Promises To Keep
Kathryn Shay makes her single title debut with Promises To Keep. Her series romances for Harlequin Superromance are some of the best around, so I eagerly jumped into this one. The story is timely, the characters are realistic, and they face some heartbreaking choices. However, the premise on which the book is built is a house of cards. Luckily enough, the premise recedes in the background early enough in the story and I became caught up in the unfolding romance(s) Shay created.
Suzanna Quinn is the principal of Fairholm High School. She is a widow with a son who is a senior at the school. Fairholm has had its share of problems, most notably the suicide of a student, but it runs smoothly thanks to Suzanna. She is open, accessible, honest, and respectful. She is not one to allow problems to go unnoticed, she works hard, she loves her job, and truly cares about the students.
But Suzanna can’t know everything. The school superintendent has hired a new guidance counselor, Joe Stonehouse, who has brought with him his rebellious nephew Luke as a pupil. In reality Joe and Luke are Secret Service agents working as part of a new Federal agency on the prevention of school violence. They’ve intercepted signs that some kind of violent incident may happen in Fairdale. For Joe, school violence is personal – his beloved niece was the victim of a shooting at her school.
Now for my big problem. Although the author states in her forward that the program that Joe and Luke work with is fictional, it seemed all wrong to me. School violence is not a federal crime, and making Joe and Luke Feds existed expressly to show Suzanna’s problem with government authority (her father had been wrongly accused by Joseph McCarthy). Had Joe and Luke had been members of a local or state-wide law enforcement agency, it would have been more credible in my opinion. Then to there’s the fact that Joe and Luke go into the school so deeply undercover that the principal doesn’t know who they are. The rationale for that is this: Suzanna is such an honest administrator she would be honor-bound to let the faculty in on Joe and Luke’s identities. This did not seem right to me at all. I would question any superintendent who would allow such a thing. I can see how the authorities might want to keep an agent’s identity from the teachers and students, but the principal? No, I could not see that.
Anyway, Joe and Luke’s cover is blown to Suzanna early on when Brenda, a journalist friend of Suzanna’s, recognizes Joe. When Joe and Luke present their case, Suzanna is not pleased at the secrecy, but agrees to go along. Pretty soon the agents begin to find out bits and pieces about a possible plot to do something in the school, and it looks like Suzanna’s son may be one of the intended victims. To add to all the complications, Joe and Suzanna are beginning to care for each other, and Luke, still in his disguise as a student, is beginning to fall in love with Kelsey, one of the teachers. And she is has feelings for him too, feelings that are wracking her with guilt.
Promises To Keep is filled with incidents and characters. There are so many people all with complex backgrounds that it all gets a bit overwhelming at times, and some of the characters are either undeveloped or have rushed reconciliations. Kelsey has issues with her controlling father, Brenda is a burnt-out alcoholic, Luke’s father disapproved of him and predicted that he would not amount to anything, and as for Joe’s background, well it is beyond dysfunctional. I’ve already mentioned Suzanna’s father and Joe McCarthy. Thank goodness she had a happy first marriage and has a good relationship with her son!
Despite all the, shall we say too rich aspects of the book, darned if it didn’t keep me glued to the pages. The problem students were all too real and the relationships between the main characters, especially Joe and Suzanna were very satisfying. There was none of this, “I hate you, I have to have you.” Suzanna and Joe’s relationship develops gradually. It simmers and then gets hot as can be. Luke’s relationship with Kelsey is slower to develop since, for most of the book, she thinks he is a student, but that allows for some smoldering tension.
This is a hard book to grade. It certainly had its flaws, but its strengths outweighed them. It helped that the main problem I had, Joe’s secrecy, did not last long. I have enjoyed Kathryn Shay’s series romances very much, especially her firefighter trilogy. With Promises To Keep, she shows that she is more than ready to join the ranks of contemporary romance writers.