Desert Isle Keeper
Lost Without You
Molly O’Keefe is an author who consistently writes original, moving, and frequently terrific romantic novels that stay with me long after I finish them. Pretty much everything she writes blows me away (although I’m not crazy about her MC stories), and somehow, without my noticing, she’s become one of my favorite writers. Her latest series, The Debt, is simply more proof as to why. From the Lost Without You prologue (which you can also download as a standalone), to its cliffhanger ending, this novel sucks you in and never lets you go. I read it from start to finish in one sitting, and though I HATED the ending (Ms. O’Keefe leaves quite a few plot threads unresolved for future books), this is a dark and supremely entertaining story.
Clarissa, Rosa, Simon, Tommy and Beth live at St. Jude’s Home for Court Placed Juveniles. We know a little bit about each – just enough to know that while their lives before St. Jude’s weren’t all that wonderful, life at St. Jude’s is worse. It’s hell. The Pastor and His Wife who run the home are monsters – abusive and sadistic – and the only freedom the five have is when they’re at high school. Tommy tries to keep the group safe and bears the resulting scars, but each day is a terrible struggle. Somehow, despite the misery of their lives, Tommy and Beth (the newest addition), discover happiness in each other. They steal away at lunchtime to be together in the Art Room, where they kiss and smile and love each other. Until they’re caught. That night, when Beth is singled out for punishment, Tommy snaps. Before the night is over, Tommy, Simon and Carissa find themselves accused of murder, Beth is taken away in an ambulance and Rosa is on the run. When a stranger, Blake, shows up and offers them freedom in exchange for a debt to be paid at a later date, they take it – knowing one day, somehow, the debt will be called in.
When Lost Without You picks up in Tommy’s PoV, seven years have passed. He and Simon stayed together, working odd jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment and enough food to survive, but Tommy has never forgotten Beth or stopped wondering what happened to her. Simon eventually got his GED and a full scholarship to UCLA; he’s now a journalist and is frequently out of the country. Tommy’s path was a more difficult one. Shortly after Simon left for school, he developed a drug addiction, but with Simon’s help, he got clean and has spent the time since working as a mason and living in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, not far from their first apartment. He failed to find Beth, and he can’t forget her – neither drugs nor work help, and she’s often on his mind.
While Tommy is at his neighbourhood bar one afternoon, a smartly dressed woman sits down next to him – and when he is able to get a good look at her, he sees that it’s Clarissa, the only person who spent more time at St. Jude’s than he did. The last time Tommy saw her she was walking out of the precinct covered in the Pastor’s blood. He’s happy to see her again, but it’s clear Clarissa isn’t in the bar to celebrate a reunion with Tommy – she knew he would be there. She has a message from Blake. Tommy’s debt is due.
Clarissa slides an envelope across the bar to him and refuses to answer questions about where she’s been, but makes it clear to Tommy what will happen if he refuses to honor the debt. He opens the envelope when he’s back in his apartment and discovers a key fob – which conveniently opens the fancy, out of place BMW he noticed parked at the entrance to his apartment building – a fake ID, and instructions for a pickup in Santa Barbara, CA, and drop-off in Arizona. He doesn’t know who or what he’s picking up/dropping off, but it’s clear from the drop-off time that he needs to get going. He packs a bag and his dog, shoots Simon a text and heads out. The drive provides ample time for him to wonder about Clarissa’s connection to Blake and whether his debt has something to do with Beth. He thinks he’s ready for anything… except seeing her. All too soon he arrives at the pickup address, a mansion in Santa Barbara where a party/orgy is underway. He bluffs his way inside, assuming he’ll know who he’s picking up when he sees…
So it’s super difficult to discuss Lost Without You without spoiling it. Early on – even in the bar – Ms. O’Keefe sprinkles clues about Beth (honestly, you really only need to read the blurb to guess who she is), but I’ll leave it for you to discover. From the moment Tommy leaves the party – package in tow – the story transitions from Tommy’s worry over the debt and what happened to Beth that fateful night, to a transformative meditation on the power of true love to transcend our darkest, scariest moments. Ms. O’Keefe focuses on their relationship, from those halcyon moments in the Art room when they could barely keep their hands to themselves, to the horrific night when they escaped St. Jude’s. Once they’re reunited (I’m not going to tell you how), they re-discover the intensity of their love and desire for each other, but the debt and their past history preclude them from imagining a future together. Every moment together is charged, and as you read their separate PoVs, it’s heartbreaking to realize how much they’ve suffered in each other’s absence, and how desperate they are for the scraps of affection they permit themselves. All that heat between them eventually combusts, but Ms. O’Keefe barely gives readers a chance to enjoy it before Tommy and Beth are pushing each other away. It’s painful, raw, and deeply moving. I believed in these two and I just wanted them to believe in each other. They do – but only deep in their secret hearts. Life has taught both Tommy and Beth the pain of revealing their true selves, and that fear keeps them apart.
Since I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll simply tell you Tommy and Beth end up on a sort of journey together, but this is no fun and flirty road trip romance. And for cliffhanger haters here’s a warning that there are many (OH SO MANY) mysteries and relationships left unresolved by the time the book concludes: Why was Beth at St. Jude’s in the first place? Who is Blake? Where did Clarissa go after she walked out of the precinct? How did she start working for Blake? Why is Rosa in prison? What are the other debts? Who is Tommy’s family?
But those are questions for the next book in the series, Where I Belong. Where YOU belong, is sitting somewhere – preferably where there are few distractions (or even better, none) – reading this terrific story. I dare you to put it down once you pick it up.