Kathryn Shay’s first mainstream romantic suspense is a gripping story that will haunt readers with its authenticity. And those who pick up a copy will find not one, but two absorbing romance threads, full of sensuality and fire. If ever the label of “sure thing” were deserved by a book, Promises to Keep is such a book.
Susanna Quinn is the principal of a suburban high school. The recent suicide of a student left her shaken, and when the superintendent brings in a specially-trained crisis counselor, Susanna sees the possibilities for better student interventions. Joe Stonehouse seems to know his stuff, and his nineteen-year-old nephew, Luke, will be attending Fairholm High as well. Susanna tells herself she’s pleased to accept Joe’s help for the rest of the school year.
Joe and Luke aren’t quite what they seem, as Susanna soon discovers. Both are Secret Service agents working for the Safe School Initiative, which analyses potential assassins, school shooters in particular. Joe, a trained psychologist, lost his beloved teenaged niece to a school shooting and works through his grief trying to save others. Luke, a hotheaded twenty-six year old who can pass for nineteen, is toeing the line after a screwup on the job. Fairholm High harbors a nest of troubled kids and all signs point to potential violence. The signs are right.
Susanna is taken into their confidence, and she reluctantly agrees to keep the truth from her staff. Joe, a loner who follows the rules, is drawn to pretty, widowed Susanna and her teenaged son. Luke, in his persona as a cocky senior, finds himself caught in a devil’s snare as he falls for Kelsey Cunningham, his social studies teacher - who believes him to be a kid but is attracted to him anyway, much to her horror. He can’t tell her the truth, and much as he fights to push her away, the underlying current and sizzle between them will not be denied.
As Joe probes into the students’ minds through counseling groups, Luke infiltrates their social circle and uses his significant computer skills to ferret out the plans for violence. The trail is tantalizing - but just out of reach. As Joe and Luke race against time, they must balance their professional commitment against the knowledge that they have each found their perfect mate, yet might not be able to keep her.
The four lead characters in this story are particularly well-drawn. Luke and Kelsey both face longstanding issues with their fathers. Kelsey’s controlling, critical father left emotional scars and Susanna is her surrogate parent figure. At thirty-one, Kelsey has yet to come to terms with her father’s treatment, and her “trust issues” take up a bit too much space and feel a bit forced (she’s been an adult for ten years, shouldn’t she have come to terms with this by now?), but she’s compelling in her vulnerability and determination to behave ethically in regards to her student. Luke, emotional and financial supporter of seven younger sisters plus his mother, has his own regrets about his relationship with his deceased father. Luke and Kelsey circle each other warily, and the sexual tension between them steams with frustrated desire. By the time the truth finally comes out, their suppressed feelings have created even more problems between them, problems that Kelsey will simply not let go. Instead, she hangs onto her supposed humiliation and betrayal, refusing to admit the necessity of both and move on to the possibilities that await. This was the only disappointing aspect of the story.
Joe and Susanna’s romance follows a different, and perhaps more mature, path. They enter into a relationship with their eyes open, no illusions about happily-ever-after. When this case comes to a close, Joe will move on, with no further contact allowed. Susanna accepts this and tries to live - and love - for the moment, but it’s harder than they both thought when their hearts are involved. Joe, the loner, finds he’s soothed and healed by this woman, and in the end, it’s harder for him to leave than for Susanna to let go. Difficult choices await both couples.
As for the suspense, Shay uses her own extensive background as a high-school teacher to
create believable teenagers. Not all are sympathetic; not all will be saved. However, by sticking to this reality rather than trying to script an unrealistic happy ending for all, she delivers a drama that carries tremendous emotional impact. You’ll care about these kids.
Promises to Keep is top-notch romantic suspense. Kathryn Shay adds another winner to her already impressive list of absorbing tales. Don’t miss this one.