Before the Storm
It’s really hard to give a less-than-stellar grade to an author you love. Not only are you wrestling with your own disappointment in the story but you feel sort of like a rat betraying a friend when you make that disappointment public. The nice thing about doing so with this book is that I do get to gush about the author’s prose style and the book, while not brilliant, was above average.
Mark St. Clair and his daughter Emily are enjoying the Founder’s Day festivities when in a moment’s distraction she slips away from him. His panic soon turns to joy and then surprise when he finds her at a table admiring some gorgeous cupcakes being sold by a beautiful woman. He does a bit of mild flirting – the first he has done since his wife died – they buy some cupcakes and then they go. It’s a small town so it’s possible he’ll see the young woman again but it’s not a thought that takes front and center of his mind.
What does almost immediately capture all his attention is his brother’s coming visit. Mark runs an exclusive resort that has been in his family for generations, first as a Southern Plantation and now as a ritzy hotel. His brother, a soap opera star, is working on a film locally and as part owner of the hotel plans to stay there rather than staying at the family home. There are some hard feelings between him and Mark and when the stress of the visit collides with his mother’s nagging about her desire for him to date a local socialite Mark decides to give himself a break. He heads down to the café where the gorgeous cupcakes and their equally delectable owner abide.
Let me save us some time here and fast forward through some of the angst. Mark and the café owner, Samantha Marsh, are drawn to each other but Samantha blows hot and cold. She’s attracted to Mark and he seems like a nice guy but she’s never going to be in a position to date anyone. Her name is actually Trina Grissom, she escaped a bad situation by killing her abusive boyfriend and then fleeing under an assumed name. She’s wanted by the police and a criminal organization so her whole life can fall apart if she gets too close to Mark and he finds out about her past.
Because this is a romance novel, a deus ex machina kicks in to ensure they begin dating. This causes some extra tension with Mark’s brother, who is also into her, and Mark’s mother, who wants a woman of their social class and background as a daughter-in-law. Despite the difficulties, the relationship starts to get serious quickly and the question of whether or not to tell Mark the truth begins to be a major one in Samantha’s life. When Sam’s past collides with her present, the question becomes less of an if than a when and how.
This book managed to trip over one of my all-time top pet peeves – the magic mommy replacement. From the minute she lays eyes on Sam’s cupcakes little Emily, who has been mute since the car accident that killed her mom, falls in love. The aunt who sacrificed her own life to give the little girl support? Dog meat. The grandmother who spoils her? Pfft. Her loving father? Double pfft. It is the few average hours that Sam spends with Emily that make all the difference in her life. Very irritating.
The solution to all Sam’s problems was another difficulty for me. The whole situation just felt too trite and ended too neatly to be believable. I also really struggled with Mark’s role in the whole thing – the way he kept throwing over his vulnerable daughter for a woman he barely knew was difficult to deal with. I think it was a bit worse than in your average romantic suspense because he wasn’t an ex-Navy SEAL or former SWAT member or some other form of covertly trained dangerous operative. He was a hotel owner at an exclusive facility who had probably never even bounced a drunk from the premises. He was outclassed by the villains in our story who very much understood how the game of violence is played. I just found it somewhat disturbing that he so willingly risked his life in circumstances for which he had absolutely no preparation.
Sam bugged me as well. Like the heroine of numerous TV shows she did so little to hide her whereabouts that she might as well have sent the bad guys a new address card. An additional problem for me was her feelings toward her mom. I didn’t think those feelings were realistic based upon what had happened. No real soul searching was done to come to peace with the feelings most people would have felt towards the woman.
But while I might not have been wild about the plot or certain issues with the characters I did really enjoy the author’s writing style. Her prose is crisp and clear and paints a precise image so that you can always imagine the scene before you. The story isn’t simplistic yet it is easy to follow and the author doesn’t throw needless hurdles into the mix just to keep you from guessing the ending.
Romantic suspense that is police/criminal based as opposed to covert operative based is a bit hard to find these days. While this one pushed some buttons for me I did find myself enjoying the mystery aspects of it. If you are more into the suspense portion of romantic suspense than the romance, then this just might be what you are looking for. But if you’re all about the romance, this probably won’t be your cuppa.