Lost by Laura K. Curtis is a novel of romantic suspense featuring a former police officer and an FBI agent who both end up undercover in a rural Texas cult (available May 20, 2014).
With Lost, Laura K. Curtis gives us the story of two of her secondary characters from her exciting first novel, Twisted. Like that one, this novel is a complicated, satisfying romantic suspense with enough mystery to keep me reading when I should have been doing other things.
Tara Jean Black is now known as Serena, because she has become a part of the religious cult, the Chosen. Members live a simple life, growing their own vegetables, getting electricity from solar power, making their own clothing, using scraps to make quilts, and other back-to-the-basics activities that separate them from “out there” in the real world. They seek to follow the dictates of the Leader and learn the will of the Powers.
But Tara is not there to live a simpler life, she is looking for her friend Andrea, known to the Chosen as Pearl. As a former cop, she knows it’s vital to become a believable part of a group like this to achieve her goal. When Tara asked about her, she was told that Pearl and her friend John were “on a mission.” Only Tara couldn’t find out exactly what that mission was.
Life in the compound is ruled by air horns that alert members for meals, bedtime, and the work schedule. When Tara sits down for dinner after a hard day of mending fences, she is shocked to see the new member being introduced to the group as Jason, but given the Chosen name of Jacob. In truth, the handsome new man in their midst in FBI agent Jacob Nolan. What’s he doing here and what will Tara do if he tells the others who she truly is?
It’s obvious there was extensive research on cults and their lives behind protective walls. The psychological elements are spot on, and she knows all the tricks a person with the right charisma and powerful ego uses to blind large groups of people to reality.
However, this knowledge blends smoothly with a tense, suspenseful plot that kept me on the brink. Tara soon discovers Jake is there to find her. Her friends, Lucy and Ethan (read Twisted for their story; you’ll love it), were concerned, so Jake volunteered to work undercover.
I loved the way Tara and Jake, two damaged people who find it difficult to trust others, were brought together. I don’t want to give too much away, because I think you’ll want to read Twisted if you haven’t, but Tara left home after discovering the truth about her family. Jake lost his sister to her drug addiction and is carrying around his own guilt.
I also like the way the author points out the obvious differences still evident in the workplace attitudes. In this scene, Tara, knowing something is very wrong, is speculating on how she can relay that information to Jake:
But Jake wasn’t likely to believe her without proof. Why was it acceptable for any of her male colleagues to “go with his gut,” but when women had no hard evidence to support their intuitions they were accused of “operating on emotion?”
With this book, Curtis has created a tense, timely drama that gave me a few chills. It left me feeling haunted by what humans are willing to do to one another to get their way. She didn’t create an easy road for her characters, but I knew from the beginning they were strong enough to get through whatever they had to face.
Not long after Jake arrives, he and Tara are ordered to undergo punishment by the Leader. They end up in the infirmary together, and with this scene, the door was opened to romance:
Even in the infirmary the luxury did not extend to a hair dryer, so Tara carefully maneuvered the scrubs over her damp and scabbed-over body and then carried the comb from the vanity out so she could sit on the bed while she braided her hair for the night…
…At home, when Tara had kept her hair to a practical law-enforcement length, she had still used an expensive conditioner to detangle her curls and keep them under control. When she left Dobbs Hollow and went off to find herself, she’d quit with haircuts but had kept up the conditioning. Since joining the Chosen, however, all that had ended. Her hair looked and felt like a haystack. Dragging a comb through it after showers generally involved cursing, and the only reason she hadn’t cut it all off was that she couldn’t imagine how much worse it would be if she couldn’t tie it back.
Jake, however, didn’t seem to care about the strawlike qualities. Rather than forcing the comb through knots as she did, he patiently teased out each one, stopping now and then to run his fingers through the damp mass and to rub her neck and shoulders.
By the time he was done, Tara’s anger had dissipated and she had relaxed to the point that she was half-asleep. She felt the gentle tugs as he partitioned her hair and braided it, then tied it off with the rubber band that had been around the handle of the comb.
And then Deborah opened the infirmary door, and every muscle and nerve awoke once more.
“I’ll be in with dinner in a minute,” she said. “But I’ve brought your pills, Serena. And I wanted to check you over after your first day. How are you feeling?”
“Tired. But I’m okay. If the Leader wants us to go back to work, I’m ready.”
Not yet.” Deborah handed her the antibiotic pill. “Keep drinking plenty of water. The sheds are hot. Tomorrow is soon enough to talk about going back to work.”
“Okay.” Docile. Stay docile. But Deborah’s appearance had resurrected all her seething anger. If Deborah could get antibiotics to treat infection without Tara seeing a doctor, what would have stopped them from getting some drug to poison Andrea and John and simply claiming they’d killed themselves? It wasn’t as if the compound were crawling with investigators—if Owen announced that John and Pearl had “gone on a mission,” the Chosen would accept it as fact.
This is the perfect read for a lounge chair on the beach. In fact, that’s where I read it! Laura K. Curtis is a skillful storyteller, and she’ll keep you hooked from page one. I think you’ll be drawn into her fan cult and be watching for her books from now on.
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell. The first book of “The Connelly Witches” miniseries for Harlequin E is out June 2. Witch’s Awakening by Neely Powell will be followed by Witch’s Haunting in the fall, and you can see True Nature at all book sites online. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.