Twenty years ago, Sydney Foster met Nick Novak, when she was a teenage prostitute working the streets of Calgary and he was a rookie beat cop. He helped her out one night when she was beaten up by her pimp, but it wasn't until five years later that they met up again. This time she had finally found her way out of that life and the police were asking for her help in an undercover sting operation. The detective on the case was Nick, and once the case was closed, she and Nick became close. Their passion was explosive and unforgettable, but in the end, he couldn't quite come to terms with her past life and walked out on their relationship. Throughout the past fifteen years, Sydney has built a new life for herself as one of the most successful real estate agents in Calgary. She tends to keep to herself, but generously gives of her wealth and time to help those in need within the community, which brings her back into contact with Nick once again.
Two years ago, Nick was gravely wounded when an undercover drug operation went bad. Being beaten senseless and shot multiple times left him with a traumatic brain injury from which no one expected him to recover. A new physical therapy program gave Nick hope that he would be able to walk and talk again, and he worked his butt off to accomplish that goal. Until now, he had no idea that the program had been funded by his old flame, the one he's deeply angry with but has never been able to forget. All those years ago, he came to his sense two weeks after walking out on Sydney and returned to find her vanished without a trace. Now he's been forced back into contact with her, and all the old feeling are starting to resurface. It doesn't take long for both of them to realize they are still madly in love with each other. But can they get beyond the old hurts and jealousies that broke them up the first time, or are they doomed to relive the past all over again?
I can't recall where I first heard of Streets of Fire, but I do remember that wherever it was, it came highly recommended. It is a very good story about two broken people who are obvious soul-mates finally making peace with the past to live a fuller and happier future. Both characters are pretty mature for the romance genre (she's 37, and although his current age isn't given, I was able to extrapolate from their ages at the time they met that he's 42). They first began their relationship fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, her past as a prostitute and his inability to come to terms with that fact tore them apart, but their breakup nearly destroyed them both. Now circumstances have brought them back together, but until they deal with the issues that broke them up the first time, they can't move forward.
Although the author doesn't delve very deeply into Sydney's early years, we do discover that she was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, and because of that, she became a prostitute at a very young age. She first met Nick while she was walking the streets as a teenager and he was a just a beat cop, but they didn't start a relationship until several years later. By then, Sydney had finally managed to clean up her life, and with the help of a madame, she learned the real estate business. She and Nick were reunited when the police asked for her help on an undercover sting, and she provided them with information as well as posing as a prostitute again. Sydney and Nick's love and passion nearly consumed them, but they were only together for a few months before her past got in the way of their happiness, tearing them apart. Since then, Sydney has worked hard at putting her former life behind her, becoming a successful and wealthy real estate tycoon. I admired Sydney's determination to rise above her difficult past and become a successful businesswoman. What I really liked most about her though, is that she used all the wealth she had amassed in many positive ways to help other people. She donated money to many worthy causes and more importantly, has donated her time as well. Occasionally she gets personally involved in certain cases, like Nick's, or the teenage prostitute, Jenny's, or her apartment building maintenance guy, Malcolm's. She's totally non-judgmental of others, sees the good in people, and truly wants to help. However, her forgiving nature doesn't extend to herself, which is why in all these long years, she has never really taken care of her own emotional needs by dealing with her past.
Nick is a man who used to be strong and vital, but whose body is now badly broken. He was caught in the middle of a drug bust gone bad, and ended up being beaten and shot multiple times, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Somehow, he survived but was unable to walk, talk, or even feed himself. Although Nick didn't know it at the time, Sydney used her wealth to set up a special physical therapy program, mainly to help him, although others are now being served by it as well. Nick has spent the last two years fighting his way back. He's much better than he was in the beginning, yet he's still permanently disabled. In this respect, Nick is a very unique romance hero. I've read about heroes who are maimed or scarred, but usually they've returned to being functional members of society by the time the story opens and it's just their outward scars that mark that difficult time in their lives. Nick is different in that he still struggles on a daily basis with simply walking, talking, and taking care of himself, not to mention the fact that he's impotent. He's definitely one strong, stubborn man, though, to have worked his way back even that far, given the grave nature of his injuries. Not only is he broken in body, but he's also emotionally scarred from his break-up with Sydney all those years ago. He's angry with her when he finds out the truth of what she did for him, but at the same time, all his old feelings for her resurface. My feelings about Nick kind of wavered back and forth. There were times I admired him a great deal for his strength and determination and also felt like he was very kind and loving, but there were other times when I felt like he was being a bit of a jerk, although I suppose I have to give him credit for at least admitting it when he was. He thinks a lot about how his jealousy of all the clients Sydney serviced in her life as a prostitute is one of the big barriers between them. There was a part of me that really wanted to understand his feelings, but unfortunately he doesn't figure them out himself until near the end of the story. I think I just really wanted him to be more understanding of Sydney's past and to work with her to figure everything out instead of being the stereo-typical, clueless alpha male for a large part of the story.
As I mentioned before, Sydney and Nick are obvious soul-mates. In spite of their bitter break-up and their attempts to get on with their respective lives in the ensuing fifteen years, neither has been able to stop thinking about or loving the other. Once they're reunited, the pain of their break-up dissolves away, and they fall back into a very comfortable relationship. Partly because of Nick's inability to perform in bed (initially), they spend a lot of time just kissing and cuddling, which I found to be romantic. Still, they both have a great deal of pent up emotions regarding the past that they have to work through, and more than once, it seems like they aren't going to make it again. This is where I felt the story took a more realistic approach to the lives of two people in this kind of situation. It isn't easy to find your way out of such emotionally dark circumstances as the one that these two were in, and in Nick and Sydney's cases, it takes them nearly the entire book to realize why things didn't work between them the first time and to try to rectify that. This, unfortunately, gives the book a rather heavy feel, as our star-crossed lovers are in frequent conflict. However, I never at any point doubted their love for one another. If anything, they almost loved each other too much (if that's possible), because neither of them could bear the thought of living without the other even when it seems like it isn't going to work again. I was very pleased with the ending though, and felt like Nick and Sydney had finally turned that all-important corner in their relationship and were definitely going to make it.
Owing in large part to Nick and Sydney not being able to figure out what's wrong in their relationship, the story moves at a rather languid pace. There were times I found myself wishing something would happen to shake things loose and spur them into action. The narrative is also somewhat heavy on the introspection, which is usually a good thing, but sometimes, I just wanted Nick and Sydney to have a good heart-to-heart about their lives, their problems, the past, anything that might get them out of the rut in which they were stuck. I realize they had trouble talking about these things without dredging up deep-seated hurt and resentment, and as long as they steered clear of these topics, they seemed OK. Ultimately though, there was an obvious need for it in order for them to ever have a healthy, lasting relationship, so it was a little hard to read about two mature adults who, for such a long time, either couldn't or wouldn't put that aside for the sake of their future together. Otherwise, I did enjoy Streets of Fire, and would recommend it to readers who don't mind heavier themes in their romance reading. Other than detecting a bit of passive narration and odd wording in a few places (the author is Canadian, so I'm not sure if this was Canadian vernacular with which I'm not familiar or if she actually did word it incorrectly), the writing itself was solid. This was my first book by Judith Duncan, and it has certainly left me open to trying more of her work in the future.
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