It’s strange to think there may be an upside to having an abusive stalker, but if you’re a heroine in a romance novel, you can count on it as fact. And two of the best bright-side-of-stalking stories are by two of my favorite authors: Linda Howard, and Susan Andersen.
In Mr. Perfect, Linda Howard introduces us to Jaine Bright and her three best friends. In a moment of frustration during after-work cocktails, and in the crowd-pleasing tradition of Weird Science, they create a list that defines the perfect man: Mr. Perfect.
• He’s faithful. Doesn’t cheat or lie
• Steady job
• Sense of humor
• Good to look at
• Great in bed, with stamina, and “leftovers”
It all began in jest; a letting off of steam between old friends—but quickly escalated to a stalker’s paradise. Because it hit the corporate newsletter. Then the local newspaper. And then the four were invited onto a big morning television show.
Gina Landretti, who also worked in payroll, entered the office. Judging from the way her eyes lit when she saw Marci and Jaine talking, the penny had dropped. “Hey,” she said, a big grin spreading across her face. “It’s you! I mean, you’re the four friends. I should have realized when I read Marci’s name, but it just now clicked. The other two are that pretty girl in sales and the one in human resources, right? I’ve seen you go to lunch together.”
There was no point in denying it. She and Marci looked at each other, and Jaine shrugged.
“This is so cool!” Gina enthused. “I showed the newsletter to my husband yesterday, and he got really pissed when he got to number eight on the list, like he isn’t always turning around to look at women with big boobs, you know? I had to laugh. He still isn’t speaking to me.” She didn’t look very worried.
“We were just having fun,” Jaine said. “This has gotten out of hand.”
But lucky for Jaine, she lives next door to an undercover cop, Sam Donovan. He’s big, he’s bad, he’s surly. And he’s smitten with her. He comes to her rescue as often as he teases her, and when the first friend in the group is murdered heinously, he’s swoops in like Jaine’s avenging angel. Because the authors of The List, as it comes to be known, are dropping like flies. They have themselves a bona fide insane stalker on their hands.
Leaning forward, he carefully outlined his lips in bright red. He straightened and stared at himself in the mirror. He smiled, his red lips stretching over his teeth, and he said, “Hello, Mother.”
In Susan Andersen’s Obsessed, we meet Vincent D’Ambruzzi, another surly detective and the woman caught in his gravitational pull, Dr. Ivy Pennington. Like Sam and Jaine, Vincent and Ivy and next door neighbors. And like Howard’s lovebirds, Andersen’s also start off as adversaries.
Vincent ambles over to Ivy’s apartment one morning, woken from a dead sleep by Ivy and her cousins’ loud singing. When she greets him at the door holding a huge fishbowl full of condoms, he shuts down and immediately assumes she’s a tramp, like his ex-wife. We also learn that he’s been celibate for three years, and he’s resistant to Ivy because she snaps him to attention. Like a whip.
But an insidious serial rapist is on the attack, and Vincent runs into Ivy at the hospital while investigating.
“My point, Doctor, is that there’s a rapist at large whom I would very much like to put behind bars. This man is angry, he’s vicious, and he strikes once a month, during the full moon.” He stared at the lunar orb in question for a moment and then returned his attention to her. “I used to like it when the moon was full, especially in the fall when they’re big and low in the sky, y’know? But it’s reached the point where I dread its arrival each month because I know that somewhere in the city another young woman is going to fall prey to this very violent individual. And you can trust me when I say she’s going to be left scarred, Doctor. Mentally, physically, and probably for life.”
Faced with the very real circumstances of working together to help the latest victim, Ivy and Vincent forge a new path of tolerance that leads them to…you guessed it, bed. But ol’ Vincent’s a bit of a weenie, and far more interested in keeping his own heart and emotions intact, and leaves Ivy stranded. Intent on ignoring him, despite their close geographical proximity, she’s successful in her efforts until the rapist sets his sights on her.
“The little striper who delivered it said flowers for Dr. Pennington. What does the envelope say?”
Ivy picked it up and turned it over. “I. Pennington M.D.” She shrugged and smiled. “I guess they’re mine, all right. It’s just…they’re not from the person I thought they’d be from.”
The nurse snorted. “Well, poor you,” she retorted. “So many admirers, so little time.”
Ivy laughed. “Yeah, what can I say? It’s nice to be loved.” She slipped the card back into the envelope and slide it into the pocket of her scrubs. “Mind if I leave ’em here until quitting time?”
“You kidding? I’d love it.” The nurse winked. “I think I’ll just spread it around that they’re mine.”
Ivy took out the card and re-read it whenever she had a free moment that day. Thanks for patching her up, it said. It would have ruined everything if she’d died, but now she can remember me. It was signed “C.”
On the one hand, both of these relationships may have never begun or evolved had the stalkers not caught Jaine or Ivy in their sights. On the other, maybe the emotionally-dense detectives would have braved the Fates and instigated a date on their own. One thing’s for certain: the heightened emotional turmoil in both situations certainly threw our characters together at an elevated pace that makes the heart race nearly as much as the suspense. And it makes for great fiction.
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.