Balance in romantic suspense is a tricky thing. I’ve sometimes wondered where the suspense was, and sometimes I’ve looked for chemistry and sexual tension, only to find it in very small doses. Although The Refuge fits the latter rather than the former, it was still an engrossing book with a believable relationship between the hero and heroine.
Marisa Joubert is newly penniless. The former famous model, also the daughter and widow of millionaires, has given away her inheritance and is now looking for work to support herself and her young son, Spencer. She finally finds work at a place called The Wainscott Refuge, where young, pregnant women from all over the world, especially Eastern Europe, find a haven and prospective parents for their babies.
Soon enough, Marisa figures out that not everything is as it seems at the Refuge. Her boss, Stuart Frieze, reminds her of her late husband, with a charming demeanor that can conceal the most violent fury, and there is something odd about the mentally challenged janitor, Jimmy Griffin. In fact, Jimmy is an undercover detective who wants Stuart to answer for some suspicious deaths, but he is still at the stage of gathering evidence. When Marisa confronts him, in a brief TSTL moment when she goes to his apartment even though she knows there’s something strange about him, he reveals his real purpose and they resolve to work together.
What is going on at the Refuge is plain from the start, and, of course, much darker than the sunny, placid appearance of a home for pregnant mothers. The twists and turns of the storyline did keep me entertained, despite the fact that Stuart Frieze has to be one of the most pathetic villains I have ever met – not to worry, it is all explained in the end. The suspense is definitely more developed than the romance, but the relationship between Marisa and Jimmy is a credible one, considering what she has gone through.
I see Marisa’s gesture of giving away her tainted millions as very, very noble, but if I had few marketable skills, not to mention a young son to care for, I have to admit that I’d probably think twice about giving away every single penny. Her fear of finding herself in another horrible marriage is completely understandable and I never felt she was going over the line in keeping Jimmy at a distance.
Jimmy, meanwhile, is a genuinely nice guy. His feelings for Marisa take him completely by surprise and although most of his energy is focused on uncovering the truth at the Refuge, he is besotted with her and willing to take things at her speed, although he doesn’t totally cater to her every insecurity – something I also liked.
All in all, I would say that The Refuge is well-written, and if you don’t mind that the romance takes a waaaay-in-the-back backseat (Jimmy’s real identity isn’t even revealed to Marisa and the romance doesn’t get started until well into the book), this is an enjoyable work of suspense.