Total Exposure is a cabin romance, which I normally enjoy a great deal. But this one has too little story to sustain its length, making for a slow read.
When he was injured in a warehouse fire, Chief Dan Egan sustained a burn to his side. Dr. Natalie Giroux treated the wound and scheduled a follow-up appointment to recheck it. Leery of doctors, Dan never showed up for that or any of the other appointments he made with her. Finally fed up, Natalie tracked him down at the fire station, and tagged along on an emergency call with Dan and his crew.
Watching Dan try to save people caught in a mudslide allows Natalie to witness his heroic side firsthand. When she spots a man having heart trouble, Dan commandeers a chopper to transport him to the hospital. But on the way back, a storm moves in and Dan is forced to make an emergency landing on an island off the coast. The Coast Guard already abandoned its station to seek safety on the mainland, leaving Dan and Natalie alone on the island. Or so they think.
Forced to wait out the storm together, they soon have to deal with unexpected feelings that develop. Natalie is struggling to come to terms with the death of her fiance, who died a year ago, shortly before their wedding. Dan still hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife to cancer. But as the days pass on the island, they soon grow closer to each other.
This is a very slow read where too little happens for too long. The story is so low-key it’s practically no-key. There are long passages of introspection. Dan and Natalie each take on mundane tasks around the cabin. They share many significant glances. But everything seems drawn out to pad a story that really is not that interesting or complicated. I think it would have worked better as a novella.
A story like this depends on the interactions and chemistry of the main characters to carry it. The main characters are older than the norm, which was nice. Dan is 45 – Natalie is 37. As a burn specialist, Natalie has an interesting profession and she comes across as a capable professional. They’re nice people, but they’re also both somewhat bland and their interactions aren’t very interesting. There were many times when the authors (a husband and wife writing team) spoon-fed the characters’ histories to the reader in long expositional scenes. I wished Dan and Natalie were sharing this information with each other, allowing them to connect and get to know one another. Instead, the back story is told to the reader, and then we have to read about it again when they finally tell it to each other, which is just repetitive. Their attraction felt contrived without enough to make it believable. As Natalie watches Dan working on the rescue mission early on, she prays, “Please don’t let me fall for this man…” I could only scratch my head and wonder where that came from. The whole thing felt forced and rushed.
Eventually (finally) the authors do have to throw in some additional elements to keep the story going. A half-hearted, barely developed suspense plot crops up. Some extra, also barely developed, characters are thrown into the mix. There was at least one contrivance used to prolong the characters’ time on the island that made no sense at all; I read it in disbelief. Somewhere around page 215 I realized there were 35 pages left and I couldn’t imagine how the authors were going to come up with 35 more pages of story. I’m not sure they did.
One minor annoyance: it would have been nice if whoever was overseeing this series had made more of an attempt to spread out similar characters. The heroine of the last book, Next of Kin, was a nurse with two brothers whose parents died in an accident when she was a toddler. Her husband had died two years earlier and she was still recovering from her grief and guilt as the book opened. The heroine of this book is a doctor with two brothers whose parents died in a car accident when she was a child. Her fiance had died a year earlier, and she was still recovering from her grief and guilt as the book opened. The use of such a similar character so soon gave the book an unfortunate sense of deja vu that could have been prevented if the two books were separated more.
This isn’t a bad book, but there’s not enough to it. Mark this one in the “almost acceptable” category and move on.