Daddy By Choice

Once More a Family

A Perfect Hero

Taming the Night

Never Walk Alone
by Paula Detmer Riggs
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-41083-1
This book is surprisingly readable in spite of an almost complete lack of tension and more loose ends than your old demin cut-offs.

It has been over twenty years since Michael Rhys Sullivan, now known as Rhys Hazard, left Osuma, the small town where he grew up. He was seventeen and on his way to jail to serve four years for killing one man and two children when he hit a school bus with his car.

Since his release from prison, Rhys has built a shipping empire from one eighteen-wheel truck. When a flood nearly wipes out Osuma, he buys the fruit packing plant owned by his family to use as a new freight depot. The town hails North Star shipping as its savior from economic disaster. Will they feel the same way if they discover its owner is the hated, child-murdering “Mick Sullivan”?

In no rush to find out, Rhys sends a senior executive to head up the new venture. Unfortunately, the man is seriously injured in a car crash en route to Osuma (these folks seem to have bad luck that way) and Rhys is forced to go himself. The first potential problem arises when Rhys finds that Brina Sullivan, his younger brother’s ex-wife, owns the bed and breakfast where he has reservations. Not only did Rhys’s brother testify against Rhys at the trial that sent him away, but Brina’s younger brother was one of the children killed in the bus crash.

Brina doesn’t recognize Rhys at first, but before a word is exchanged she is “mentally stripping that big body bare.” This is a harbinger of things to come, since both Brina and Rhys will spend quite a lot of time pondering the state of his crotch and various other body parts. A few seconds later, she’s reminding herself that she has to be “very, very careful before allowing a man she found even remotely attractive into her life again.” This seems a tad premature, since she’s just met the guy and doesn’t know a thing about him.

In fact, neither of these characters gets much beyond the superficial, partly because the author does so little with the story elements she’s set in place. Brina has little trouble setting aside two decades of hatred for the man who killed her brother. She justifies it by claiming that her father, now dead, would have wanted her to forgive Rhys, but the reader can’t help but think that her change of heart has more to do with his intriguing bulges.

Rhys’s troubles with his father, who still believes that his son was to blame in the school bus wreck, simply vanish when both men fall in love. The townspeople forgive Rhys with equal alacrity given that he’s saved them all from unemployment. Rhys verges on too-good-to-be-true, as the ex-con loner somehow just knows instinctively what to do to solve Brina’s problems with her kids. It’s all very grown-up - and very dull.

The villain of the piece is a similarly two-dimensional loser, clearly no threat to the extremely capable Rhys, so there isn’t a lot of tension added there. A plot to frame Rhys and send him back to jail is resolved, not by any action on the part of the hero or heroine, but by an anonymous note that rather improbably inspires the sheriff to release Rhys and arrest other people instead. It’s pretty difficult to get excited.

There’s precious little excitement in the romance, as well. Brina and Rhys indulge in lots of mental lusting, and there’s lots of consummation interruptus that’s probably supposed to build tension but doesn’t. After waiting nearly two thirds of the book to make it all the way to bed, these two don’t exactly set the sheets on fire when they get there and the subsequent sex is mostly brief and unimaginative.

I am in favor of characters behaving like adults, but interesting adults take a hand in solving their problems. If they just wander around in a hormonal fog while events resolve themselves, it can be an average read, but it won’t be a very compelling story.

-- Judi McKee

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