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Cover of Night    by Linda Howard Amazon.com order for
Cover of Night
by Linda Howard
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Young widow Cate Nightingale runs a bed and breakfast in the isolated Idaho town of Trail Stop. When she's not busy seeing to her guests' needs she's running after her rambunctious four-year-old twins, or worrying about making ends meet. The old house she turned into a successful business has constantly needed repairs. Thank goodness for local jack-of-all-trades Calvin Harris; the man seems to get completely tongue-tied around her, but he definitely has a knack for fixing things - and doesn't charge an arm and a leg for his services.

Cate is faced with a genuine mystery when one of her guests vanishes out the upstairs window and leaves behind all his possessions. At first Cate's annoyed that the man skipped, but concern for his well-being has her reporting his odd departure to the local sheriff. Then Cate puts the whole issue aside; until the day two armed men invade her B&B demanding that she hand over her mystery guest's personal belongings and in particular, a 'flash file'. Terrified for her children, Cate is quick to comply, but is also certain that the two cold-eyed killers mean them harm once she gives them what they're looking for. No one is more shocked than Cate when Cal coolly and efficiently storms in and fixes her latest problem, taking down the armed men and forcing them to scatter into the nearby forest.

But that isnít the end of the nightmare; Cate, Cal and their entire community quickly find themselves under siege. The men Cal overpowered are determined to even the score and to get the flash file. They blow the bridge, the only way in and out of Trail Stop, and cut the power. Seven residents are gunned down in cold blood to bring home the killers' point that they mean business. But they have no idea of Cal's former life; he'd been a member of an elite Army Recon unit and, as his old commander, Joshua Creed (who's also a local) is quick to point out, is 'a real sneaky son-of-a-bitch'. Knowing that they must now call on all their former training and instincts to put an end to the deadly standoff, Cal and Josh switch back into battle mode to hatch a plan to thwart the armed killers. When Josh is wounded, it's up to Cal and Cate to carry out an even riskier plan. And Cal knows that he can't wait any longer to announce his true feelings for Cate - since neither of them might survive to see the dawn.

Character wise, Cover of Night is vintage Howard: Cate's portrayal is convincing, as a young widow dedicated to raising her boys yet still grieving the loss of her husband and emotionally closed to the idea of seeking out a new love interest. Cal Harris is also convincing as the quiet, reliable handyman, infatuated with a woman he knows he may never have but also very respectful of her emotional state. She may be completely oblivious to Cal's feelings but most townsfolk know exactly what's going on and continually instigate helpful sabotage around the B&B as a way to force the two of them together and get Cate to notice the real Cal. This adds nice touches of comic relief to the story and generates additional reader sympathy for Cal.

The anticipation of their budding romance is derailed however, the moment Howard transplants a cadre of hit men from the big city to rural Idaho. She goes to great lengths to show how deadly, single-minded and smart these mercenaries are supposed to be. Unfortunately I just couldn't buy into their rather dumb plan to turn the town into a shooting gallery and then hold it under siege until Cate gets wise and hands over the flash drive. In this day and age, even a town as isolated as Trail Stop wouldn't stay off the radar for days on end while assassins picked off its residents. By story's end, Cover of Night offers readers a moderately satisfying romance between the two leads, but as a romantic suspense, Howard's plot displays real credibility issues.

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