Fragile

Shiloh Walker
August 2012, Romantic Suspense
Berkley, $7.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425250954

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Hot

Busy people can have trouble finding their perfect match. When you work all the time, pretty much your only options are those folks you meet on the job. In the case of Luke Rafferty and Devon Manning, Cupid is extra kind. He makes sure that Devon walks through the right door at the right moment to move her relationship with hottie Luke from casual acquaintances to "the one."

Luke Rafferty left the high stakes world of special ops for the higher stakes world of the ER. As an emergency room doctor, he helps the most desperate of cases. But none get to him like the abused kids. They are broken, malnourished, sad eyed - he wants to be their hero. Thankfully, they have a hero in Devon Manning, a sexy red-headed social worker who has caught his attention. She's kind, smart, dedicated, and hot - how could he not want her?

For Devon, being a social worker repays a great debt. She was once a troubled kid in need of help and social services came through for her in a big way. She is determined to repay that debt as often as possible. She doesn't really have time for a distraction like handsome ER doc Luke, but when she runs into him at a local restaurant, the two have an impromptu first date. The evening holds some surprises - Devon is a former addict and that frightens Luke a bit. By the end of the night, he knows he wants to get more involved. Devon is not so sure; Luke seems quick to judge and more, her history shows that romantic love just isn't in the cards for her. Luke's gentle persistence wins her over though and slowly the two begin a tentative relationship.

The relationship grows into something sweet and satisfying until things begin to take a turn for the bizarre. Suddenly, a small chain of odd events points clearly to the fact that Devon has a stalker. Luke immediately goes into deep defensive mode, determined to protect Devon at any cost. But will his intense devotion be her salvation or her destruction?

Fans of special ops heroes (and we know there are tons of you out there) will love Luke. He is the epitome of the gentle warrior - fierce and strong, yet kind, sensitive, and caring when it comes to heroine Devon. He is a little bit frightened at first by how quickly he falls in love, but rapidly throws himself into the emotion as wholeheartedly as he does everything else. Oddly, my main quibble with the book is how perfect Luke is. He is more idealized than he is a real person.

If Luke is idealized, Devon is a hot mess. She's great at what she does and is completely devoted to it. I work with a lot of social workers and found the depiction of the job to be pretty much dead on. The author also captured the essence of the personality you need to do this kind of work - tenacity mixed with tenderness. And endurance - lots of endurance. But while the employment aspect of her character shone, it would require a very patient person to deal with the rest of Devon. She was carrying a lot of wounds from her past, some which still needed healing. What made this difficult for me was that the perfection of Luke mixed with the messiness of Devon made me doubt the HEA. How long could he give and give without eventually feeling the relationship was all one sided? Especially towards the end, I wondered if she could really be there for him ever. While the love seemed to be there, the trust was not.

On the flip side of that, I loved their courtship. There were dates and gifts and special moments galore. I felt like Ms. Walker gave us a perfect look into a real life relationship. They weren't kissing and groping between dodging bullets - they had a nice love story going before the weirdness begins, which is great. I don't want to gush but feel I have to; Romance is often missing from romantic suspense. Not here. In this novel we get the ribbons and roses. I couldn't have been more pleased with that aspect of the story.

The mystery is a bit predictable but it wasn't bad, just not brilliant. I did find the villain's "reasons" a bit ridiculous but honestly, there is no good reason for stalking, terrorizing, and killing. I accepted what excuses the author offered up. Word of warning, there is a scene that involves a dog being badly harmed. I know some of our readers are extra sensitive to that.

Overall, this is a good romantic suspense story. I would recommend to any fan of that genre.

-- Maggie Boyd

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