by Jacquelyn Ross, contemporary (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7409-3
Talk about a major improvement. Jacquelyn Ross' debut is a horrific Big Misunderstanding "Ye slut!" story that is as fun as driving rusty nails into my eyeballs. Promises To Keep is still a "Ye slut!" Misunderstanding story, but it's nonetheless a much more readable book in every way. The plot is still a big hurdle to overcome, though.
Two years ago, legal clerk Samantha Parker, in a classic case of gullible nitwit tricked into showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time, loses her job, her boyfriend, her mentor, and her reputation when her mentor Nick Rafter decides that she's the whore of Senator Philip Wentworth, a corrupt guy under FBI investigation, fires her, and makes sure she never find work again in town. And all because of some flimsy circumstantial evidence - if you expect a federal prosecutor to under the risks of wrongfully dismissing someone, it's obviously not this guy here. Lucky for him, Sam is a heroine that's more willing to be a martyr, not sharing any crucial information because she's determined to play the victim, and spends the rest of the two years worrying about keeping her job.
Today, she ends up as Nick's legal secretary. He hates her, thinks her a whore, and of course, lusts after her while she wants him because he treats her like crap but she will never give in because he thinks her a slut. Memo to Sam: if you sleep with the man that thinks you a slut, chances are, he will really think that you're a slut now. Here, have some gingko biloba. Then someone finally decides to blab about Wentworth's wrongdoings, people start to die, and Nick realizes that wa-hey, Sam may be innocent after all. He goes around and starts finding information that he will know if he has the brain to ask two years ago, especially information pertaining Sam's innocence, which he will know if she tells him two years ago and if he is willing to listen then.
This is the biggest problem of this book: the author fails to demonstrate in any way that her characters are intelligent people. Sam is a martyr, Nick is a stubborn fool, and this is a case of two years too late if you ask me. All the information is out there for him to learn and for her to cooperate. But he won't listen, she won't talk, oh well.
Still, once Nick is determined that Sam is innocent and decides to help her, he becomes a somewhat more likeable hero as he really goes all the way in trying to keep her safe. Sam doesn't fare as well: she is still playing the victim card. It says a lot about her that while Nick is trying to uphold justice and take down the bad guys, she is more concerned with who's going to love her forever and ever. I can't help wondering what Nick see in this passive woman.
The secondary characters are on the whole unmemorable as they are mostly red herring suspects rather than genuine characters in their own right. The exception is Brian Kingsley - he's smart, fun, loyal to Sam, and in short, he's Sam's surrogate brain. I can't help thinking Nick is better off marrying Brian instead of that nitwit Sam.
As a book by any author, Promises To Keep is an average romantic suspense marred by a big miscommunication issue propagated by the main characters in a very problematic way. As Jacquelyn Ross' follow-up book to her debut, it's a huge step up. Either way, there's still plenty of room for improvements.
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