Shiloh Walker
November 2012, Romantic Suspense
Ballantine, $7.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345531906

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Hot

Benjamin Franklin told us that, "Three can keep a secret - if two of them are dead." I tend to agree with this. The ordinary escapes our memory even a day after it happens but secrets are so delicious we don't forget them for a long, long time. The heroine of this novel has steeped herself in secrets until they are all she knows. When those secrets start to topple in on themselves, what will she be left with?

Shay Morgan has built a life on fantasy. As best selling author Shane Neil she tests the depths of human depravity with her crime thrillers. As Shay, she lives the life of a quite recluse in Earth's End, Alaska. But there is a whole other person - the name she was born with, the past reflected in the scars on her body - that Shay denies. That person can only visit her through her nightmares. Nightmares which have kept her from having any kind of normal human relationship. She came close with Elliot - but then her secrets drove him away.

For Elliot Winter, Shay Morgan was "the one". Shay's demons had kept their relationship on the slow track, but he had come to love the woman he caught glimpses of. But glimpses were all she ever allowed, and when he pushed for more, she balked. Six months after the breakup it is still impossible for him to spend a day without thinking about her. The last month has been a special trip through hell; She was in a car wreck that had her in the hospital with serious injuries for weeks. She never reached out to him. And he refused to force himself upon her. Now she has walked into his bookstore and the sight of her is like a punch in the gut.

Shay is shaken by the sight of Elliot and is ready to bolt through the door after just a little time in his presence. But when she falls into a stack of books, she gets a nasty surprise. They are Shane Neil books signed by the author. Only Shay never, ever does book signings. And she sure as heck didn't sign these from her hospital bed. Racing home she turns on her computer and discovers that in the last several months "Shane Neil" has done numerous book signings, set up a Facebook page and Twitter account, created a blog and has essentially filled the Internet and real world with her presence. Desperate to find out who this person is, she contacts Elliot to see what he knows.

Elliot has his hands full with his own problems. Shane Neil has taken to her blog to accuse him of raping her. Elliot has been down this road once before, falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit. The last accusation led to him leaving the army long before he was planning to. When Shay tells him she is Shane Neil but that the accusations never came from her, he is shocked. Shay proves her honesty by posting on the official author page that Elliot never raped her and telling her fans there is a fake Shane out there. She changes the passwords to all her email accounts and increases the security on the official site. But just what is the faker after? And how does she know so much about Shay's personal life?

Elliot finds himself drawn into Shay's problems not just by the accusation but by a deep desire to protect the woman he loves. As they delve deeper into the mystery of the impostor, Shay completely opens up to him. Even though tragedy is bringing them together, he is elated by their growing intimacy. It is all he ever wanted. As the relationship moves to include a hotly physical side, he is touched by her trust. He knows how much it takes for her to be physically and emotionally vulnerable. But will it last beyond this crisis? Or will finding the fraud result in Shay hiding behind her walls once more?Much of this novel takes place in the minds of its protagonists. We hear what the villain is thinking, what Shay is thinking, what Elliot is thinking. Long before they do anything, we know why they are doing it. Every time they do do something we get their thoughts on it. I grew very frustrated by this tell-don't-show style. Who were Elliot and Shay when they weren't angsting over each other or having the hots for each other? Sure, they liked to read but what else? What were their special moments and places? We never learn that because we don't see the relationship, just their thoughts about it.

Not only does this mangle the romance but it really damages the mystery. The book opens with only two possible suspects and before we are a third of the way in Shay knows who the fake Shane is. But she seems very slow to act on the information, she just thinks about it a lot. When she and Elliot start actually working on the issue, we are halfway through the book. This might have worked if the mystery was multi-layered, but it really wasn't. I had guessed the who and why by the time we got to the action.

I have only read a few of Ms. Walker's novels but I am starting to see a trend in her characters. The heroine, like Shay, is often a hot mess. In this case she was barely functional. The hero will put up with anything and do anything for her, just the way Elliot did. Normally, the author finds a way to make this work. In this case spending so much time in the character's heads worked against them and the flaws in the match up became more obvious as a result.

Using her standard ingredients of mystery, messed up heroine, and hot hero the author normally comes up with a pretty intriguing book, but this time the results came out a bit flat. Hopefully, she will have her groove back by the next book.

-- Maggie Boyd

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