On July 22, 2005 three teenagers enter a small-town mall and open fire. The first nine-one-one caller is a sixteen-year-old girl who luckily went to the bathroom as one of her best friends is killed in the theater, while the second gets critically injured.
The second nine-one-one caller is a college student on break from his summer job at the mall's Italian restaurant who hides in the kiosk with the body of the girl he invited on a date and a four-year-old boy separated from his mother.
The rampage lasts only eight minutes, but it will impact many lives in the years to come. The college student will become a cop, searching for answers and justice, while the girl will go on pretending like nothing happened, until their meeting, thirteen years after the massacre will force her to look and to embrace the past...And her future.
But there's someone else embracing the past, fanning the flames of rage, and demanding vengeance for the "unjust" death of one of the shooters. Someone who orchestrated the assault, and is now targeting all those that survived it.
This book was a study in calm before the storm and the storm that follows said calm. But instead of only one storm, the story was comprised of many, with calms between them serving as perfect augmenters of suspense and anticipation.
The book starts with a traumatic, aggressive event, a very contemporary topic of a mass shooting in a very public place with many casualties. Friends, families, loved ones are dead, those that survive have to live their lives with scars—some with physical, but all with deep emotional and psychological ones.
And this story shows us how different people cope with the same event and its aftermath. Some choose to embrace the event, letting it hone them to be better, to find answers, look for justice...Some stick their head in the sand, refusing to acknowledge it even happened, alienating those that love them—until they're eventually forced to really look at what happened and finally process it, and maybe find some sort of peace and absolution from guilt.
It wouldn't have worked the way it did without the characters, of course, and Nora Roberts is a true master of character portrayal and development. The cast was a motley crew of individuals and different personalities, but it all worked, flowing together seamlessly, pushing the story forward, keeping the reader engaged, and eagerly awaiting what would happen next.
The romance, though rather rushed (in hindsight) worked for that very reason—I got to know the two characters before they were together, I became invested in them, and I could see and understand what drew them to each other and why they were, in the end, perfect together.
I loved both Simone (the usual NR heroine, flawed, scarred and with deep issues) and Reed (the typical NR hero, affable when he needed to be, but with a core of steel, a protective streak a mile wide, and a great sense of humor), but I must say Simone's a little psychic grandmother, CiCi, ended up being my favorite character of the bunch.
And let's not forget the villain. Unlike most NR novels, where the baddie isn't revealed until the very end, we got to "live" the story through the villain's eyes as well in this book. And let me tell you, those scenes with the vengeful sociopath as "main character" made for a pretty chilling reading, yet gifting us with a hefty dose of suspense and thrills.
This book was a perfect mix of great characters (even the bad ones), wonderful relationships, hot romance, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.