Reviewed by Helyce
Noah, Eli and Rafe Di Luca are brothers who together own and run the family’s winery and resort, Bella Terra. Noah and Eli share the day to day responsibilities along with Brooke Petersson who manages the resort. Rafe is a partner in name only, preferring to live away from Bella Valley as he grows his prestigious security firm. When their grandmother, Sarah Di Luca is brutally attacked in her home, Rafe has no choice but to return home to Bella Valley. Sarah Di Luca raised each of her grandsons while her son pursued his acting career. They would do anything for her and Rafe comes home and makes finding Sarah’s attacker his number one priority.
But coming home also means that Rafe has to see Brooke. Rafe and Brooke share a past filled with love and heartbreak. They became friends when they were barely teens and remained so for years until sometime in high school when their relationship changed to a more intimate one. Like most first loves, though, things happen, hearts are broken and people move on. But Rafe has never forgotten that Brooke was there for him when he needed her most and Brooke will always be in love with Rafe no matter how hard she tries not to be.
As Rafe focuses his investigation, he relies on Brooke to fill in the blanks with regards to the day to day operations at Bella Terra. Initially thinking Sarah’s attack was a random event, it quickly becomes clear that is not so when an employee is found dead in a dumpster. Later, when Sarah shares an old family secret, the pieces start to fall into place and the mystery starts to unravel. But things are not exactly as they seem and just when they think they’ve got the villain, they realize he wasn’t working alone.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Christina Dodd and while I understand her to be a very popular author, I had a difficult time with the pacing of this story. The prologue sets us up so that we know someone is being paid to do something, but we don’t know who the players are or what that something is. Chapter one jumps to the attack of Sarah, which I figured was the “job” that was discussed in the prologue. Then for the next 270 pages we meet secondary characters, we get some background on Rafe and Brooke’s young love, we learn about the Di Luca family, we know there is some family secret because it’s tip toed around and Rafe and Brooke fight their attraction for each other. Seriously, this book in ARC form is 419 pages and it wasn’t till page 279 (Chapter 35) that it finally drew me in and I began to enjoy the story, looking forward to solving the mystery and learning who the bad guys were. In this the author does not disappoint. The story moves forward well at this point as loose ends are tied up, the trap is set and the bad guy is revealed, or so we think. The author throws a little kink in the story here and I have to admit I didn’t see it coming at all. I expected this particular character to do something nasty, but not in the way the author writes it.
The romance in this book fell short for me. There’s just not enough of it. We learn early on that Rafe and Brooke have a past. Brooke is clearly still in love with Rafe but he’s hurt her and left her one too many times and she just does not want go through that again. But every minute she spends with him weakens her resolve. Rafe knows he screwed up before, and he doesn’t want to hurt Brooke again. But when Brooke experiences a horrific event, Rafe is there to help her through it and she begs him to make love to her to help her forget. Not romantic enough for me. Perhaps it’s because they’d already been a couple, had an established relationship, I don’t know. There wasn’t enough build up and it left me wanting more.
In spite of the slow start to this book, it did redeem itself somewhat and I really did enjoy the suspense part of this story. I liked how the author portrayed the relationship between the three brothers as well as their relationship to their grandmother. It just took too long to draw me in and I need more romance in my romantic suspense. Having said that, I did enjoy the third of it that revealed the mystery, brought forward the meat of story that established what was to come, and revealed the villain who was not even on my list of bad guys.