White Heat

( 37 )


A dangerous cult has recently taken over the desert ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members worship at the feet—and in the bed—of its charismatic leader, Ethan Wycliff, and obey his orders blindly. They've already tried to murder one woman and they're implicated in the disappearance of another.

Nate Ferrentino, who works for private security contractor Department 6, has been assigned to infiltrate this group. It's a challenge he welcomes—until he learns that colleague Rachel ...

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White Heat

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A dangerous cult has recently taken over the desert ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members worship at the feet—and in the bed—of its charismatic leader, Ethan Wycliff, and obey his orders blindly. They've already tried to murder one woman and they're implicated in the disappearance of another.

Nate Ferrentino, who works for private security contractor Department 6, has been assigned to infiltrate this group. It's a challenge he welcomes—until he learns that colleague Rachel Jessop will be going undercover with him. Thanks to their shared history, he'd much rather go alone….

The problem is, only married couples can participate in cult rituals. So, like it or not—and they don't—Rachel and Nate must pretend to be husband and wife.

There's no choice. Because if Wycliff isn't exposed, if he isn't stopped, more people will die. And Rachel might be one of them.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Sent into the sizzling Arizona desert to expose a dangerous religious cult and find a missing girl, undercover operatives Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino pass themselves off as husband and wife to infiltrate the isolated ghost town compound. But grim, razor-wire-rimmed, and ironically named Paradise is anything but heavenly, and what Nate and Rachel eventually uncover is even more diabolical than they could have guessed. A botched romantic past ramps up the sexual tension as the protagonists struggle to get answers and maintain their cover as they are sucked more deeply into this murky world of deadly lies, psychopathic delusions, and salacious religious rites. VERDICT First in Novak's new romantic "thrillogy" (Body Heat, Sept.; Killer Heat, Oct.) featuring agents of the private security contracting firm Department 6, this gripping, twisted tale draws readers into a brutal, starkly drawn world of white heat and dark deeds. Novak (The Perfect Murder) lives in the greater Sacramento, CA, area.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778327950
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 7/27/2010
  • Series: Department 6 Hired Gun Series, #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 442
  • Sales rank: 681,409
  • Product dimensions: 6.94 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has penned over 45 novels. A two-time Rita nominee, she's won The National Reader's Choice, The Bookseller's Best, The Bookbuyer's Best and many other awards. She runs an annual online auction for diabetes research every May at www.brendanovak.com. To date, she’s raised over $2 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.

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Read an Excerpt

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

—King James Bible, Matthew 7:15

"This guy is dangerous?" Rachel Jessop studied the glossy black-and-white photograph her manager slid across the table.

Nate Ferrentino's leather chair squeaked as he leaned back and locked his hands behind his head. "He doesn't look dangerous to you?" One eyebrow arched, telling her he found her reaction amusing, but she couldn't begin to guess why, and she'd worked with him long enough to know he wouldn't explain even if she asked. With short dark hair and green, gold-flecked eyes, he had the face of a sensitive man who'd become cynical and the body of a soldier. Nate was a tempting physical specimen. But he wasn't one to reveal much about his thoughts.

Rachel wished that was all she knew about her boss. When she'd first started working at Department 6 eight months ago, she'd been so convinced she'd met the one man she could love with all her heart, she'd made a humiliating miscalculation. The embarrassment of that incident still burned so intensely she could barely look at him.

Ignoring the way his T-shirt stretched over his clearly defined pecs, she kept her focus on Ethan Wycliff, the man in the picture. Wiry and with the appearance of some height, Ethan had polish to spare—high cheekbones, black hair, black eyes and a beguiling smile. "He's too pretty to seem dangerous. He could be on billboards, modeling suits for Armani. What's he done?"

Except for possibly height, Nate was Ethan's opposite. Although he wasn't overweight by any stretch of the imagination, slender wasn't an adjective that came to mind. Pretty and polished didn't fit, either. He was handsome, but not in the classic sense of movie stars and models. His forehead was a bit too wide, his jaw too square. And he had too many scars—both from when he was a navy SEAL and from working for Department 6 after he'd left the military.

"Depends on who you talk to," he said. "There's a chance that none of it's illegal, but the secrecy surrounding him and his group is making some important people nervous."

Rachel shoved the picture back in Nate's direction, but he didn't move to reclaim it. He let Ethan Wycliff's image remain on the table, eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling of the small conference room—one of several in the L.A. office. Unlike other security contractors, Department 6 rarely handled military operations. They specialized in undercover work, generally inside the U.S.

"What's he suspected of doing?" she asked. "Laundering money? Smuggling drugs? Working in the sex-slave trade?"

"He's the leader of a religious cult about two hundred members strong."

