All I've Ever Wanted
by Adrianne Byrd, contemporary (2001)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-137-5


If I am going to be anal about labels, I'd say All I've Ever Wanted is more romantic suspense than straightforward romance, because the relationship between murder witness Kennedy St James and cop Maxwell Collier is pushed to the background for suspense/police investigation elements. But I have no problem with this, as long as it's a good read. And it is. The few moments when Max and Kennedy spend time together just sing with aching romanticism. But you know what the problem is? The suspense part is flawed from the get go.

Bad because it relies on two things that will cause a story of this sort to be dead on arrival: (a) too many coincidences, and (b) too much reliance on the police bungling things up to keep the story going. And as for (b), this time around, the hero is part of the force, and boy, does he look stupid as a result.

Kennedy is a single mother to a four-year old boy and she is trying hard to give her and son Thomas a good life. One fine night, on her way home from night class, however, she has the misfortune to stumble upon the murder of a prominent Assistant DA. Eeek. Did the bad guys see her? Oh God.

And here is where the weird coincidences start. Just what are the odds that Kennedy will be working in an eatery where the cops go for lunch? Or that Max will find her locket near the scene of the crime bearing her father's initials, or that her late father happened to be the celebrated police officer whose record was prominently displayed at the Atlanta police HQ? Or that the bad guy henchman who did the murder will have a big grudge against Kennedy's father and will now take it out on her and her son? Is Atlanta that small a place?

And the police! If I am living in this Atlanta, I'd be worried. Max and his partner Dossman bungle it big time by harrassing Kennedy in a public space so often and so obvious that their action only bring the baddie's attention to Kennedy. Oops. Because of this, Kennedy's boy soon finds his life in danger. Can Max protect Kennedy?

Er... define "protect". If protect means a few quiet moments of bonding where Kennedy and Max become friends, well yes. If protect means sheltering Kennedy from the bad guys, er, no. I don't demand grand rescue scenes in my stories - in fact, the hero rescuing the heroine is only icing in the cake as long as the heroine can take care of herself. In All I've Ever Wanted, Kennedy can take care of herself - if she bungles up big time, it's because she's a mere civilian thrust into situations she has no way of winning unless she's MacGyver. But Max has no excuse of bungling up, but that's what he keeps doing, to the point of sending a secondary character to her death because he doesn't think that this woman's "important information, can we meet?" call is worth his time. Max lets the fact that he once had a one-night-stand with poor overambitious reporter Aaliyah clouds his judgement. And his monotonous "I feel bad" is no excuse for his stupidity, is it?

And Max has issues. His wife left him because he is closed and emotionally distant. He is. The way he treats Aaliyah is unforgivable. But these issues of his are never resolved - who has the time when people are trying to kill Kennedy and Thomas, Kennedy is trying to keep Thomas safe, and Max is trying not to bungle things up even more with his stupidity? I feel the wife whom Max considers the Whore of the Century is right to leave that man. At one point Kennedy, rightly so, wonders if she will be the next in Max's "It's Always Her Fault Our Relationship Breaks Down" blame-the-bitch act.

Yet, at the other hand, All I've Ever Wanted is a very good read. The romance is kept to minimum scenes, but while the suspense has its flaws too, I find myself caught up in the whole proceedings. Will Thomas be safe? What will intrepid Kennedy do next? What will the bad guy do next? And who are the masterminds anyway? Every word keeps me hanging. I must say Ms Byrd can sure write a good story - I'm hooked to the end. The villains aren't over-the-top caricatures too, they're bad, but they're human.

Hence, All I've Ever Wanted manages to be a very good read despite its flawed premise and a hero whose stupidity can border on being grotesquely dumb. I like Kennedy - strong-willed and tough - and I'm pretty sure Max is not what she should even think about wanting. But even so, the few quiet moments of hugging and bonding the author throws in sell me on the romance. Okay, Max can be really charming and seductive when he wants to be Mr Sensitive. Fine. But I still say Kennedy can do better.

All in all, this book is a great, engaging read because the author can tell a great story in a most entertaining style even if the whole premise is flawed. I don't get it. I know the story is sucky at places, but while I'm reading, I don't want this story to end. Weird. But I'll hand Ms Byrd that: she can tell a bloody good story. More power to her. When's the next book coming?

Rating: 84


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