Fade the Heat

Head On by Colleen Thompson
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-505-52713-8
Because the charactersí histories are so pivotal to the plot, this synopsis is longer than usual. The basic story line is that Beth Ann and Mark get another chance at happiness, but pressures past and present donít make it easy on them.

Beth Ann Decker is an RN; she provides nursing care to hospice patients. One of her patients is Hiram Jessup. His son Mark has returned to Eudena, Texas, to be with his father during his last days. Mark has brought his multi-racial son, five-year-old Eli, with him. Hiram has never forgiven Mark; they have not seen each other in years.

Beth Ann and Mark Jessup grew up in the same small town. Beth Ann was a popular girl, a cheerleader, eying college and possibly medical school. Mark was the good looking bad boy. Slightly dyslexic, he considered Beth Ann out of his reach but couldnít help wanting her. In their senior year they were involved in a head on collision. Markís pickup hit the car Beth Ann was driving. The three passengers in Beth Annís car, including Markís younger sister, were killed. Mark served several years in prison for DUI resulting in the deaths. (Frankly, itís hard to believe even a bad lawyer couldnít have won an acquittal.) Beth Ann was seriously injured. After emerging from a coma, she had multiple surgeries and spent years in physical therapy. She does not remember details of the crash.

Beth Annís mother, Lilly, sued Hiram to pay for Beth Annís extensive medical bills. Hiram was left with little more than his house. In later years, Lillyís luck changed. She hit a progressive slot jackpot and became an instant millionaire. She built a fancy house she calls the Lucky Pull; she has a Mercedes and expensive clothes. Many in Eudena disapprove of her free-wheeling lifestyle which has remained unchanged with her change in fortune.

Mark turned his life around following prison. He attended college and started a company to produce his invention. Heís now a successful, wealthy businessman in Pittsburgh. He is only in Eudena as long as it takes to make peace with his father. He and Eliís mother were never married. She went off to medical school and gave Mark custody of their son. He is uncomfortable with the reception Eli receives in Eudena from both his father and others. Beth Ann, however, is wonderful with the little boy.

Beth Ann is about to get terrible news. Deputy Damon Stillwater comes to the Jessup house to get Beth Ann. Her mother has been brutally murdered.

There are deep currents and resentments in Eudena, and life in the small town is not as peaceful as the residents might pretend. Bad feelings run deep. Some of Markís enemies in high school are still out to get him. Damon is discouraged from trying to solve Lilly Deckerís murder. Beth Ann is attacked and shot at.

As Beth Ann and Mark grow closer, the mysteries swirling around them and Markís impending return to Pittsburgh cast a large shadow.

Beth Ann is a particularly sympathetic heroine. Sheís recovered from a life-altering accident and found a rewarding career. She walks with a cane but doesnít dwell on her injuries. Sheís tired of everyone else in Eudena thinking of her as Poor Beth Ann. Mark is admirable in the way he rose above his challenges and has met his responsibilities. Getting out of Eudena must have been a factor because most of his classmates donít seem to have progressed much since high school. Itís easy to hope that Beth Ann and Mark will achieve happiness.

While Beth Ann and Mark are the hero and heroine of Head On, multiple other characters get a large share of the attention. Some of this attention, such as Cheryl and Pete Rikerís marital problems (Cheryl is Beth Annís supervisor), is mostly wasted space. Itís easy to wish Beth Ann and Mark would just leave town and hash things out without all those Eudena hicks getting in the way and causing problems.

The sometimes ponderous pacing of Head On keeps it from rising above acceptable status. (Is anyone else getting flashbacks of that annoying TV commercial?) Over the course of four days that I was reading Head On, I read another book, watched two movies, and scrubbed the bathroom tile and grout. A book has to be more absorbing than that to earn a recommended rating. Its strong character development, however, is a reason that readers might consider checking it out.

--Lesley Dunlap

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