Guarding Laura by Susan Vaughan
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1314, $4.99 PG) ISBN 0-373-27384-3
***
In Susan Vaughan’s second novel for Intimate Moments she continues to create memorable characters in the rich setting of Maine.

In reality, Laura Stanton is the daughter of a diplomat, but she is on the run and on the tennis court. She has found a job at a summer resort teaching tennis and sailing. To her dismay, Laura is interrupted during a lesson, by none other than Cole Stratton, a man she had known in high school.

Cole is there in his newest assignment as an ATSA (Anti-Terrorism Security Agency) officer. His mission is to protect Laura, the only witness to a murder committed by Markos, a leading liaison with a terrorist organization. Laura was captured, beaten, knifed and left for dead. She managed to escape and was taken to a hospital. When she received a call from Markos, she left immediately. She has been on the run ever since under an assumed name.

ATSA found her through the trace of a call to her parents and Cole was selected to guard her since his boss knew they had gone to the same high school.

In reality Cole was more than a passing acquaintance, as it was his child she miscarried years ago. For reasons drawn from a “big misunderstanding” of their youth, Laura never told him she was pregnant.

She immediately resists his protection or the offer of a safe house. But ATSA knows she has been spotted and the latest intelligence places a hit man on the way from Boston. Cole insists and puts himself in place outside her cabin. The truth of the danger is soon obvious by repeated and very realistic threats to Laura’s life, which Cole manages to avert.

Both principal and secondary characters are expertly drawn and that is fortunate indeed, since the plot is an all too familiar one. The story starts strong, but midway mires down with the angst of childhood baggage. Cole’s ego is suffering from the wrong side of the track syndrome, thinking that he has not grown beyond his murky alcoholic father roots and never will. And Laura is protecting a secret she cannot divulge to Cole. This does get a bit tedious, but is counterbalanced with Laura’s refreshing attitude to Cole of “get over yourself.” Unfortunately, she is slow to take her own advice.

The ending is slightly contrived, but one that is conclusive, reinforcing the themes of the book and the progress of the protagonist. The scenes segue nicely and the dialogue is crisp and poignant. The novel is spotty, but the strengths of the characters and their interactions balances the old tired plot line. The reader will also carry away a taste of life in a summer resort in Maine. Silhouette has done well to add this writer to their coterie.

--Thea Davis


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