Family at Stake by Molly O'Keefe
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin SuperRomance #1365, 2006, First book in duet (book two = His Best Friend's Baby), Out of Print, Available In Digital
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Well, I can tell you I bought it at a local used bookstore that has since closed up shop - so my guess is I read a description somewhere and it sounded good. This particular book did win Best Category Romance in AAR's annual reader's poll in 2007 - so that might be the reason too.
The Review: After falling totally in love with a Molly O'Keefe Super last year, I immediately pulled out the giant Rubbermaid tote I have wedged in a storage closet where I house my print collection of category romance. The mission? See if I have any other books by this author collecting dust in the mountain range. And sure enough, I did - including this one which happens to be the first story she wrote for SuperRomance.
Rachel Filmore and Mac Edwards were BFFs in high school. Before you can say This Isn't Going To End Well, the two succumb to their teenage hormones and have sex the night of their graduation. Mac has been hopelessly in love with Rachel forever, but she has one mission - and that's to get the hell out of her tiny hometown and as far away from her father, who beats on her, and her mother, who enables Daddy's drinking. Having sex with Mac doesn't change that mission, although he foolishly hopes that it might.
Fast forward many years later, and Rachel is a social worker who hasn't strayed far from her hometown (a scant 30-odd miles away in fact). There's been a retirement higher up the food chain, which means cases are getting shuffled among existing staff. That's when Rachel sees Mac Edwards' name on a folder with a scary red flag on it. Seems Mac is having issues with his 12-year-old daughter, Amanda. Serious enough issues that the guy who just retired? Yeah, made a notation that maybe it was time for Amanda to be removed from the home. Rachel cannot reconcile this Mac in the file with the Mac she grew up with - so she volunteers to take the case, without telling her new superior that there just might be a teensy conflict of interest.
Mac is floored to see Rachel standing on his doorstep. Her leaving broke his heart. When he learns she's their new case worker? He doesn't know what to think. This new Rachel - this Rachel who is aloof, cold, and acts like they have no history really depresses him. However, he loves his daughter, and he's desperate to find out what has been troubling her. She seemed to handle her mother's death fairly OK (considering), so why now, many months after the fact, is she falling apart?
I generally look to Supers to get my emotional angsty fix, and this story is pretty much textbook. Mac and Rachel have a lot of baggage, mostly because as 18-year-old kids they were too stupid to talk to each other. Also, it's easy to understand Rachel's desire to get the heck out of Dodge given how craptastic her family life was. She couldn't be bothered to think about the people around her (Mac, her brother) who would be effected by her leaving. All she knew was that 1) this is a bad place and 2) anyplace else has to be better.
I found myself enjoying this book, but for all the other reasons besides the romance - which honestly was incidental for me. I was intrigued by Amanda. What was she hiding? What was slowly eating away at her? I also found myself terribly interested in Rachel's past. Was she going to stop running from it? Was she finally going to take the steps to address the toxic sludge in her life that she was pushing to the side?
The romance is rather heavy, given the past that Mac and Rachel share. They have a tendency to say things to each other that are rather hurtful. I did find Mac's response to Rachel rather Pavlovian after they finally hit the sheets (when we first had sex she left ergo now that we've had sex a second time she'll leave again) - and I also found myself feeling really sorry for Mac's dead wife. She was a pretty, popular girl who wanted Mac but found herself competing with the fact that he was in love with Rachel. Naturally this eventually wears on her, and while I won't necessarily say the author demonizes her for it - I can see how some readers would feel that she does.
So where does that leave us? Well, this was a strong read with many enjoyable elements to it. I also really appreciated that the author addressed the ethical issues concerning Rachel's job and her history with Mac - when in many other romances one would see an issue like this swept under the rug entirely. While I didn't love it and want to have babies with it - if it had been my first introduction to O'Keefe's writing? Yeah, she would have landed on my Check Out Her Next Release list. As it is, I've now gone back and ordered her backlist titles that I didn't already have buried in the TBR. So much for this challenge being about making progress with my hording....
Final Grade = B-