The Essence of Love

Intimate Secrets

A Mother's Love

With this Kiss

Tender Escape by Candice Poarch
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-082-4
White Lightning, Candice Poarch’s first novel, was a wonderful romance with a 40-year-old murder mystery as a subplot. The novel introduced an eclectic set of characters and the Northern Virginia town of Nottaway. With This Kiss and Intimate Secrets, other stories in what I collectively call the “Nottaway, Virginia series,” are also romantic suspenses. And, although the author has moved away from Nottaway as a setting, Tender Escape proves she can still weave a fascinating tale of intrigue.

Twelve years ago, the armored car Joe Hammond drove was highjacked. Between $15 and $20 million in gold bricks vanished. Neither the mastermind nor the gold have ever been found. Two weeks after the robbery, Joe was killed in a suspicious hit-and-run accident. Although the authorities believe it was an inside job, they have never been able to prove it. Employees and family members were questioned.

Olivia Hammond is Joe’s widow. Following her husband’s death, she found herself nearly broke and homeless -- with two small children to raise. Olivia and a few friends started a cleaning business. They cleaned kitchens and bathrooms by day and attended college courses by night. Olivia has pulled her life together and is now the owner of a successful spa in Prince Georges County, Maryland. Both her children are in college. But someone, who thinks Olivia knows more than she’s telling about the robbery, attempts to blackmail her. She hires private investigator Clifton Zayne to help her find the blackmailer and discover once and for all who was responsible for the robbery.

Clifton takes the case. He is both impressed by and jealous of Olivia’s loyalty to her late husband. She is convinced of his innocence and wants Clifton to find the blackmailer and clear Joe’s name. Clifton is withholding judgment until all the facts are known. The case is further complicated by someone else’s attempt to collect the reward money and yet another person who does not want the truth discovered.

Candice Poarch has added this novel to the growing list of romances that feature full-figured heroines. I liked Tender Escape and Poarch’s approach to characterization. And, while I enjoy the trend and the variation it brings to the stories I’ve read, I’d like to caution the publisher to space out the stories a bit more. A rash of full figured heroines, like a rash of amnesia victims, surprise babies or anything else can become abrasive when released with rapid fire succession.

Tender Escape is a well-written tale of unsolved mysteries or undisclosed secrets. Candice Poarch has painstakingly outlined the methodical work that investigators put in to solve a case. We are with Clifton as he encounters dead ends, hostile witnesses and cold trails. But the author never loses sight of the romance between Olivia and Clifton. Their relationship develops at a realistic pace and the characters have all the right questions and reservations before they give in to the inevitable. There is a secondary attraction -- it’s not quite a relationship -- that could evolve into a full-fledged romance in its own book.

Tender Escape should not be missed.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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