That was the last thing she'd expected Nate to say. Judging by Ethan's elegant business suit, he had taste. He wasn't sporting a scraggly beard, wasn't beggarly or odd-looking in any way. Neither did he appear smarmy like some televangelists she'd seen. Not in the photograph, anyway. "What kind of religious cult?"

"A Christian cult. Sort of. It seems to be a compilation of whatever Ethan wants it to be. He and his followers call their organization the Church of the Covenant. One thing they believe is that the world is coming to an end very soon. Only those who are properly branded—"

"You mean, tattooed?" she cut in.

"No, I mean, branded—and baptized and living within the gates of their little commune—will rule with God."

"That's not particularly creative." She'd heard plenty of the same rhetoric in her own house growing up. For most of her life her father and the leaders of his small sect had claimed that the world was in its "last days." They'd named date after date when Armageddon would arrive. Every one had come and gone. "How'd he get his start?"

"Five years ago, he was a popular frat boy at Cornell. I guess he and a few roommates went out in the woods and devised their own religion, loosely based on the Old Testament's patriarchal order. Our intelligence report indicates that it was originally meant to be a joke. Drugs were involved. They called it the ‘antireligion.'

But when they began meeting regularly, word spread among the kids at Cornell and other colleges in nearby communities, somehow generating support, and it became real."

"Power is tough to resist, especially for an Ivy League frat boy who's used to being on top of the world."

"That's my take, too."

She glanced away from Nate so she wouldn't squirm in her seat at the memories that overwhelmed her whenever their eyes met. "How many of his roommates still belong to this so-called religion?"

"The original four are still with him. They're known as ‘spiritual guides' now and they're part of the Brethren, the twelve men who form a close circle around him. A fifth roommate, one who joined a bit later, is dead."

"Dead?" she echoed. "At twenty-something?"

"He was killed in a drunk-driving accident after a meeting. There are a few unanswered questions but no real proof that it was anything other than that."

She considered what she'd just been told. "What's so appealing about his religion that others are interested in joining up?"

"It's mostly familiar stuff but with a modern twist. It includes extramarital sex and drug use. And Wycliff has a few assets—besides his looks—that make him more dangerous than most cult leaders."

She ignored his reference to her appreciation of Wycliff's appearance and scooted closer to the table. But the instant she caught Nate's scent, that mix of clean male and leather that would forever differentiate him from every other man, the memory of slipping into his bed to "surprise" him came to her as vividly as the night she'd done it. Would the mortification never go away?

He gave her a speculative look, as if he could suddenly sense an added level of discomfort, but she was determined to pretend she'd forgotten all about her terrible faux pas. As a child, she'd been sheltered so long she hadn't grown up with the usual interplay between the sexes and, apparently, hadn't read his signals correctly. She'd thought he wanted the same thing.

Keeping her gaze steady, she struggled, once again, to forget that night. "And those assets are…"

"More charisma than any man has a right to, at least a man who once idolized Charles Manson."

"Charles Manson? Are you serious?"

He chose a file from a stack he'd brought in with him, and thumbed through it while he talked. "Dead serious. Wycliff corresponded with Manson regularly while he was in high school. I've got copies of some of those letters here."

"Was their correspondence a joke at first, too?"

"He played it that way, used to read Manson's letters aloud to various people he knew, including his parents. His mother said he liked the shock value. His father claims he's always been fascinated with killers. Especially Manson, because of the brutality of the Tate murders and the power Manson held over those who committed them."

"Why would they allow him to correspond with someone like Manson?"

"It started out as what Ethan called ‘a psychological study.' He said he wanted to major in behavioral science when he went to college."

She shivered. "But couldn't they see where it was going? These letters make me more than a little nervous."

"They should've made everyone nervous." He offered the file for her perusal.

Careful not to brush his hand, she accepted it but merely placed it in front of her, because he was still talking.

"At first his parents saw only what they wanted to see and hoped his interest was professional, as he'd claimed. He didn't read them what he wrote to Manson. He kept that private, so the bits and pieces they heard of Manson's letters made it sound as if Manson was the only crazy one."

"So how did we get copies of the letters?"

"You know how closely prison mail is monitored. Once his father finally became uneasy, he paid a correctional officer to keep an eye on the budding relationship. It was that guy who made copies. But he worked certain days and shifts, of course, and the letters that came and went on someone else's watch were lost."

"Why didn't dear old dad put a stop to the letters once he saw what they contained?"

"His wife insisted it was just a ‘phase' Ethan was going through, that he was purposely trying to provoke Manson, the same way he tried to provoke everyone else. And then the problem seemed to solve itself. Ethan grew disenchanted with Manson, quit writing him and the relationship ended."

"But that was a pretty ominous start, and it led to a bigger problem."

