Reviewed by May
Wanting a child to raise and mold in her likeness, Dr. Susan L. Fitch researched and chose her ideal sperm donor, had herself inseminated, delivered a baby girl via C-section at an appointed time, and set about the business of scheduling everything from education to appropriate acquaintances to meals for the child.
The summer before her 17th birthday, her daughter Elizabeth reached her breaking point. A Harvard student, and more importantly a teenage girl, she was ready to rebel for the first time in her entire life. Buying a pair of jeans was a huge rebellion, but she wanted more. A series of fairly innocent events sets her life on an entirely different path than anyone could have ever imagined.
Within 48 hours she’s on the run, in protective custody, and hiding from a powerful Russian crime family after witnessing brutal murders. Her mother wants her to return home and act as if nothing happened, Elizabeth refuses knowing both that she’ll be killed for it, and that she needs to do the right thing. It was interesting to see how the US Marshalls watching Elizabeth show the teenager more love, respect, and attention than her own mother ever has. She remains in custody, awaiting trial so that she can testify against all those involved.
“Got you a Coke. My daughter can’t live without a Coke in the mornings.”
“Thank you. I’m not supposed to drink…” Elizabeth let out a half-laugh. “That’s stupid, isn’t it? I drank alcohol until I was sick. I watched two people be murdered. And I don’t want to disobey my mother’s directive about soft drinks.”
My heart broke for the lonely young girl who in her brave acts of defiance set in motion a change in her life she could never have planned for. Who has so totally obeyed her cold mother’s every instruction that she has to work to remember she can make choices herself.
A lot more drama, action, pain, and a dozen years later we catch back up with Elizabeth… or rather Abigail as that is the name she goes by now. She’s grown into a self-sufficient woman who has a huge exceptionally trained dog, an arsenal of guns, runs her own security system company (via internet), and she loves to cook. Abigail paid cash and purchased a beautiful little home on a nice plot of land outside a small town in the Ozarks. She keeps to herself and has most of her needs delivered, rarely venturing into town.
Her strange behavior, not to mention the exceptional security at her home catches the eye of police Chief Brooks Gleason. Quickly he finds himself intrigued by her – both her beauty and her exceptionally smart mind.
The more I reflect upon this book the more I like it. This book was fantastic, beautifully developed, and perhaps my new all time favorite Nora Roberts book.
There is a lot going on, and we really get to see who Elizabeth was as a teen, we know right off the bat what happened and who she is hiding from it’s not a secret from us the readers which I appreciated. I also appreciated how we could understand the woman Abigail thanks to the time spent letting us get to know Elizabeth before it all changed.
The tension in this story comes largely from figuring out if she can find a way to do what is right, to exact revenge and payment to break the Volkov family for good, and if she can for the very first time have a real life instead of just surviving. There is a secondary plot involving a local wealthy man and his son who is escalating in his terrorizing of their small town that mirrors on a much smaller scale what Elizabeth dealt with all those years ago – and drags up both the memories and the desires to close that case for good. Brooks (her romantic interest) drags up memories of another law enforcement officer who meant a lot to her as a teenager – memories that have her worrying and scared. The parallels drawn between the event that changed her life and present events was fantastic – and really helped me believe in the catalyst for the heroine’s actions to start living a real life.
Let me speak about Elizabeth/Abigail for a moment. She is incredibly smart, beautiful, very fit. She loves to garden and loves to cook – she views it like science and making formulas and such. She also is very into computers – that is where her gift is strongest. With her high IQ, she’s built a great business and is able to support herself and has top of the line everything. She can hack the CIA, FBI, even the family who wants her dead at any cost. She is socially awkward, and quirky too (she has an eidetic memory), and she doesn’t always get social stuff. She bases much of her social her information off of findings on the internet and research.
“Taking food in a covered dish I’ve prepared myself is a courtesy, and a sign of appreciation. If I hadn’t checked, I wouldn’t have known, because you didn’t tell me.” She put a pot of water on the stove, added salt.
“I should have my ass whipped.”
“You think it’s amusing.” She gathered sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, black olives. “I may not know precisely how this sort of thing functions, but I understand perfectly well your family’s opinion of me will be important.”
“My mother and sisters already like you.”
“They may tend in that direction, until I rudely attend the barbeque without a covered dish.”
The way she thinks and talks, the things she says – I always looked forward to seeing what the practical woman would do next. She protects herself and is very smart about it. She takes very few chances and is vigilant always. I love that. But because of both her upbringing and her life as an adult on the run – she’s not trusting and thinks carefully about each choice she makes.
“Too late, you’re already into your second slice.”
“Not the pizza. I’ve reconsidered having sex with you.”
He was grateful he’d just swallowed, or he’d have choked. “Is that a fact?”
“Yes. After weighing the pros and cons, I’ve decided sex with you would be mutually satisfying. You’re attractive and pleasant. And clean. You kiss very well, and while I’ve found that’s not always a reliable gauge for skill in bed, it often follows. If you’re agreeable, we can finish dinner, I’ll show you the greenhouse, then we can go in and have sex. I’m on birth control, but I would require you wear a condom.”
He was damn near speechless. “That’s an offer, all right.”
It is made clear that it isn’t that she wants to distrust everyone. She doesn’t want to be entirely alone and living a solitary life with no roots. It’s that she is smart enough to know she can’t have anything else. Not with the way things stand with her past.
Brooks isn’t an exceptionally exciting guy – he’s a small town cop, raised by loving parents, no major drama there. I think this made sense and fit for both a perfect match for Abigail, and for the story itself. So much is happening with her, it wouldn’t have worked if he demanded a lot of page space to talk about his feelings and needs and problems. No, he’s very much a regular guy and I really liked both him and his family.
One complaint I will voice is that at times I felt certain conversations were repetitive. Someone would be at a key event or have a specific conversation, then we had to hear a re-telling to someone else. It was important that these other people heard – I’m just not sure as a reader I needed to re-read them.
While the romance between Abigail and Brooks is a key element in this book, the heart of this book is Elizabeth/Abigail’s story. How she helps the justice system along, how she comes to let love and family into her life, and how she gives herself a chance for a real future for the first time in 12 years.
This was a masterfully told story – I can’t stress that enough. When I read the last page I set the book down angry. Not at the story, but because it had ended. Despite its 488 page length I devoured it in less than 2 days. As the blurb on the promotional information sheet I have suggested – it left this reader hungry for more.