Against the Wind
Anne Stuart’s Into the Fire was the most disappointing book I read in 2003. It looks even worse now that I’ve finally read Against the Wind, one book on her backlist I was saving. The two books have similar premises. In both, the heroine’s distant mother orders her to travel far from home to retrieve a dead/dying family member. When she arrives, the heroine comes face-to-face with her relative’s closest friend, who was also the object of her teenage fantasies. She finds herself held prisoner by this man, and comes to discover her feelings for him are still there. The main differences are: this story is romantic, it has an actual plot, the heroine has both a brain and a spine, and the hero has an innate sense of honor. Okay, maybe it’s nothing like Into the Fire after all.
First published twenty years ago, Against the Wind is the story of Maddy Lambert, whose father was once a presidential candidate in the 1970s. During the campaign a Secret Service agent and Vietnam veteran named Jake Murphy was assigned to protect him. The dark, haunted Jake inspired adult emotions she’d never felt before. But when her father abruptly dropped out of the race, Jake disappeared from her life. Her father also abandoned his family, moving to Central America to help the people of the war torn country of San Pablo.
To the San Pablans, Samuel Lambert is known as El Patron-the Saint. To Maddy, he’s the father she hasn’t heard from in years. Then comes the news that he is dying. Her mother, remarried to another politician, wants Maddy to bring him home before he can cause her and her new husband any further embarrassment with his involvement in San Pablo’s politics. Maddy makes the journey to Central America, but when she arrives at the gates of El Patron’s compound, it’s Jake Murphy who meets her there. He claims that he’s never seen her before and that she’s not Samuel’s daughter. Declaring that she must be a spy, he orders the guerillas at the camp to take her prisoner.
Suddenly Maddy is caught in the middle of a political situation she doesn’t understand, between the dictatorial government and the rebels who are even more dangerous. The only familiar face is Jake, who says he doesn’t know her and refuses to let her see her father. He’s become even more dark and dangerous than she remembered over the years. He seems to be toying with her, but she doesn’t know what game he’s playing. It isn’t long, though, before she’s drawn to him even more than before.
There are several elements that make this book such a good read. One is the heroine. Maddy may be overpowered by Jake at various times in the story, but by no means is she down for the count. She’s a fighter. She manages to get the better of him more than once. She’s not weak. She’s not stupid. While she does have some insecurities, she also has a strong will and a mind of her own. Jake isn’t one of Stuart’s darkest heroes, but Maddy is exactly the type of heroine a man like him needs: susceptible to his spell but strong enough to not take whatever he dishes out without question.
The love story is a nice blend of the sweetly romantic and the darkly seductive. In the early part of the book, Stuart moves between the present-day action and flashbacks to Maddy and Jake’s encounters when she was a teenager. Their past encounters have an innocent tenderness, while the contemporary ones are definitely darker, rougher and more adult. Their relationship is full of the same heat as the tropical setting, steamy and on the wild side. But there is also tenderness to be found in the modern-day part of their love story. Even as it seems like he’s playing with her, the depth of Jake’s feelings for her comes out in these small, perfect ways that say more than a thousand words could.
It’s a nicely complex book that blends action, adventure, suspense and political intrigue. More importantly, Stuart does it effortlessly in a fast, smooth read that moves at a brisk pace. The plot twists and turns with unexpected developments and surprising moments. Just when it seems as though the story is reaching a natural point where it should be slowing down and winding up, it kicks into another gear for the second act. The hero isn’t the only one who’s more than he seems, and several secondary characters ultimately reveal different sides to themselves than is first apparent.
The book doesn’t quite reach keeper status for me because there are certain elements that feel a little underdeveloped around the edges. It’s still a terrific read: fast, surprising, suspenseful and most of all romantic. Anyone who didn’t care for the similar Into the Fire should definitely give this one a try. The author got this story right the first time.