"Exactly. Now Ethan's set himself up as a prophet, the Holy One, the man to lead all Christians to enlightenment."

"And let me guess—enlightenment happens after this life."

"With your background, I knew you'd be familiar with the dogma."

Far more than she wanted to be. She'd tried hard to distance herself from the brainwashing she'd undergone as a child, but it wasn't easy to put all those hours of religious "instruction" behind her. Not when there were so many lasting effects, some of which she blamed for the embarrassing blunder she'd made with Nate six months ago.

"Sounds as if he's as whacked as Manson," she mused. Or, like her father, his teachings and devotions could be similar enough to mainstream religions to fall within what society deemed "normal." Not that her father's "normal" was normal to most people. From the moment she got home from school every day, Fredrick Jessop had kept her under lock and key, forced her to read the Bible for hours on end and go to church three or four times a week. Until she'd left home at seventeen, he'd had complete control. Even after she was on her own, she'd been so well trained she was twenty-five before she lost her virginity; at that point she'd finally slept with a man just to punish her father after an argument. That had turned out to be such a bad experience, so cheap and unsatisfying, she hadn't had sex again until she met Nate. But, for different reasons, her encounter with Nate had been even more disappointing than the original one.

"He might be crazy," Nate said. "But making up your own religion isn't a crime. You know that better than most."

Her father and his cronies had done it, hadn't they? "So what law has Ethan broken?"

Nate's broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. "That's the reason for this assignment—to find out."

She'd already assumed as much. But she wasn't comfortable with the religious element. Her background dealing with religious zealots had taught her there was no way to win, no way to argue any doctrine logically because people like her father always referred to the illogical to back up their beliefs.

"Do you think I have the experience for this?" she asked. Before coming to Department 6, she'd worked undercover for the LAPD, pretending to be a prostitute, as well as helping in some drug busts. Since hiring on at Department 6, she'd continued with drug enforcement, generally contract labor for the DEA. Bottom line, she'd specialized in something that was more straightforward, easier to fight. And she liked it that way.

"You have as much experience with this type of thing as anyone else at Department 6," he said.

That was probably true. They all did more drug work than anything else. "There must be something besides his affiliation with Manson that's brought this man to our attention," she said. "I'm guessing there are a lot of whack jobs who've contacted Manson over the years."

"A woman by the name of Martha Wilson recently escaped from the commune," Nate explained.

Now they were talking. "Another interesting word choice, seeing that escaped has the connotation of being held against her will."

"Her word," he said. "She claimed Wycliff punished her for sleeping with her own husband."

"I thought sex was dealt with in a more liberal fashion in this commune."

"It is. But she was on ‘restriction.'"

Because it was beyond awkward to talk about sex with Nate after what had occurred between them, Rachel tried to cover her anxiety by toying with the edge of the file in front of her. "You're kidding."

"Nope. Otherwise, sex is open to anyone, married or unmarried, as long as both people are consenting and of age."

"Now I see why Ethan's attracting converts. Religious endorsement of drugs and sex. No willpower required. What's not to like?"

His lips quirked in a wry smile. "It's not quite as simple as it might sound."

"With religion, it never is," she muttered.

"Only those who live according to various ‘higher laws'—" he made quotation marks with his fingers "—gain that benefit. But there's a cost. Once you join, you begin a process that culminates in embracing certain rituals that go with these laws. We're not sure what these rituals are. We got most of this information from what was reported in the papers. Martha was vocal about the group's abuse, but less so about their beliefs."

"And Milt can't get more information?" Milton Berger owned the company. Slightly eccentric, he was basically a wealthy businessman who'd never spent a day in the field. At forty-five, he drank and smoked so much he couldn't possibly run the forty-yard dash. But he had an eye for talent and a talent for making money.

"He's relying on us to figure out the rest."

"Do you know what the prize is?"

"The prize?" he repeated.

"What do the people in Ethan's religion get for living these supposed higher laws? There's always a prize for good behavior. It's usually called salvation."

"They're admitted into ‘the Holy One's' inner sanctum and become sanctified like he is. Or something like that. Again, there might be more to it."

Remembering what she'd been taught regarding the few elect who would rule with God, she made a face. "How do people fall for this crap?" She'd been steeped in it and still couldn't buy it, although there'd been plenty of times she'd wished she could. It would've made her life so much easier.

"I think psychologists say they're not happy with the world in which they're living. Some want to prove how unique and special they are. Others are just hoping to feel as if they belong." He drummed his fingers on the table. "But who really knows? Motivations are as individual as people."

"Doesn't sound to me like the world they're building will be any better than the one we've got." No matter how hard her father and brother had tried to convince her that the afterlife was all that mattered. "How badly did Ethan Wycliff beat the woman who escaped?"

