Don't Tell by Karen Rose
published by Grand Central Publishing (Warner at the time) in July 2003
DON'T LOOK...Genre: Romantic Suspense
It was a desperate plan. But Mary Grace Winters knew the only way to save herself and her child from her abusive cop husband was to stage their own death. Now all that remains of their former life is at the bottom of a lake . . .
DON'T TRUST . . .
Armed with a new identity in a new town, she and her son have found refuge hundreds of miles away. As Caroline Stewart, she has almost forgotten the nightmare she left behind nine years ago. She is even taking a chance on love with Max Hunter, a man with wounds of his own. But her past is about to collide with the present when her husband uncovers her trail and threatens her hard-won peace. Step by step, he's closing in on her— and everything and everyone she loves.
Series: stand alone, but loosely connected to Ms Rose other books
The Story: Okay, so this blurb summarizes the book very well, but I'll try to give you a little bit more details. The book opens with Mary Grace Winters being at the hospital with a broken back after falling down the stairs and her abusive cop husband warning her not to tell anyone that he pushed her if not, the next time, he would finish the job.
Fast-forward to the present, 9 years later, and we are introduced to Caroline Stewart and her son, Thomas. It took her two years, but Caroline was finally able to run away from her abusive husband with her son and as a result, Mary Grace and Robbie Winters no longer existed... just the way they want. Both are now content with their new life. Caroline has been working as a secretary in the history department of Carrington College while finishing her undergrad and soon, she'll be head to law school. Her friend and supervisor has passed away and Caroline is welcoming the new head of department, Maximillian Alexander Hunter.
Attraction flares between Caroline and Max. For the first time ever, Caroline's heart goes pitty-patty. However, Caroline is not the only one with a past... and Max is not about to forget his, especially since it resulted in a permanent limp and him walking with a cane.
What Caroline and Max don't know yet is that they might not have time to work through their issues, because Caroline and Thomas are in danger. Indeed, the car that Caroline has ditched into a lake 7 years ago to stage their disappearance has been found. This has re-opened the investigation... but worst, Rob - Mary Grace's husband - has realized he's been duped all those years and he is now on the hunt, determined to get his son back and finish what he's started years ago.
My Opinion: I love Karen Rose and it's not a secret. I read all of her books, have all of her backlist... From the first book, I recognized her talents and started to pay attention to her releases. However, the turning point was Count to Ten. That book was a wowzer and turned me into a die-hard fan of Ms Rose. Thing though is that I love Count to Ten so much that it seems to have wiped out my memory of all her other books :( So I'm really glad that I picked up Don't Tell.
It's quite amazing how consistently good Ms Rose is as a writer. I mean, reading Don't Tell, I would never have been able to tell that it was her first book. I find it as well written as Count To Ten and I'm pretty sure if I re-read all of the other books, it'd be the same as well. When authors released their first books, it's usually flawed - oh, the book can be good, but it's not perfect. It can be the characters, the storylines or the writing style... Then, they keep writing and you find their books improving as the authors find their footing. This is absolutely not the case with Don't Tell. First, it's incredibly well-balanced between the romance and the suspense. The characters are well developed and the plot is just exciting :D
Let's talk about the characters first... I really enjoyed Caroline and Max's characters as well as Tom. I liked the fact that they were strong, determined, but at the same time, flawed... and I'm not just talking about their baggage. Each have issues to deal with, secrets and fears... they felt very real to me and I felt for their characters. Ms Rose did a good job balancing their personalities and their issues, because despite everything, these characters went on with their life. They weren't going through the motion like robots, and that showed their strength.
I liked how Caroline and Max's romance developed. Yes, it was very fast, but at the same time, it worked. I thought they had a lot of chemistry... what I liked the most was Tom's presence in this relationship. It made the relationship even more real. Tom is Caroline's protector, not able to readily trust Max as his mother did, but at the same time, having to bow to Caroline's choice. I liked the fact that Tom was not charmed right away by Max and that Max and Tom's interactions throughout the book were difficult. Not difficult as in Tom was a sully, spoiled teenager... but more because Tom wanted to protect his mother and Max was an intruder. Under these circumstances, it's totally understandable why Tom has difficulty to trust men and as a result, I liked that Max wasn't able to charm him... not that Max tried very hard. I felt like Max knew that it would take time to built trust between him and Tom and it's not that he wasn't willing, simply he wasn't rushing it. He did rush Caroline though with his proposal :P
The actual plot was quite clever. When you think about it, the reason why there is such a balance between the romance and suspense is that although Caroline was involved in the suspense, she did not play an active role. She was not a cop, so not part of the investigation, and she was unaware that her husband was looking for her. As a result, she was able to focus on her relationship with Max. The suspense came from a different angle, from the villain point of view, Rob Winters, as well as the investigator, Special Agent Steven Thatcher, who was trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Seriously, this was a great idea and it was well executed. It was exciting and thrilling. What I love is that these characters, Thatcher, the villain, other characters involved in the investigation were well developed as well. I liked seeing slices of Steven's life - his interaction with his sons and aunt, etc.
Overall, a very enjoyable book. Pretty much liked everything about it. The timeline was short, but it worked. Like I said, the clever part was how the plot was executed, having the investigation and the romance as two separate threads. Good and solid characters... I have to say, it was great as well to get re-acquainted with some of the characters: I did not remember David at all!! I remember him in Count to Ten, but didn't remember that he had such a big role in Don't Tell! I didn't remember Evie Wilson's character either... and this is one other thing that I like about Ms Rose's books: no sequel-baiting. All of her books are stand-alone, but in truth, they are actually connected and it's done in a subtle way. She doesn't put all the eggs in the same basket either - what I mean is that she varies up the setting and the characters. When she writes a book, she puts only the relevant information on secondary characters... she doesn't give a glimpse of their history or what's to come in the future... She doesn't seem to have an order to follow and all this works to her advantage. I really like it that way.
My Grade: Don't Tell gets a B+. It was a great re-read and in some ways, very new to me :) If you're looking for good romantic suspense, she is the author to go to :) However, a warning - this is not for the faint heart... the dead count is quite high and it can be descriptive/gory a little.