I first discovered Sherri Shackelford’s romances in my much-missed, much-loved Love Inspired Historical line, where I discovered many favourites, Lacey Williams, Karen Kirst, Allie Pleiter, among others. I loved Shackelford’s inspirational-light historical romances and A Family For the Holidays most of all (read it! it’s wonderful!). I was surprised to see Shackelford move to a category different from the historical, but trusted her to surprise and delight me, with the same talent for weaving interesting variations out of tired old tropes. Some of that was immediately obvious in the details of No Safe Place‘s premise. To start, the heroine, Beth Greenwood, is a forensic accountant. Yup, she’s the lady who susses out the money-bad and suss it she does, except it lands her in terrible danger. Beth is working at Quetech Industries, uncovering money laundering. The Friday before a holiday week-end sees Beth directing an email to the FBI about the fraud. It’s set to land in the FBI inbox come Tuesday. It doesn’t take long for Beth’s subsequent get-away plan to fall under the violent tendencies of goons sent to wipe her out. In comes – *Clark Kent* – aka Homeland Security agent, Corbin Ross – as Beth notes, “Her heart did a little zigzag in her chest. She liked the handsome, Clark Kent appeal.”
Corbin has the cropped hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and good looks of a phone-booth-transforming super-hero. He is working undercover at Quetech Industries, watching Beth. He suspects she may be involved in the money laundering he’s investigating. His theory and suspensions are soon put to the test when he rescues Beth from near-murder in the company’s parking garage. Corbin and Beth embark, literally, as they do quite a bit of train travel running from bad guys, on a journey staying one train-car-ride ahead of Beth’s pursuers. At first, Corbin is conflicted: is Beth part of a deal gone awry, or is she telling the truth about spilling her forensic accounting beans to the FBI? Only time will tell, the time to that email landing in the FBI inbox. Three pulse-pounding days of proximity and danger for hero and heroine: what could be better for the reader than that delicious working out of danger and conflicted desire?
On Beth and Corbin’s journey of danger and suspense, especially during the novel’s first half, Corbin’s I-trust-her-I-don’t-trust-her thoughts bring on reader-mental-whiplash. It’s not a convention I particularly enjoy. But there was soooooo much to enjoy: loved Corbin and Beth, together and apart, original, suspenseful scenes, and the working out of Corbin and Beth’s tender, moving journey from mistrust to affection to love.
As we get to know Corbin and Beth, while bullets fly and they stay on the run, it’s apparent they’re carrying unresolved grief. Corbin is mourning his brother, Evan, killed in Afghanistan, and Beth, the loss of her father, an honest, Chicago cop (where she gets her financial integrity streak). As a result, Corbin and Beth have used work to withdraw, protect their hearts, and isolate themselves. This forced-proximity journey compels them, because of their growing respect, liking, and attraction for each other, to confront their sadness and how and why they’re denying friendship and love. Once Corbin’s mistrust is laid to rest, their journey to the HEA is measured, moving, and convincing.
One of the many things I loved about Shackelford’s historical romances, other than the snatches of delightful wit and humour (no small feat for a subgenre that often suffers from this very thing) is her characters’ considered thoughtfulness, as evident in No Safe Place. Beth and Corbin think about how they’re living their lives and what changes would make them better, more loving, contributing members of society, and happier, more fulfilled individuals. Their conclusions are an extension of their deeply-held values, to serve and to love:
Life was both incredibly durable and incredibly fragile. They were all one mistake away from death at any given moment. One moment of distracted driving. One slip and fall. Time was a precious, valuable commodity, and one that she often took for granted. Was she doing good with the time she had? Was she honoring those whose time had been cut short? Was she honoring God with her life? She hadn’t let herself slow down long enough to answer those questions.
Beth revisions her life in terms of what she’s learned about herself on her journey. She’s an introvert, but wants to connect with friends; she’s good on her own, but wants to love and be with Corbin. Corbin, like Beth, makes changes: he reunites with the family he’s avoiding to avoid his and their grief, takes an active role in his church, and resolves to reunite with Beth and tell her he loves and wants to marry her: “All the barriers he’d put in place between his feelings and his actions crumbled. There was nothing left. Nothing holding back the tide of longing.”
When the HEA arrives, there’s a delightful humour to Corbin’s thoughts, as Beth reaches out to him before he can reach out to her: “Panic tripped along his nerve endings. This wasn’t how he’d planned things. Well, actually, he hadn’t planned anything. But he’d had plans to plan something.” Humour, love, purpose, and one amazingly suspenseful scene in a corn maze … awaiting you in Shackelford’s first foray into contemporary romantic suspense, inspie-light. With Miss Austen, we deem No Safe Place evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Sherri Shackelford’s No Safe Place is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on December 31st, 2018, and may be found at your preferred vendors. I’m grateful to the author for a signed copy!