Sara's Surprise
by Deborah Smith, contemporary (1990)
LoveSwept, $2.50, ISBN 0-553-44019-5

When I come across Deborah Smith's Sara's Surprise while browsing at the local used bookstore, I realize that I haven't read any of this author's LoveSwept releases before so this is a good time as any to start.

At any rate, I wish Sara's Surprise isn't the book I have to start with because this book is clearly part of a series. While this book can stand alone, I still feel that I'm not getting the whole big picture of what is going on here. My synopsis is pieced from the characters' flashbacks and some exposition here and there, so if there is any error in the plot details, hey, I've tried my best.

From what I understand, Sara Scarborough was previously held by Diego de Valdivia, a Brazilian mercenary or terrorist or biological arms dealer or something, along with her best friend Dinah McClure. By the way, you can tell that this book was published in 1990 because the bad guy is South American, back in those days when every villain in a Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is a South American terrorist. Nowadays, all terrorists come from the Middle-East. Back to Sara, she is a scientist. Ms Smith never sets down any specific details but I am pretty sure that Sara is a botanist. She was used as a pawn by Diego to force Sara's mother, Anna, to work on some biochemical weapon. I'm not sure whether it's Anna or Sara who worked on the biochemical weapon since the story at various points says that it's either Anna or Sara who did that. Maybe they collaborated?

At any rate, our heroes are agents for a "special hostage-retrieval group" called Audubon. Kyle and Jeopard Surprise are the two main fellows behind Audobon and in a previous book they and some tagalong action heroes manage to rescue Dinah and Sara. However, it comes at a cost: Kyle was captured and Diego forced Sara to choose between Kyle's life or the life of Dinah's newborn infant. Kyle made the choice for Sara, making her choose the infant's life, and as a result, Diego released a vicious pack of dogs on Kyle and forced the two women to watch as the dogs... well, you know.

That's the back story. Yes, I haven't even begin the synopsis of Sara's Surprise yet. I mention the back story because it's a crucial aspect of this story. You see, today Sara is a recluse, trying to forget everything about her captivity by hiding in the family hideout, a castle called Moonspell Keep in a piece of isolated government land. She keeps a gaggle of "killer geese" to protect herself and her secret while she continues researching on plants. Her secret is that she had a daughter named Noelle and Noelle's father is the now dead and unlamented Diego. Sara's biggest fear is that Noelle will be used even by the American government as a most convincing method of persuasion to force her to work on more biochemical weapons just like how Diego took Sara hostage to force her mother's cooperation.

However, Dinah is worried about Sara who never responded to her best friend's invitations to come over and catch up on things so she asks Kyle to look up Sara and check if she's okay. Kyle's face is badly scarred and by that, I don't mean those artful scars that rogues and rakes like to show off as evidence of their dash and what not. Kyle is really scarred to the point that people visibly react when they see him. He shows up at Moonspell Keep and just won't leave. Both Sara and Kyle have fallen in love with each other for quite a while now but they are both damaged from their encounters with Diego that words don't come easy for the two of them. Also, Sara feels that she has to keep Noelle a secret from Kyle because of the identity of Noelle's father.

At first I enjoy reading Sara's Surprise because it is always pleasant to have two damaged people who actually care more for the other person's welfare than to throw constant pity parties for themselves. While Sara probably can't be said to be moving on from the past in an appropriate manner by hiding from it, at least she's trying to move on, as is Kyle. These two are really nice characters to root for because they don't wallow in perpetual self-absorbed self-pity.

However, this book really kills my mood when very late in the story Kyle proves Sara's fears right when he discovers the identity of Noelle's father and abets a very savage ripping open of Sara's old wounds. After all, when a woman has a child with a monstrous villain, she has to be willing and therefore she was the happy lover of that villain. That makes sense. This particular scene is very brutal and therefore very difficult to read. What really makes me angry is not this scene but the follow-up scene when Kyle goes back to Sara and actually tells her that his feelings haven't changed and he did what he did to get Sara to confront her demons. That's a very patronizing way to justify what a moron he is, if you ask me. I'm no longer feeling very charitable towards Kyle. Am I evil to want to unleash another pack of dogs on him? Just to scare him, of course, or maybe to get some vulnerable parts of him bitten once or twice, I don't want to kill him or anything.

The unpleasant scene, which is the climax of the story, is also related to some secret mission of Kyle that is revealed at the last moment. Even with the revelations, I have no idea who Kyle is working for, what exactly his old job was, or what is going on. Therefore, I end up feeling that I am not getting the whole picture in this story. I am missing some crucial details to help me fill in the blanks and find a way to understand why Kyle turns into a major asshole towards the end of the story.

Perhaps if someone reissue the author's old LoveSwepts, I may have an opportunity to read Dinah's story and get more details to help me appreciate this story better. As it is, currently Sara's Surprise is a story with no clear beginning and no clear ending - the ending in this story feels like a set-up for some upcoming book with the last-minute introduction of some subplots - so it's like a jigsaw puzzle minus a few crucial pieces.

Rating: 66

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