Close To You
by Christina Dodd, contemporary (2005)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-5619-X


Caitlin Prescott (or Kate Montgomery as she is called after the Montgomeries adopted her) the heroine of Close To You, is wonderfully normal. She's not a supertough secret-agent built like an Amazon, she's doesn't need a revolving door for her bedroom, but at the same time she doesn't have a contrived sexual boo-boo sad story or other generally stupid tics associated with a typical romance heroine. When Ms Dodd says that Kate is intelligent and sensible, Kate is really all that. Kate is magnificently normal. I really like that. On the other hand, the hero Teague Ramos, name and all, crosses the line from action hero to Suzanne Brockmann hero parody many times in the story.

The conclusion to the author's The Lost Texas Heart series where all the orphaned and separated Prescott sisters will be united once more at the end of the day, Close To You tells the story of Kate Montgomery, our heroine. Starting out as TV news reporter and eager to make her mark, Kate has just returned from a not-too-exciting coverage of a local storm in Galverston when she hears fantastic news. A bigger station in Austin is offering her a position that is not only better than the entry-level job she is currently holding, the pay is double her current salary to boot. What can a gal do in this case but to say yes?

Trouble starts at nearly the moment she arrives in Austin to start her new job. Her colleagues dislike her because their boss pretty much created a job vacancy out of nowhere to bring Kate onboard and they understandably deduced that she got the job because of her looks or connection. And that was before the "accidents" start happening around her. Her boss hires Teague Ramos, supposedly the best in his line of business, to be her bodyguard. Meanwhile, Senator George Orbalin is showing a close interest on her although she isn't sure whether this is just paternal interest or something less innocent.

Calling this book "romantic suspense" will be misleading because that would suggest that there is some suspense in the story. There isn't. The identity of the villain, his motivations, and his schemes are laid bare by the third chapter of the story and whatever is left to be kept in suspense can be easily guessed by the reader also by this point. Which is why, when the plot starts to take a forefront in the story in the middle to late portions of the book, Close To You is an exercise in killing insomnia. The reader also knows everything but the main characters don't so the reader is left waiting for the main characters to catch up. Is this supposed to be "suspense"?

Teague is a disappointment because he is over-the-top to the point that he is ridiculous rather than magnetic. The author's attempts to make Teague the sexiest, most virile, most dangerous, most tortured, and most heroic man in the book end up turning Teague into some Mr Incredible wannabe where he has plenty of muscles at, er, where it counts but the brain doesn't seem to have caught up with the rest of his magnificence. Like a typical hero of this author, Teague is arrogant, sexually aggressive, and dominant. Unfortunately, he is also obstinate and sometimes his obstinacy is coupled with his infuriating tendency to keep the heroine in the dark for her own good. This is especially frustrating when the heroine is right about something that should be very obvious to the big guy but he just discounts her opinion because he is such a macho man like that. At one pivotal point of the story, Kate is forced to do her own investigations because Teague exasperatingly refuses to come clean with her, with predictable results. In instances like this, Teague comes off not just as a dim-witted donkey but also a too-obvious plot device on the author's part to clumsily prolong the story instead of having the main characters solve the mystery like they should have much earlier.

Kate, fortunately, doesn't take too much nonsense from Teague. Unlike some of the author's couples in previous books, Kate enters a relationship with Teague on her own terms and she holds her own against the man very well. Therefore, she manages to rein in the hero from becoming an out-of-control cliché. Teague is a cliché in the sense that he comes complete with self-imposed "I'm not worthy of you" baggages that arise from predictable guilt issues in his past but when he threatens to pull that childish "I don't deserve you so I'm leaving you after I've shagged you and made you love me because I'm so selfless like that" stunt, Kate will not have it. The result is a truly beautiful declaration of love from Teague that really hits all the right buttons where I'm concerned.

The start of the book is really good because it is a joy to discover that Kate is a heroine free from the usual "Martyr! Crappy sex life! Unrealistic bad boyfriends or sexual expectations!" antics normally associated with the heroines of the genre. The chapters leading to and after the denouement are also very good because they are humorous, often in a darkly sardonic manner, romantic, and also because Kate and Teague are falling in love in a manner that is so, so right as they have already have heart-to-heart talks about relevant issues in their relationships. It is during the middle portions of the book when the author tries to prolong the agony of the reader stuck in a plot that has no suspense at all and actually uses Teague to create some eye-rolling contrivances to prolong this agony that Close To You loses points with me.

Let me just put it this way: in rereads of this book, I start from the first page and eventually skip straight to the last few chapters. It's the only way that I can still consider this book a fabulous read and not fall asleep in the process. Because of the strong start and finish of the book, I'd really love to follow my heart and give this book a much higher score. That's how much I really love this book when it's good. Unfortunately, I need to be fair.

Rating: 79


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