Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Nikki Spenser is enjoying her honeymoon on the Gold Coast after a whirlwind Vegas marriage. She’s swimming in the surf but when she emerges she can find no trace of her husband whatsoever. She searches the beach, figuring she might’ve become disoriented about their position on the sand and recovers her towel and sarong but of Carlos there is no sign.
After several days on the Gold Coast waiting for him to return to no avail, Nikki returns to her home in Sydney where she is contacted by Detective Luke Emerson, a man from her past. Luke has been keeping tabs on her since she went to Sydney and when she returned with a husband, he did some checking. He tells Nikki that her husband doesn’t exist and that he’s using a pretty flimsy fake ID. Now Nikki realises that everything Carlos told her about himself was a lie….and she has no idea who the man she married really is. Or where he is. Or even if he’s still alive.
Someone visits her work looking for Carlos and Nikki realises that she needs help. She turns again to Luke, realising that the person she has despised might actually be the only person in her life that she can trust.
Empty Heart is a romantic suspense that I was drawn to because it is set in Australia among places I’m very familiar with. Like Nikki and her new husband, my husband and I also honeymooned on the Gold Coast and it’s a place I spent many holidays visiting as a child. The beaches there can get incredibly crowded and it’s not difficult to come out of the water a bit further away from where you went in and have that brief moment of panic where you can’t spot your section of the beach. So I fully understood Nikki’s fear when she came out of the water and realised her husband was gone. Unlike Nikki I always found who I was looking for after that heart-stopping moment but Nikki is left to realise that her husband has definitely disappeared.
All Nikki can do is return to her home in Sydney alone and not long after she is contacted by a man from her past, a police officer. Years ago Nikki witnessed something in her former home of Perth and with Luke’s help she was able to escape to a new life. In the years between then and now, Luke has kept an eye on Nikki and a red flag was raised when Nikki re-entered the country recently with a new husband in tow, especially as Luke was able to establish pretty quickly that her new husband was travelling under a false identity. At first Nikki doesn’t want to hear Luke’s concerns but after a frightening encounter with a man at her place of work, she’s forced to contact him and admit that she just might need help.
The suspense part of this story is quite good and I became really engrossed in figuring out where Nikki’s husband had gone and what his past was and how that was all coming into the story to effect Nikki now, as well as trying to factor in if Nikki’s past had anything to do with the current events. There was plenty of action in the novel and Nikki is attacked in her home. There’s a car chase through the streets of inner Sydney, a kidnapping and meetings with various ‘colourful identities’. It felt like there was always something happening in that part of the story and it kept me interested.
Unfortunately that seemed to mean that something had to suffer and it appears to be the romance. It’s woefully underdeveloped. Nikki begins the book (actually goes through the whole book) married to another man. She’s been married for a very short amount of time and then he disappears so of course she wants to find him although she goes from worried to angry and rightfully so. Then she learns of his past and how that has put danger on her too and honestly for a while I wasn’t even sure where this book was going to go. The blurb talked about Luke so I assumed that her husband was going to be dodgy and she would end up with Luke in the end. Nice, protective strong cop etc. But the thing is, there’s pretty much zero chemistry with Luke and basically nothing happens between them throughout the entire book. Most of it is focused on finding Nikki’s husband and attempting to figure out what sort of mess he’s in and has maybe gotten her in as well. For the first part of her interactions with Luke, she doesn’t even like him. Her reasoning is flimsy and childish and Luke seems to have had lingering feelings for her all these years and I couldn’t even really figure out why. They just didn’t ever seem to be progressing toward anything and Nikki spends a lot of the time torn about what to do about her husband should he resurface. And then the end felt quite abrupt and rushed and I didn’t really understand how Nikki came to the conclusion that she did because nothing throughout the story ever really gave the reader what they needed to see between them. It was disappointing because the other part of the story was so good.
I really enjoyed the story of what had happened to Carlos and how that played out but I found myself wanting more romance, more connection between Luke and Nikki and more decisiveness from her. That part of the story let me down a lot.
Empty Heart is book #14 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015