Desert Isle Keeper
Pamela Clare’s Barely Breathing is the first novel in her new series Colorado High Country. As the highly successful author of the I-Team romantic suspense novels, she’s become synonymous with high octane, action packed, sexy stories.
This book takes a step back from all that action, but delivers an equally dramatic second chance romance between two high school lovers who broke up and went their separate ways. Lexi went off to college and a career as a CPA. Through no fault of her own she’s now unemployed and at a loose end. Austin stayed in his home town, becoming a park ranger and part of the local Search and Rescue team. When Lexi comes back home to help her dad with his inn after his wife (Lexi’s stepmother) leaves him, she knows she’ll run into Austin. She hopes that she’ll be strong enough to put the past and their breakup firmly where they belong – after all, it’s been twelve years since they’ve seen each other. She doesn’t expect all those feelings for him to come flooding back. Austin is in the same position as Lexi. From the moment they meet up again, he finds it hard to remember why they couldn’t make things work between them. She’s only there for a short time, with no intentions of staying, and they fall into a friends with benefits arrangement that has a clear end date. But when their time is up, will they be so willing to let each other go once again?
At the beginning of the story, there is a very helpful glossary of terms defining the basics of rock climbing, and search and rescue in mountainous terrain. This alone shows that the setting and plot of the story have been well researched and throughout the course of the story this comes through loud and clear. The setting of a picturesque small town nestled in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks is well described. Equally, the secondary characters bring the town to life, from Lexi’s father (a grumpy alcoholic), to the local town gossip (the old lady next door) and high school friends and acquaintances of Lexi and Austin’s who are quite eager to see them reunite (and family members who are not). I like stories that give all those kinds of details, as it helps make the reader feel invested in what will happen with the couple. This is definitely a character driven story as the decisions Lexi and Austin make are what count in the long run.
What struck me as unique for a second chance romance is the clear indication that both parties are equally responsible for their initial breakup. Lexi and Austin were in love, but they were teenagers. Lexi knew she wasn’t going to stay around as she was desperate to escape the hard working life at the inn with her father and a stepmother with whom she didn’t get along. When she tried to convey to Austin her concerns about the likelihood that they would stay together once she moved away, Austin took this as a rejection of him and his plans for their future. He immediately broke up with her, and they both spent the summer after graduating from high school miserable and alone before Lexi left town. When she returns, and Austin thinks back on the good and the bad times they had, his thoughts are ”First love. Why did people romanticize it? It sucked.” And isn’t that the truth! Chances are first love ends in heartbreak, yet we tend to view it through rose colored glasses nonetheless. I appreciate that the author is able to show a little more of that truth in this story, and to make both leads equally culpable for not talking through their problems. Plus, the issues they had are still a reality for all couples who fall in love at that age. Their intimate encounters now are very sexy – bordering on a little bit kinky – with some scenes involving light bondage. It’s no surprise that they are still sexually compatible, as they learned about sex together as teenagers. Sex was never a problem for them then, and it isn’t now. It’s the emotions that go along with it that are at the crux of the problem.
There are several very realistic scenes involving the search and rescue team, as well as ones detailing the quirks of Austin’s job as a park ranger. The author makes these scenes very engaging, with some humour mixed in with the more emotional moments. We get a good sense of Austin’s colleagues and their dedication to their jobs. These women and men are all really uniquely drawn characters with interesting backgrounds, and any of them would make for engaging hero or heroine material in upcoming stories in the series. The latter stages of the story include a suspenseful subplot that ramps up the action and adds intensity to what had been up to then a fairly easy going drama; and also gives Lexi and Austin the jolt they need to make up their minds about the future. Barely Breathing will please longtime readers of Pamela Clare and it’s a great start to what promises to be a successful series.