Something fishy is going on and 23 year-old nurse Kelly Campbell suspects the doctor she has been dating is up to his neck in something illegal. She overheard enough of a conversation between the doctor and another nurse to confirm he's dealing drugs, but even worse, elderly patients "whom no one will ever miss" are dying during his lucrative drug trials for a major pharmaceutical company. When he catches her checking the records of one of those patients, she knows he won't allow her to live. Playing it cool, she finishes her shift, then goes to the police. When it becomes obvious the officer she speaks with isn't going to do anything, she takes drastic action and fakes her own death. Clad in black leathers and wearing a tinted helmet, Kelly roars out of Chicago on an old bike belonging to her cousin.
The Most Important Catch by Jaclyn Hawkes begins in Illinois, but quickly moves south to North Carolina as Kelly flees her former boyfriend. There, a kind man rescues her when she runs out of gas and a few days later she goes to work for him as caretaker for an old farmhouse he purchased as a refuge from his hectic life. When Robby "Rocker" Robideaux discovers the beautiful young motorcycle rider dislikes football, he goes to great lengths to keep her from finding out he's a famous NFL player. They instinctively trust each other and become close friends though they're both aware the other is keeping a secret. Robby suspects Kelly is in trouble and hires a detective to find out about her. His search triggers the doctor's suspicion that Kelly is still alive and begins a counter search.
Over nearly four months Kelly and Robby grow closer as they remodel the farmhouse. Kelly proves particularly adept at the work through the study of manuals she purchases at Home Depot and a basic understanding of construction she gleaned over the years from her uncle, a contractor. Kelly has bouts of homesickness as she misses her mother, uncle and cousin. Robby simply enjoys the times he spends at the farmhouse with Kelly as a welcome respite from the girls who throw themselves at him and the stresses and pressures of his high profile career. Robby recognizes his feelings for Kelly, but once she learns his real identity, she can see no hope for a permanent relationship with him. When circumstances compel her to run again, she can't even tell him goodbye.
Though The Most Important Catch has a compelling suspense element, the story is essentially a romance. The two lead characters are extremely attractive and it is through their efforts to avoid attention, they are first drawn to each other. Their shared values deepen their friendship and the romance proceeds at a realistic pace. The only unrealistic aspects of their romance are how long it takes Kelly to figure out who Robby really is and her protracted refusal to accept or believe he might actually love her. Anyone looking for a good romance will find this book spot on. Those looking for a suspense novel will want to stay with it, but will find the suspense lags through the middle. Both leading characters are fleshed out well, but I found Kelly's obsession with her hair a little off-putting and her decision not to cut it or change the color a little out of character for someone so smart. There are quite a few references to faith, prayer, and spiritual promptings in the story which fit in well and are not intrusive.
Jaclyn Hawkes grew up in Utah in a large family. She graduated from college with a Bachelors degree then traveled extensively. She is now married with four children. The family lives in northern Utah in a rural setting with a menagerie of pets. The Most Important Catch is her fourth novel.
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THE MOST IMPORTANT CATCH by Jaclyn M. Hawkes, published by Spirit Dance Books, soft cover, e-reader, pb. $13.45, Kindle 3.99