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Empath, by Bonnie Dee

Part of Samhain’s Gifted anthology, Empath is a novella length contemporary romance, with a touch of the paranormal. It centers on Jordan, an empath who has grown to resent his ability to the point of living as a virtual hermit in order to avoid contact with others’ feelings, and Lauren, a police detective whose trust on her ability to accurately judge people’s characters—essential to her job—has been badly shaken by experience.

This is an adult story, which uses graphic language and contains explicit sex scenes, so minors shouldn’t read further—nor should people who object to either the language or the content.

And with that out of the way, this is the blurb from the publisher’s site:

How to trust him…when she can’t even trust herself?

Jordan Langley thought he could deal with his empathic “gift”—until a traumatic event drove him into seclusion. As a hermit, he can avoid a world that tears his own emotions to shreds. But now a friend needs his help to reach an autistic boy who witnessed a murder.

Detective Lauren Sadler specializes in blocking her emotions so she can do her job. She can’t deny Jordan’s ability to reach the troubled boy, but she hadn’t counted on how his touch affects her.

In the midst of the investigation, Jordan and Lauren break their own rules, sharing a night of passion that shatters all their barriers. Jordan is intrigued by the vulnerability and self-doubt he senses underneath Lauren’s tough exterior.

But Lauren isn’t sure if she’s ready to yield to the power of the most intimate exchange she has ever known. Even if it’s the only way to catch a killer.

I said before that I would look forward to reading more of Ms Dee’s work, and I’ve been amply rewarded in this story.

Once again, Ms Dee takes some pretty tired clichés and makes them work: the emotionally scarred hero and the emotionally distant and damaged heroine—although it seems like it’s usually the other way around, no? But still.

When we meet Jordan, he has managed to isolate himself to such a degree that casual contact with the pizza delivery boy can shake him quite badly. His reaction to his erstwhile best friend’s request to help a potential witness to a murder is, understandably, very negative. Not only is he reluctant to subject himself to pain but he doesn’t believe he can do much, if anything, to help.

I loved Jordan’s interaction with Mike, the autistic son of the murder victim. While I don’t have first hand knowledge of autism, I’m aware of some of its effects, such as the deep need for routine and the withdrawal from upheaval. I believed Mike’s reactions to seeing his father being killed, and I found his reactions to Jordan’s gift incredibly moving.

Through their exchange, Jordan realizes that as much as he can absorb people’s emotions through touch, he can channel emotions back to them. His subconscious need to help Mike transforms itself into a better understanding of his own gift that will, eventually, change his entire life. Even if I had liked nothing else about this story, or these characters, that would have been enough.

There is, of course, more.

Lauren is one of the two detectives assigned to the case, and one who feels a stronger sense of obligation towards Mike than many others would have. During a previous case, a mistake she made in judging a person allowed a child to be abused. That, coupled with a deep rooted need to keep her innermost, vulnerable self, safe from hurt—which opening oneself to others almost guarantees will happen, regardless of how much love is involved—make her reaction to Jordan all the more powerful.

There is attraction, physical and emotional, from both of them. And also from both, there is resistance. They both wonder if they can afford to get involved with each other, if their emotional reserves will be enough to allow them to survive if—when?—things go wrong between them. The sexual pull is stronger than their fears, but is it strong enough to build a relationship on? Is the emotional vulnerability worth the potential joy? Of course these are not original questions, but staples in romance—and in literature. Ms Dee manages to make them fresh for me.

While Jordan’s and Lauren’s emotions wage battle with their experiences, the murder investigation continues, uncovering upsetting secrets in the victim’s life, from unsavory associations with drug and gun smuggling, to affairs that are more than what they seem, and leading to a dramatic confrontation with the murderer. (And I had a suspicion that I saw confirmed, though I was off on the motive.)

Once again, Ms Dee manages to make the epilogue palatable to me, because the protagonists are still building their relationship; it’s neither an ending nor a picture perfect snapshot (can I say “Kodak moment”?). It is another step, just another day, another rough edge rubbed off, another crack sealed.

I do have quibbles—when don’t I?—but Ms Dee’s voice and style easily out weigh them.

For example, there is the tiniest bit of info dump early in the story, as Jordan’s internal dialogue explains his relationship with Detective Danny Stipe and, through him, to the only potential witness to a murder. There is just a bit more of this kind of exposition from both Jordan and Lauren about their individual pasts—which makes sense, keeping them in character. For people who have trouble relating intimately with others, their bringing these things up with each other early enough in the story to help the reader understand them, just wouldn’t have been believable.

My other main complaint, you ask? Length. This novella is under 90 pages long, and I seriously wanted more—much more!

Empath gets 7.5 out of 10

Available only as an ebook through Samhain Publishing.

1 Comment »

  • Thanks a bunch for reviewing. I find I enjoy writing to a theme and when I saw the call at Samhain for stories about psychic gifts I wanted to chose something a little out of the ordinary. So instead of precognition, telekineses or mind reading I decided to give the hero the gift of feeling others emotions. I figured what could be sexier for a romance novel hero than to be able to completely read his partner–and what could be a more painful gift than the ability to feel people’s suffering, their self doubt, their loneliness and pain?


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