Deke Summers is a former ATF agent who has been on the run and living under an assumed name since an undercover operation in which he was involved went south, leading to a number of people, including children, being killed. In retaliation, the militant group he was trying to infiltrate went after him, killing his wife instead. Feeling responsible for all these deaths, he lives his life on the edge, staying one step ahead of the bad guys, until he moves into a house next-door to a pretty widow and her young son. The pair painfully remind him of everything he's lost, so after getting drunk one night, he can't resist kissing her, which unintentionally places her in the cross-hairs of his enemies.
Becki Travers is attracted to the new guy next-door and hires him to rebuild the deck on her house. She's only been admiring him from afar, until seeing how well he gets along with her son makes her dare to dream of possibly having a future with a man again. Then one night, her home is invaded by frightening men with guns, who accuse her neighbor of heinous things and demand that she allow them to use her as bait to catch him. Instead, Deke helps her escape, but they must go on the run to evade his enemies. And when those men decide to use her son as a pawn in their deadly game, Becki and Deke find themselves faced with having to make a terrible choice between Deke's life and the boy's.
The Redemption of Deke Summers is one of Gayle Wilson's earliest romantic suspense novels, her third to be exact, and I think it perhaps showed a little of her greenness as an author. I liked it fairly well, but the plot is a somewhat simplistic one. We have a mysterious guy who moves in next-door to a widow, but other than doing some handyman work for her, mostly keeps to himself. Despite the distance, they develop an attraction for one another that eventually leads to a kiss. Then one night, armed men invade her home with the express intention of using her to draw him out. He rescues her from their clutches and takes her on the run with him across the country, until the villains manage to capture several of her family members, including her young son, leading to a tense stand-off. There's some good suspense that kept me nicely engaged as they find it necessary to evade the bad guys several times. But I found the character and relationship development somewhat lacking, so while it was an easy read that had its good points, the story as a whole wasn't entirely satisfying.
Deke is a man who's running from the past and hiding under an assumed name. We don't learn exactly why until a ways into the story, after he and Becki go on the run. In a nutshell, he worked undercover for the ATF and was involved in a Waco-style incident in which some innocent children were killed. The men who are after him are militant, nationalist types who blame him for the incident and have a nationwide network dedicated to finding him and taking him out. These men did succeed in killing his wife, so now Deke is all alone and trying to stay one step ahead of them, while blaming himself for all the deaths. The pretty widow and her son who live next-door remind him of the life he could've had, so one night, after getting drunk, with the loneliness weighing him down, he gives in to temptation and kisses her. Deke has a sympathetic backstory, but we don't learn much about him beyond these things, nothing about his life before ATF (except for a couple of lines from his ex-partner during the final pages of the book), how he met his wife, or how he felt about her beyond the fact that he loved her and blamed himself for her getting killed. He tends to be the strong, silent type, and while I know many women really go for that, I prefer my heroes to be a little more communicative and vulnerable. I like that he was so protective and self-sacrificing, always trying to put Becki and her son, Josh's needs above his own, even prepared to give up his life if necessary. But because he doesn't talk much or interact with Becki on a deeper emotional level, I never got a good sense of why he was falling for her, except that from a physical standpoint, she reminds him of his dead wife, which isn't really a strong enough reason upon which to base a relationship.
Becki is a school teacher and a widow, her husband having been claimed by cancer several years before the story opens. She hasn't really dated much, but the guy next-door is undeniably attractive and intrigues her. She's at least trying to make a few inroads with him toward a dating relationship when the gunmen invade her home. They feed her lies about Deke, and considering that she barely knows him herself, I wasn't quite certain why she decided to trust him over them. After the first day or so of running, she demands that he tell her everything and he finally fesses up, but until then, she seemed to be going on nothing more than gut instinct. Once Becki knows the truth, I admired her for understanding and for standing by him. She's a strong woman, taking the unexpected turn of events surprisingly well, and she helps him a lot when he's injured, keeping a cool head. But much like with Deke, I just never fully grasped how or why she fell in love with him. Her declarations of love came about a little too quickly to be entirely credible. I'm not sure I could have developed that sort of love in such a stressful situation, while knowing so little about the man I was with.
For the most part, The Redemption of Deke Summers focuses pretty narrowly on Deke and Becki as they try to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. In general, the supporting characters tend to orbit the periphery rather than being in the thick of things. Overall, I liked the characters but thought that a few more ingredients could have been added to make them even more interesting. The author's writing style is a little top-heavy on the prose, with it being pretty densely packed. The story definitely could have benefited from more dialogue to liven things up a little. As I mentioned the suspense is pretty strong, with something new happening on this front fairly often to keep things interesting. This is probably the main thing that kept me reading, because I was wondering what would happen next. If only the romance had been stronger and more vibrant so that I could actually feel the connection between Deke and Becki, this would have been a winner for me. Even still, it was a decent read that left me waffling between 3.5 and 4 stars, but ultimately I decided that the lack of a stronger romance was enough to knock it down the additional half-star. The Redemption of Deke Summers was originally published in the Harlequin Intrigue line of category romance, and was later reprinted as part of their fifty states themed series, Men Made in America 2, as the first entry for Alabama.
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