Sunday, March 16, 2008

Beyond A Shadow (SG-5 08), by Alison Kent [4]

****/***** (4/5)

Thirty-five year-old school teacher Alexa Counsel knows trouble when she sees it. As the dark and mysterious Ezra Moore walks up to her with little Emmy Rose Maples, Alexa purposefully inserts herself as a barrier between the little girl Emmy Rose and the local inn's new handyman, the dark, dangerous and perceptive Ezra Moore. Divorced two years ago, Alexa discerns danger in Ezra Moore and her intuition screams at her to run and protect herself and friends from Ezra Moore. This constitutes my first book by Alison Kent, and I found BEYOND A SHADOW very refreshing in the romance/erotica genre. I thought the writing was above average, the settings in small-town Comfort Bay, Oregon, strong, the plotting and pacing grips while the romance steadily evolved and could appeal to both guys and gals, something very rare in the romance/erotica genre. The characterizations of our lead pair Alexa Counsel and Ezra Moore reminded me of Madeline Hunter's characters: mature, compelling, and the two together exhibit an electrically-charged chemistry. Alexa and Ezra's exchanges aren't childishly antagonistic, but rather exude wit and inflammatory passion. I understand Alison Kent writes a series of books on SG-5 (Smithson Group), or Hank Smithson's team of rogue undercover operatives. Ezra Moore has appeared in prior SG-5 novels and the group's involvement and role sometimes obfuscate the plotting for completely new readers to the series. I found the finale very anticlimactic and for an accomplished operative, Ezra seems to blunder and fails to anticipate problematic scenarios which arise at the end. Ezra's overwhelming feelings for Alexa could excuse his oversights though.

This book's romantic crux describes a spiritual cleansing of the battered and damaged goods that are Ezra Moore. Certainly not the first romance novel to depict a bad boy finding redemption in a strong woman's arms, I found BEYOND A SHADOW nonetheless gritty, engaging and substantive. Approaching Anne Stuart's bad boys, Ezra Moore surpassed the well-muscled, well-endowed and rakish heroes common to most romance and erotica. In fact this book simply doesn't dwell on appearances as so many other romance books and we don't find detailed accounts of a hero's "aquiline" nose, handsome face, chiseled frame nor the heroine's ample beauty. The passion wasn't nearly as one-sided (all the pleasure and giving from the hero to the heroine), and I can't tell you how much I appreciate heroines actually enjoying giving their heroes pleasure. It's so rare because most of erotica/romance is all about the rake igniting the heroine's passions (the hero's touch, lick, suckle, blow, steady and slow deliberations) that the reverse rarely happens or when it does, she does it out of rote, not necessarily out of her desire for him. Whereas the hero yearns to taste her and savor her everywhere, the woman simply receives it. Whereas the hero really treasures her response to his ministrations, the heroine oftentimes becomes greedy time after time. A woman's uninhibited reactions to a man's ministrations definitely signify to the man, but to me, any attractive and learned man can engender such a response. It's when a woman enthusiastically does something just for her man that really captures that man's heart. Alexa Counsel is so uninhibited in her response, so giving in kind, so genuine, I found Ezra's overwhelming love for her justified. Enthusiasm and genuine desire trumps skill in every guy's book. In fact he's very lucky to have found someone so understanding and giving like Alexa.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Ezra Moore accepts a handyman job for the Maples Inn in small town Comfort Boy, Oregon, as a cover in order to eliminate the virulent organization SpectraIT headed by Warren Aceveda and Cameron Gates. He's expected to rendezvous with a couple of SpectraIT representatives who will arrive at the Maples Inn in a week's time. Ezra arrives early to reconnoiter the small town and embed himself within the community to avoid any suspicion later when SpectraIT's representatives arrive. Respected schoolteacher Alexa Counsel provides the perfect excuse to insert himself within the community... or so he tells himself. The two explore their mutual attraction the very first night. While Ezra intends to use Alexa as his connection to the local community, Alexa has a police officer friend investigate Ezra's background because she still doesn't completely trust him. Some of the chapters from little Emmy Rose Maples' perspective (Alexa's close friend's daughter) are some of the most funny and interesting.

Ezra's plans goes terribly awry when someone from his ignominious past shows up for the arranged meeting with SpectraIT instead, all the while holding Alexa hostage in the process. One of the most touching scenes in the book was Alexa "cleaning" Ezra of his dirt after the dangerous fray, symbolically cleansing him of his crimes. The finale, though anticlimactic, still concluded the novel satisfactorily.

Overall I found BEYOND A SHADOW a very satisfying read and a slight detour from juvenile romance stories so common to this genre.

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