it from being the main focus. Still, readers who want a unique romance and a suspense story that entertains from start to finish should give Shadow Touch a try.

--Alyssa Hurzeler


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