I don’t know where Linda Howard wants to go with her writing, but wherever that is, I sure hope she keeps writing romance novels. True, I’ve not loved every book she’s written (I’ve read them all), and I’ve hated some of her heroes as much as I’ve loved others. But, when it comes to writing romance, Evangeline is a prime example of why I hope Ms. Howard keeps doing what she’s been doing. Oh, Evangeline isn’t perfect … in fact, there are some obvious problems with it. But, generally speaking, if you’re looking for a strong hero, an independent heroine, intense sexuality, and scorching love scenes, this lady delivers.
Robert Cannon was born rich. Through hard work, he’s gotten even richer. One of his many companies supplies computer software for the government … highly classified stuff. But someone in PowerNet, his software development company headquartered in Alabama, has been selling the programs to unfriendly factions. This is not only not smart, it’s treason, and Robert is working with the FBI to ferret out the traitor in their midst.
Evie Shaw is a widow who runs a small marina not far from Huntsville, where PowerNet is located. A customer of hers, one Landon Mercer, who manages PowerNet, pops in every now-and-again and pretends to go fishing. Evie suspects he’s up to something … dealing drugs perhaps? … so she follows him. After all, if he’s arrested, her marina will get some pretty bad press … guilt by association … not to mention the fact the government might seize her entire operation, putting her out of business.
When Robert first sees Evie, it’s in a grainy, photocopied image, and he is less than impressed. Every time Mercer takes out one of her boats, this Mrs. Shaw closes up shop and takes out her own boat, only to return within minutes of Mercer’s return. The traitor and the woman must be working together and are meeting out on the lake somewhere to make the trade – software for cash.
However, when Robert meets Evie personally, he is absolutely thunderstruck by her glowing skin, beautiful hair, pretty face, luscious body. He’s used to dating stick-thin bimbos (my husband’s favorite descriptive term) in New York, so he’s completely blindsided by Evie’s frank femininity. He can’t wait to get his hands on her, and, I must say, I was rather looking forward to that myself.
The storyline thereafter, focuses mainly on Robert getting Evie into bed. She’s resistant, and for good reason. She had loved her long-dead husband, and has remained “true” to his memory by continuing to wear his wedding ring, although he’s been gone for twelve years. In typical Howard style, this heroine has had a tough time, and when we learn of how Evie’s young husband died, and come to understand why Evie has grieved for him for so long, it works, and it’s poignant, and it’s sad.
Even though Robert begins to suspect Evie is innocent of any wrong-doing, he still applies the pressures that will make her return to crime, if ever she had been Mercer’s cohort to begin with. And herein lies the flaw in Evangeline. Based on two boat trips where the timing coincided with Mercer’s own outings, Robert and the FBI build a whole case against Evie. This just didn’t ring true. Robert’s suspicions about Evie’s involvement are based solely on her two boat trips and nothing else. Based on this tidbit of information, Robert sets about to make Evie think she’s financially ruined, just to see if she’ll participate in another buy. What he puts this woman through is ludicrous and painful to read. Knowing how vulnerable Evie is, understanding how private a person she is, and how sad, Robert knows it’s tearing her apart, yet he continues with the ploy until she’s nearly shattered. I know this makes for a very sympathetic heroine, but such a hurtful betrayal by the man I loved would be awfully hard to get past, when all’s said and done.
The thing is, the book would have been just as good or perhaps better without the spy-ring premise. The assumption of Evie’s guilt by Robert and his continuing persecution of her really detracted from the story for me. But for that, I would have loved Evangeline much better.