Friday, July 4, 2008

Present Danger by Susan Andersen

I wasn't sure I was going to like this book - it seems I had read something about her earlier, non-comedy, romantic suspense novels that made me think they wouldn't be as good as her later romantic comedies.

Hmmm, either I was really wrong or I made that up about not liking them. I loved this story.

The heroine is Aunie, a Southern belle divorcée and spousal abuse victim who runs away from Atlanta to start a new life. She shows up in Seattle, bruised and battered, at James' apartment house where his apartment manager Lola rents her an apartment.

James is more than upset about this - he's had enough of bearing the responsibility of his brothers' fuckups without taking on a stranger's as well. He can tell just by looking at her swollen, bruised face and broken nose that she has trouble following her, and he lets her and Lola know this with no uncertainties.

Aunie's backstory: she grew up thinking her beauty is her only asset - her mother comes from a rich, old Southern family but she married down - poor - for love. According to her mother, love is fleeting and you might as well just marry rich instead. When a man 16 years her elder, rich and charming, woos her, she falls in love with him and her new life - for a while. But Wesley only wanted her for one thing: decoration. When being constantly at his beck and call to dress up and show off for clients is the only thing he allows her to do, she divorces him. That drives him over the edge, and he begins stalking her, and eventually beats her senseless. Well, not completely senseless - when she leaves, it's without a trace - almost.

James' backstory: he grew up in the Projects, no dad around, and mom had to work 2 jobs to keep him and his 3 brothers in shoes and food. He was always the responsible one, and when his lifelong dream of being a well-known cartoonist comes true, he's the only one with any money - now used too much to bail out the brothers. He also loves working with his hands, so he's purchased a historical apartment building and is renovating it.

When Aunie starts receiving odd calls where no one speaks, she assumes it's Wesley. This brings James and Lola's husband Otis into action - they set up an alarm system, they act as bodyguards and they help prepare her to protect herself. But when push comes to shove, and neither of them are there, Aunie has no one but herself to rely on.

This is not a story where you are wondering whodunit - you know who the bad guy is but the suspense is in whether or not he can find her, and if he does, what will happen. The suspense is deepened by the phone calls, because apparently there is someone else making scary phone calls to other women, so it isn't clear who is behind the calls.

Meanwhile, Aunie and James develop a relationship, starting with his showing his protection and deepening into something more. Once again, Andersen shows her skill at writing hot love scenes as well as showing us what her characters are feeling and why - bringing their minds into mine so I feel along with them. Aunie is able to express her own feelings sooner, but James falls just as hard, maybe harder because he's bigger.

The secondary characters in the book are wonderful too - Lola and Otis, trying to conceive a child; James' brothers, each dealing with the Devil in his own way, with the promise of happy endings for 2 of the 3 before the book is done. Aunie's friend Mary at school.

I had to go read the AAR Review just to see how far off my own thoughts were from theirs, and this time we are almost completely in agreement, even though that reviewer gave it a B+ and I'm going with 5 stars. I do like the character of Aunie quite a lot (like the AAR Reviewer) and I agree also that Andersen creates a family atmosphere for her characters in many of her novels that is touching and realistic.

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