Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-224-4
Paranormal Romantic Suspense, 2008
The Empath in question is the hero Jordan Langley (not related in any way to that romance author JL Langley, I’m sure), which is a rather nice change of pace from the usual Counselor Troi type of heroines. In this story, he is approached by a good friend for a favor. His friend’s sister was married to a prominent businessman who shortly before the story opens had died. The press is making a big deal about the possibility of the autistic ten-year old son pulling the trigger, so this friend, Danny, would like Jordan to come over to his sister’s house and try to communicate with the autistic kid Mike. Hopefully, Jordan will learn something that can shed some light on the death of Robert McKenzie.
As it happens, when Jordan arrives at the McKenzie abode, our heroine Detective Lauren Sadler has just finished questioning – or trying to question, in the case of the autistic kid – the grieving widow and Mike. Maybe it’s luck, or maybe it’s fate, but these two are going to find with each other something really beautiful in a dark and heartbreaking manner.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a good short story, so wow, Empath catches me by surprise and hits me in the gut with what a piece of work this one is. I love the main characters. Jordan is a man who tries to avoid getting too close to people because of the way their emotions threaten to tear his willpower down – he hesitates to get intimate with a woman because of this as well – but at the same time, he isn’t above using his talents for a noble cause. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity, he tries to take steps to live a life that is as normal as possible, so this doesn’t make him an emo martyr to me. Instead, he’s a darling tortured hero who wears a shining armor. Lauren is a good heroine too – she can do her job well. Her job fast makes her cynical about people, but she doesn’t let that turn her into a whiny idiot. She and Jordan are two of a kind in that both of them are afraid of getting too close to other people.
I also find myself intrigued by the murder mystery here. The resolution is a reasonable one and the suspense is inserted in a way that complements rather than distracts from the romance. This is a very well balanced romantic suspense because the romance co-exists very well with police procedural matters – a very impressive feat indeed considering that this is a short story.
Empath has nearly everything done right, from the pacing to the depths of characterization to the intensity of the emotions to the build-up and resolution of the murder mystery. Fabulous, indeed!