Desert Isle Keeper
Guarding Jane Doe
Not all keepers are created equal. Some are simply wonderful overall, while others have something about them that make them special. Guarding Jane Doe fits in the latter category. I wouldn’t have called it a keeper the first time I read it, although I did remember it fondly afterward. Rereading it reminded me of just how terrific so much of it is. It’s not perfect, but it is something special.
Quinn McGuire is a mercenary, a man who’s spent his adult life traveling from war zone to war zone, fighting one battle after another. He has no close ties and lives on the edge, consistently testing fate with little regard to his own life. Just as he’s about to leave for another mission, he receives a letter from Sister Bertille, the nun who once nursed him back from the brink of death. The letter was mailed by another nun after his savior died and is a deathbed request. Before she died Sister Bertille cashed in the favor he always told her he owed her. She asks him to use his fighting skills not as a soldier, but as a protector to someone in need of one. And that is how he winds up guarding one Jane Doe.
Jane Smith woke up in a hospital with no memory of her life or identity. Ever since she left the hospital, someone has been following her, leaving the cryptic message, “I Know Who You Are and I Know What You Did.” When the stalker escalates to violence and nearly kills her, Quinn knows he has to step in. He knows enough about head injuries to suspect her memory block is psychological and there is something she simply doesn’t want to remember. What he doesn’t expect is for this woman who doesn’t know who she is to grab ahold of his heart and never let go.
Obviously readers who avoid amnesia stories at all costs may have no use for this one. That would be a shame. The plot device may be cliché, but the character story Allen builds around it is exceptional.
Quinn is a terrific hero. He’s jaded, a little rough, and undeniably alpha. He’s also a poignant figure, a soldier who knows no other way, a man convinced he is destined to die on a battlefield and be buried in an unmarked grave like so many men he’s known. Quinn’s memories of his fallen comrades and his belief about his own fate add to the deep emotions of the story. Jane gradually proves she is no mere damsel in distress. Hidden depths come to light as her memory returns and she discovers the woman she was and still is. There’s just enough angst in each of them to make this an emotional read, but it never becomes too heavy.
The feelings between them develop rather quickly, as Quinn moves in with Jane to protect her and they find themselves sharing close quarters. But it never feels forced or rushed. Allen quickly establishes a connection between them and develops a moving love story between her world weary hero and mysterious heroine. It’s passionate and believable, capturing the intense feelings and the magic of falling in love. Another plus is that, unlike many of the author’s more recent work, there are no children involved to take the focus away from the main characters and their romance.
Ultimately the story arrives at a climax of rare power and fierce emotion. This is exactly what the ending of a romance novel should be: heartrending, profoundly moving, and an unmistakable statement of how deep the love is between these two people. The editor’s letter in the front of the book promises, “What they find together is everlasting love the likes of which is rarely – if ever – seen.” For once, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s the kind of ending not often seen in romantic suspense and blew me away. Add in the unexpected poignance that comes into play when the evil villain meets his/her end, and it’s one of the most unforgettable endings I’ve read in a romance novel.
The book’s weakness is its suspense plot. While the author does provide several chilling scenes, the mystery itself is nothing special. The book has too few characters for the villain to be a surprise, so it’s obvious who it must be. There are also some questionable elements in the setup that probably wouldn’t hold up to much scrutiny if analyzed too closely. When the book first came out, I would have given it a B+ because of the suspense plot. What makes the book so special, though, are the characters, particularly the hero, and the sheer emotion of the romance. For that, and the exceptional ending, it really is a keeper.
The other two books in the Avengers series are respectable follow-ups (I liked the third book, The Bride and the Mercenary, slightly more than my colleague, who gave it a B-, which is the grade I’d attach to Sullivan’s Last Stand, the second in this series, although it has a terrific ending). This one is the best though, a fast moving story with deep emotion and suspenseful moments. Even if you don’t like amnesia books, this one is worth a try, because everything around that plot device is so rewarding. The problem is often less with the plot device than with how the author executes it. In this case, Harper Allen shows how true that is.