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tall-dark-defenderTall Dark Defender, by Beth Cornelison

This Silhouette Romantic Suspense title is my first exposure to Ms Cornelison’s work (though I know there’s at least another one in my TBR mountain range…). Tall Dark Defender tells the story of Annie Compton, a single mother of two young children and a survivor of terrific domestic abuse, and Jonah Deveraux, an ex-cop with his own emotional scars. This is also a sequel of sorts to Duty to Protect, in which Annie is a secondary character.

Here is the (misleading as usual) back cover blurb:

Rescued by a handsome stranger.

Undercover investigator Jonah Deveraux barely knew Annie Compton, but that didn’t stop him from nearly blowing his cover to save the pretty waitress from a ruthless killer. Convincing the stubborn single mom that she needed his protection 24/7 was a fiery battle of wills, but fighting his burning desire to make love to her was a war he wasn’t sure he could-or wanted to-win.

Annie didn’t like a mysterious man keeping watch over her, especially one as dangerously attractive as Jonah. But she’d do anything to keep her family alive, even if it meant giving in to her temporary bodyguard’s demands regarding her safety… and her heart.

The book starts by setting up the two characters, literally, on a collision course. Annie works as a waitress at the diner that is, as far as Jonah can tell, at the center of an illegal gambling ring and money laundering operation run, naturally, by unsavory and dangerous characters. Of course, neither Jonah nor the readers know who, exactly, these villains are.

By behaving like a timid, half-starved church mouse, Annie pretty much invites the people around her to indulge in abusive behaviour. Customers shout at her, she takes it. They stiff her with the bill, she takes it. Her boss sends her-alone, on foot, in the middle of the night-to deliver a package in a seedy area of town, off she goes.

(Quick tangent: off she goes, after her shift had ended, without taking a minute and a half to call her babysitter, who is taking care of her toddler and five year old. Um… excuse me? Seriously? Yet we are asked to believe that Annie’s every action is motivated by her love of her children. Me? Not buying it.)

Seriously, who wouldn’t expect Jonah-who has already defended her against some of the men he suspects to be part of the gambling ring-to offer her a ride and, when she refuses, to follow her? And who wouldn’t expect her to be attacked, the package stolen, while Jonah defends her?

The part where I started hitting my head on the desk (figuratively speaking, I was laying on the bed) is when, right after she’s been attacked, Annie refuses Jonah’s offer of a ride back to her apartment. Yes, you read right. After being hit in the face and scared spitless, Annie prefers walking back, through this self-same dangerous neighborhood, all the way to her apartment, in a not much better part of town (see “waitress at a diner” part of review), in the middle of the night.

Even worse, she resents it when he follows her a second time, all the way to her door.

And worse yet? Her reasoning to refuse Jonah’s offer. Apparently, by refusing help from men, no matter how well intentioned or string-less their offers are, she will “shed the debilitating attitudes and knee-jerk reactions from her marriage in favor of strength and self-empowerment.”

May I ask again… seriously?

A few days later, after finding her boss at the diner dead on the premises, this same woman decides to stick her nose into Jonah’s investigation. And not just by listening around and telling him of anything suspicious, no. Annie decides to search the dead man’s office and barely escapes being caught in the act by the new manager-one of the men involved in the gambling ring. After that close shave, she suddenly has the gumption to go head to head with Jonah on the matter of participating actively in the investigation-helping him retrieve some evidence and, for all intents and purposes, putting herself and her children squarely in the sights of whomever is behind the first guy’s murder.

Character inconsistency much?

Look, I get that people indulge in behaviour that makes no sense every day-but the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction must make sense. Annie’s behaviour doesn’t make any sense-throughout the novel she seesaws between cringing at softest noise and stamping her foot and getting in people’s faces. Randomly.

Unfortunately, Jonah is not much better. He starts out as a wonderful, caring, patient, generous man. The perfect man, given his own experience with domestic abuse, to understand Annie’s fears, to give her room. Indeed, perfect enough for Annie to decide to jump off the ledge and trust him.

Only for him to decide, literally seconds after climaxing, that he’s not the man for her. That she deserves better. That the best he can do for Annie is to “let her go.”

Is that perfect timing or what?

In contrast, the suspense thread was fairly tight for the most part, with the bits revealed here and there shedding just enough light on the puzzle to keep the interest going. Unfortunately, the scene where the known villains confront Jonah-and Annie-seemed overdone to me. Too many successive bangs, so to speak, in too short a period of time (let alone page-wise) for me to suspend my disbelief.

Tall Dark Defender gets 5 out of 10 from me.

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