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Stranded with the Suspect is a 2018 Harlequin Intrigue from Cindi Myers. Yes, I’m reviewing a book that is less than a year old. It happens sometimes, and since it is a current novel I’ll be more attentive to not revealing spoilers.

The title is misleading, since no one is stranded with a suspect. The back cover blurb also misleads. “They’re both undercover…and in way over their heads.” No, neither is undercover. Andi is on the run after escaping a cult of sorts, led by a charismatic and criminal man. Her self-appointed protector, a cop of some sort, never claims to be anything else. They do seem to be over their heads though. Perhaps it’s petty of me to point out title and blurb glitches, but unfortunately there are also errors in the text, and they distract from a decent plot.

Like many of the romantic suspense genre, a relationship grows between a woman in danger and the man protecting her. I’m sure someone’s written a story about a man in danger and the woman protecting him, but I have not read it yet. In this case, the woman is very wealthy, thanks to an inheritance, so at least she’s financially independent. The plot is complicated by the existence of two enemies, and the woman’s advanced pregnancy. A pregnancy is always a handy plot structuring device, and our couple are on the run, allowing for lots of action set pieces and close escapes as befits a suspense plot.

So far, so good, although it’s a series of poor choices that place our couple in increasingly perilous circumstances. There were moments where I wanted to shout “Don’t split up!” and “Turn back – don’t drive into the storm!” And then we get to the character details.

Andi is a poor little rich girl. She’s twenty-four, and remarkably naïve. She’s pregnant, but has no idea when the baby is due.  I had a lot of trouble accepting this. Yes, I know there are women who don’t even know they are pregnant, but Andi did not grow up in isolation or poverty. Given her circumstances, teenage rebellion would make sense, but she was with the cult for only about six months. Her life in her late teens and earlier twenties is a mystery. The issue of her uncertain due date is rendered moot early in the story, when a doctor examines her and claims the delivery could come any time in the next few weeks. No one pays attention to this news.

The baby was fathered by an an older married man who misled her, and who is now dead, in circumstances never fully revealed, but apparently unrelated to her present troubles.  As the story opens she’s still sympathetic to the leader of group she left.

Simon has been keeping an eye on Andi while he tracks the cult leader, and when she leaves the group, Simon realizes she is in danger. He considers Andi attractive, but dislikes her as a spoiled rich kid. Talking with her, he finds her vulnerable and lonely, and is disgusted that men like the cult leader and the father of her baby took advantage of her. He feels she is worthy of a husband who would treat her well. He also feels she will marry someone wealthy and sophisticated like herself, despite her own rejection of that lifestyle. My inner feminist wonders why he can only see her as partnered with a man.

He sees himself as a tough cop, a member of the working class, maintaining law and order, though there are suggestions that his background is also privileged. He’s proud of his work sending “widows and orphans back to uncertain futures and poverty because they had the bad luck to be born on the wrong side of the border.” Not much of a hero, especially to a woman who has apparently rejected wealth for a communal camp.

Both characters are wounded by their pasts, but they don’t seem to connect on that basis – at least not in the sense of healing from their wounds. Their relationship seems to come out of proximity and sharing some intense experiences. This brings people together, but a lasting relationship needs a deeper connection. It does not help that the relationship becomes sexual very quickly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Andi has unresolved issues with her father. That was apparently the cause of the relationship that led to her pregnancy, and a factor in her relationship with the cult leader. Within a day or two of rejecting the cult leader she’s in bed with her latest rescuer and considering a life with him. Third time’s the charm?

Some errors in the text suggest the character backgrounds were not completely thought out. For example, early in the story, Simon notes that Andi’s father is dead. Later, Simon and Andi discuss visiting her father in prison. This is not a minor detail. Early in the story, Simon reflects on good people he knows, such as nuns who care for children in border town slums, and doctors who use their own money to help patients. Later, Simon thinks about his aunt, who runs a border town orphanage, and his uncle, a doctor who runs a clinic for the poor.

Then there’s this passage:

She turned her back to him and began to undress. He watched, mesmerized, as she stripped, revealing full, heavy breasts and the taut rounded mound of her abdomen. . . . She looked over her shoulder at him. “Well?”

I read this passage, and the surrounding text, several times, to make sure I had not missed reference to a mirror. I had not. I also considered that one might turn somewhat as undressing, but it’s clearly stated that she still has her back to him once undressed. Perhaps he just catches glimpses? That would be more erotic. But it seems to just be an error that should have been caught in editing.

The pacing is good, and there are a lot of good elements in this story, but it never quite comes together, thanks to unlikable and not fully developed characters. This is a well written story, but it could have benefited from another round of editing.