Desert Isle Keeper
When I heard that Julie Garwood was writing a contemporary romantic suspense novel, my first thought was “Oh boy,” and a sense of dread at losing one of my favorite authors to the more mainstream/suspense genre. When I finished Heartbreaker, I closed the book, placed it on the table in front of me and thought “Oh boy” – but dread was the last thing on my mind.
Father Thomas Madden is regretting the act of kindness that has led him to the confessional; not only has no one come in search of absolution, but it’s, well, hotter than hell in there. Finally, he hears the sound of someone kneeling and waiting to confess. To Tommy’s horror, the man he cannot see tells him that he is literally a Heartbreaker – not only has he killed before, but he plans to kill again. Tommy plays the man’s game of wills and tries to talk to him in the open, but in the end, is left with only one horrific revelation: the killer’s next victim is none other than Laurant Madden, Tommy’s sister.
FBI Agent Nicholas Buchanan (one of the 12 Apostles, as his elite group is known) has been ordered to take a vacation after a particularly intense case, but when he hears his best friend Tommy’s frantic message, there is no question in Nick’s mind that he must help. Laurant, who has driven to see Tommy because she’s worried about his latest cancer tests, finally meets her brother’s friend and is instantly attracted to him. Although the attraction is mutual, neither Laurant nor Nick ever lose sight of their main goal: to catch Heartbreaker and keep Laurant safe.
Heartbreaker’s obsession with Laurant leads the FBI team to set up a plan: If Laurant has a man in her life, the killer might become enraged and make a mistake. Nick doesn’t want to use Laurant as bait, but posing as her fiancé, he can be at her side 24 hours a day, which either unnerves him or excites him – or maybe both. While they work on fooling everyone into thinking that they are a happily engaged couple, Laurant has problems with a gossip columnist, and Nick is battling Jules Wesson, his FBI superior who keeps on thwarting his efforts. Not only does he keep Nick out of the loop, he also takes men off the case.
Heartbreaker’s identity remains a mystery – is it Steve Brenner, who is obsessed with Laurant to the point of rage? Or is it young felon Lonnie, the corrupt sheriff’s son who always goes free because of his father’s pull? Or is something else going on here?
Laurant has spent most of her life without a family. When she and Tommy were orphaned, the lawyers in charge of the trust decided to send her to school in Switzerland. She’s envious of Tommy, who found a surrogate family with Nick and his relatives. She is afraid of rejection, and she’s sure that once the case is solved, Nick will forget about her and get on with his life. She is a capable heroine, willing to be used as bait but smart enough to avoid senselessly placing herself in danger at every turn. I found her likable, especially the fact that she doesn’t have a clue how really beautiful she is. She thinks that all the boys who join her in her daily jogs are doing so out of a desire to be fit.
Strong, capable, and tender when he needs to be, Nick Buchanan is completely bewildered by his attraction to Laurant. He can’t reconcile the girl from the pictures Tommy showed him years ago with the woman before him, and his sense of honor screams at the thought of lusting after his best friend’s sister, even after they’ve made love. His willingness to ultimately sacrifice his own well-being and even his job for her is utterly romantic.
Although I missed the number of love scenes usually found in a Julie Garwood book, the attraction between Nick and Laurant is palpable from early on. They get to know each other, first as Tommy’s best friend and Tommy’s sister, then as two people who must work together, and finally, as two people who truly complete each other. The secondary characters are well-drawn, especially Tommy, and Nick’s super charming, priest-impersonating, FBI agent friend Noah, whom I am hoping to see again in a book of his own. Although the identity of the killer wasn’t a complete surprise, and I could see how the final showdown was set up, Heartbreaker is a winner through and through. Garwood’s storytelling abilities are as strong as ever, and even though I wish for more of her historical romances, she has made the transition to contemporary romantic suspense as smoothly as any author could wish.