Unforgiven

B. J. Daniels
November 2012, Series Romance
Harlequin, $7.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 037377673X

Grade: C
Sensuality: Warm

When Garth Brooks runs into his old high school flame in the song Unanswered Prayers he realizes that sometimes not getting the person we want is the greatest gift God can give us. A love found when we are young and impetuous might not carry us through the hard times later in life. For others, that first love is the only real love. Everything else pales in its memory.

Destry Grant and Rylan West have been in each otherís lives since they were tiny children. First as friends and then, one memorable night, as lovers. But what a night! Rylan and Destry choose to consummate their relationship on the very evening her brother allegedly killed his sister. Though her brother is never convicted, Destry sides with her family, Rylan sides with his, and their love story shatters around them. When the dust finally clears Destry is the only one who remains in town, working quietly at her fatherís ranch.

Coincidence pulls everyone back into town several years later. Rylan is homesick and returns from the rodeo circuit to help his parents out on their spread. Destryís brother is summoned by their autocratic father because there is new evidence in the case of Ginny Westís death -- new evidence which will churn up hard memories for them all. Can Rylan and Destry solve the case before another body is found? Can they make their relationship work this time? Or will the strain between the two families keep them apart forever?

My answer to that question is that it was tough for me to care. Rylan and Destry spend most of the book Ė the first 200 pages in fact Ė encountering each other infrequently and having the kind of conversations you have with any acquaintance who has returned after a long absence. There might have been a few longing looks and some half-heated mentions of their love affair but there was no spark. Since the romance is very much backstage, the mystery is very much at the center of the story. That too is a problem. We spend a lot of time dealing with red herrings. Four solid suspects are presented, with whom Rylan and Destry must interact. The author could have used that time spent questioning possible killers to really pull our leads together but she doesnít. The big issue, Destyís brother, remains between them. Instead, the author relies heavily on their past to convince us of their love, a past we didnít get to see. Basically her premise is that if the pesky murder would just be solved, these two could get on with being together.

I struggled with that. If one of my sisters were murdered even now, when we all live apart, it would change me for life. If she had been murdered while in we were in high school you can be darn sure I would still be carrying that scar. Especially if the murder was never solved. Conversely, if one of my sisters was accused of murder that too would leave a scar. Destryís brother wasnít just a person of interest. He was the main suspect and would probably have been arrested if it werenít for his fatherís wealth and position. Yet these two act as if the biggest tragedy happening is that they are being kept apart by their pesky siblings

Which leads me to point two. I think this would have caused some tension in that small town. A rich man getting away with murder never sits well with a community. The Grants would, at the very least, have found themselves the victims of some vigilante justice in the form of damaged fences and equipment. Instead, both the families and the community act as if this was no big deal. Yes, the West family gives some lip service to the tragedy of losing their daughter/sister but it isnít the kind of gaping wound that most families touched by violence have. It certainly hasnít changed them in any meaningful ways.

What kept the book from being a complete bust for me was the authorís easy writing style and her ability to people the town with interesting characters. We have the mercantile owner who is also the town gossip. She spies on everyone else but never realizes that her husband is hiding a darn big secret. There is the handsome pastor and his homely wife. What dynamic keeps them together? The bar owner and his wife are madly in love Ė but neither tells or shows the other their feelings and their silence is ripping them apart. Sadly, these folks are far more interesting than our leads.

While the book was a quick, pleasant read it was easily forgotten once set down.

-- Maggie Boyd

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