A Woman with a past has remade herself and now lives at the edge of the wilderness, the man who has come to get her story twenty years after his photograph made her infamous and in the shadows a menace from the past watches and waits because its time to finish what was started twenty years before.
First of all, I apologize for how long I plan to ramble on about this story. I cam feel already that I have a lot I want to say. If you want to skip around the usual why I picked it and the summary and head straight to my impressions, I will not be offended.
I love a good romantic suspense and gobble up any story set in Alaska so when I was offered the chance to listen to a story by this new to me author, I grabbed it up eagerly. I anticipated chills of excitement with the scenario of a dangerous killer stalking a woman making her believe she is going crazy even while a photographer is in a dilemma of how to tell her the truth of why he has come now without her assuming the worst. The story definitely fulfilled my expectations and then offered so much more. It was the first in a series of stories where the Alaskan wilderness setting was so well-drawn that it was vibrant enough to be an extra character in the story.
The story opens with photojournalist, Cache Calder, laid up in his apartment in NYC recovering from a leg wound suffered during a roadside bombing in the Middle East. The leg is a mess and he worries that he may never recover full function, but it is his head and heart that hurt the most because the bombing took his two best friends from him in the process. When his editor, Tom, shows up begging him to do a new assignment, Cache’s first inclination is to say ‘no’, but then Tom tells him that it is a follow-up ‘where is she now’ piece to the first picture and story he ever broke that made his career. His picture of the rescued teenager, Amelia Bennett, who had been kidnapped by a cult for weeks, tortured in the name of the fanatics who were getting set to sacrifice her just as help arrived. The image he captured in his camera’s eye that day has stayed with him. For the first time since the bombing, he feels interest stirring. He wants to do the assignment. Tom is cagey about details until they are on the last leg of their journey to Alaska and Cache learns that Tom doesn’t have Amelia’s permission for a story and she has refused repeatedly. Tom has lied about who they are and their purpose for being at The Edge, Amelia’s vacation lodge. As Cache gets to know the woman that Amelia has become, he hopes for a miracle that she will take the truth well and let him stay in a place that feels oddly like he has finally come home.
Mel has remade herself after that horrific time as a teen captive of a cult group and the subsequent spiral into addiction afterward with the world seeing it all as the press followed her story. Here on the Edge that she owns with Lynette and Sergei helping her nobody knows or cares about her past. But now that’s about to change when the letter from her sister arrives. Mel cut off her family years before and now Nicole, fresh from a divorce with her cheating husband, needs a place to stay with her two teen children in tow. She still resents her sister and wants nothing to do with her, but she can’t turn away the kids so she will let them come, she will not coddle them and they will help work at the inn to earn their keep. Her sister isn’t the only unsettling person around the place. One look at the sleek, city-slicker Tom and the disturbing and assessing eyes of Cache her new clients makes her realize the next few weeks won’t be peaceful. Then the disturbances around the inn begin all hinting that the nightmare she thought was dead and gone forever might still be alive and there at the Edge where she and the others are isolated and on their own.
So, this story really got to me and surprised me. I didn’t think I would be finishing it as I listened to the first few chapters. The heroine was abrasive, rude, and pretty self-absorbed. I didn’t like her, but I felt guilty for not liking her because she had gone through the horrors of being a young girl captured by a cult, violated, tortured and then after rescue her experiences left her isolated from her family and in the world’s eye through the ruthless press. She was very hard and unforgiving toward others and she had this stubborn-stupid thing going where she felt she knew best and kept saying things were fine when they obviously were not. So yeah, she totally had a legit excuse for being the way she was, but…
For the first time in my life, I was actually more sympathetic with the ‘reporter’ character when I generally detest them. Haha! First for everything I guess. Cache was a photojournalist, but he was honorable. He had no plans to sneak a story or exploit Mel. He wanted her story, but it was mostly because he thought it would encourage others and he wanted to know because he wanted to know her. Now did he screw up by not coming clean right away after Tom set it all up with lies? Absolutely. But the way Mel was acting, the whole unadorned truth wouldn’t have served since his goal was to get close and have a relationship.
The story was a multi-faceted thing for me. There was so much more than just the romance and the suspense. The romance was probably the weakest and smaller story though I don’t mean to say that it was bad. It’s just that Mel and Cache weren’t going to happen while Mel was holding him at arm’s length insisting on a one and done while for his part, he was hiding his real identity from her. Cache’s gifts that made him a good photojournalist really helped him see the real Mel so that he could be patient and look beyond the harsh facade she presented to the world. He admired her greatly and I was really rooting him on as he took all her vitriol and blame for his deception about his name and for Tom’s machinations that he didn’t really deserve. I did a lot of muttering and wanted to smack her in the back of the head more than once because she really couldn’t see beyond her own issues. Cache had been through a ton both physically and emotionally. He was world weary and disillusioned, but he was there for her, supportive, strong and solid. She needed a guy like him who wasn’t intimidated by her need to appear strong. Though when she wouldn’t be smart about her injuries, it was funny to watch him stick his foot in his mouth trying to order her to rest. The passion between these two was neatly done as it was allowed to build through the early part of the story. I loved their first bedroom scene when Cache was able to show her how making love was meant to be. Their romance wasn’t easy, but worth it.
The suspense was good, though again, it took a secondary role. I spent a good portion of the book squinting at all the male characters wondering who was the former cult leader hiding there and leaving evidence of his presence to terrorize Mel and skulk in the shadows. It had a nice thriller quality to it because of the isolation factor of them all being locked away at the inn far from anyone else. The tension built well to the big climax that had me chewing a nail and holding my breath.
But the biggest part of the story was the character’s individual stories that pushed aside both the romance and the suspense to add depth. Mel was the main one, but Cache, Nicole, Lynette, and even young Emmy all had individual stories of failure and growth. The author really dug deep and struck the emotions and got a strong response from me. This is why, though I wanted to toss aside Mel’s story at first, I’m glad I stuck with it and ended up really connecting and engaging with the story and characters. It totally helped that there was humor sprinkled throughout and that Alaska got a nice story too.
The narrator, Mia Chiramonte, delivered a nice audio story. I adjusted to her storytelling quickly and settled in right away. She made the story come alive in my mind so that I sometimes forgot where I was and what I was doing. I will definitely be more inclined to listen to a story if she is doing the narrating.
So, to tie it up, this story is very challenging and isn’t light. It requires a lot of patience on the part of the reader as it develops and builds slowly, but steadily. It’s humorous, heartwarming, spine-tingling and frustrating all in one. Romantic suspense fans should definitely give it a go.
My thanks to Audible.com for the opportunity to listen to the book in exchange for an honest review.