All a Man Can Ask
Inner-city Chicago high school art teacher Faye Harper needs a quiet summer by the lake. After a harrowing incident in which the father of one of her students broke her wrist by pushing her down a flight of stairs, the peaceful serenity of her aunt’s lakeside cottage in Eden, Illinois is just the ticket. What Faye clearly doesn’t need is some hotshot, confirmed-bachelor Chicago cop barreling his way into her life.
Aleksy Denko, brother of Jarek Denko (All a Man Can Do), isn’t hanging around at the end of Faye’s dock looking for the same quiet haven. Alek, in fact, is hot on the trail of gun runners whose activities, the experienced detective believes, are headquartered at a far more expensive home directly across the lake. Faye’s cabin provides the perfect view Alek needs to be on the look out for any suspicious activities.
When Faye calls the police to report the mysterious trespasser, she is none too pleased to learn of Alex’s identity, including the fact that he’s the brother of Eden’s own sheriff. And, even though Alek doesn’t come completely clean about exactly what he suspects, Faye soon enough finds herself reluctantly agreeing to allow him to continue his stake out. But when Faye’s home is broken into and photographs that she uses as an aid in her paintings are taken, it becomes clear that Faye herself has become caught up the nefarious doings of her lakeside neighbor. The petite young art teacher needs protection and Alek is clearly just the man to provide it.
In All a Man Can Do, Virginia Kantra has created an intriguing suspenseful romance with two appealing characters. Wracked with guilt over the murder of his former partner and lover in a Chicago shoot-out, Alek is determined to take down the gun runners he knows are responsible for her death. And, if he has to take a little vacation time and work outside the department in order to accomplish his goal, well, then, so be it.
Faye is also a nicely drawn character. A dedicated teacher in a tough high school, she is forced to acknowledge that the incident in Chicago injured far more than her wrist. Her failure to convince the parents of the promising student at the center of the controversy that his artistic talent would be best served by accepting an offered scholarship to art school is a devastating mistake she believes will forever damage the young boy’s future. Especially since the teenager – now at the mercy of his abusive stepfather – may finally have succumbed to the lure of the streets.
The romance here between a bachelor who seems firmly committed to his single-hood and a woman reluctant to allow herself to be touched (either physically or mentally) is well done. And even though for a good three-quarters of the book the story moves along quite nicely, the momentum does flag fairly dramatically when Faye’s student appears at the cabin. The inclusion of this third character at a critical point in the plot is both an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction in Kantra’s otherwise crisply moving story.
But, with that said, the good here definitely outweighs the bad. Far too often series romance characters are drawn in broad strokes, but, happily, Kantra’s characters are real people with all the foibles and nuances skillfully portrayed. I felt as if I knew both Faye and Alek and I enjoyed watching them find their HEA.
A solid entry in the Intimate Moments line, All a Man Can Ask is a good bet for those who enjoy a series romance with likable characters and just the right touch of suspense.