"She says it wasn't him. It was a public event—a stoning modeled after those in the Bible."

She stiffened. "Stoning is a death sentence in the Bible."

"Martha managed to escape."


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    It was a horrible experience that jump-started New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Brenda Novak's career-- she caught her daycare teacher drugging her children to get them to sleep. Deciding she needed to work from home, she penned her first novel, and has been a sensation ever since. Other titles include: Trust Me, Watch Me, Stop Me, Dead Silence, Dead Giveaway, Dead Right, The Perfect Couple, The Perfect Murder, and The Perfect Liar. She also heads an annual fundraiser for diabetes research every May. Brenda resides in Sacramento, California with her husband and five children.

    A dangerous and elusive cult has taken over the ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members worship at the feet, and bed, of their leader, Ethan Wycliff. But a woman has escaped, relaying a horrid ordeal of what really goes on inside their gates, worse than what anyone can fathom. Now, another woman has gone missing. A private security contractor known as Department 6 has been assigned to infiltrate the cult and bring them down. Nate Ferrentino and Rachel Jessop aren't too happy about this mission, especially because their shared history could put a wedge in plans or expose them to further danger. Posing as a married couple is their only shot at stopping the madness before more people die. And as more secrets are revealed, it seems as if Rachel might be next.

    This is book one in this new series, with Body Heat coming in September, and Killer Heat in October of this year.

    There are many things to love about Brenda Novak's writing-- her characters are always fresh, the danger real, the plot well-paced, the romance hot, the setting ideal, and the action gripping. But what I love most is that readers are inside the heads of the "bad guys" as often as the "good guys." It makes for a well-balanced compelling read, and, at times, feeling for the villains. Setting this book in a desert ghost town couldn't have been more perfect, as it gives the reader a real sense of isolation and aloneness needed for this plot. I also bow down to the stellar array of secondary characters which made this all the more a page-turner. Lastly, though the lead characters were strong, Rachel isn't a hard-core heroine, nor Nate a dominant A-typical hero. A must read book to what's proving to be a must read series!

    Kelly Moran
    Author of SUMMER'S ROAD,
    and Reviewer for Bookpleasures

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    Suzie Housley, Midwest Book Review

    Nate Ferrentino and Rachel Jessop learned that business and pleasure didn't mix. The two had shared a brief one night of passion. Rachel would have liked to explore the growing feelings she harbored for Nate but he showed no interest in continuing with their affair, he treated it as nothing more than a one night stand.

    Department 6 is a private security company where both Nate and Rachel work. They are assigned to work together undercover to expose a religious cult who has taken up residence in Paradise, Arizona. Rachel is not looking forward to the close contact the assignment will offer due to their past relationship.

    Ethan Wycliff is the found of the Church of the Covenant. His members follow his ever command. To betray him will result in dire consequences. One of his former members barely escaped with her life after Ethan sentenced her to be being stoned to death after she crossed him. Now the cult is rumored to be associated with the disappearance of a teenage girl who disappeared in their compound.

    Upon meeting Rachel, Ethan is enchanted by her beauty. He takes an immediate interest in her and decides she is to be the chosen one known as "the vessel". To be selected to be "the vessel" will entitle her to carry Ethan's seed to create a child. To be bestowed that honor is the highest form any woman could hope to obtain in Ethan's religious cult.

    Rachel is unaware of Ethan's sinister plot. Will Nate and she be able to put an end to Ethan's madness? Or will they become pawns in his deadly game in the name of all he sees as Holy?

    Brenda Novak has written the best high action thriller of 2010. White Heat far exceeded my expectations. From page one I was immediately hooked on this fast action plot that was like solving a Chinese puzzle box. Once again Brenda Novak has proven she is the Queen of romantic suspense!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2015


    J: Extremely unsettling abuse. The author pushed the envelope too far. I love her other books but I wish I could just unread this one.

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    Very good; a must read!

    This book had a very interesting and intriguing plot. The characters were very realistic. This author is definitely going to be around for a long time if she continues to write like this. I would definitely get anything written by her.

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  • Posted August 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    White Heat

    Nate and Rachel work for a private security firm and are hired to find out what happened to a woman who disappeared while part of a religious sect in Arizona. This cult is run by Ethan Wycliff who has his sexual sights on Rachel once he meets her. Rachel and Nate have their own sexual tension.

    As the story unfolds we learn that Ethan and his Spiritual Guides are truly dangerous and Rachel and Nate are not the only ones in danger.

    Although White Heat is categorized as a romantic suspense, the romance doesn't take over the story, but it is bursting with suspense. Brenda Novak has written a dynamic tale of control, doubt and sex that I can easily see being read on the beach everywhere this summer. The climax was a little too quick for me, but an enjoyable read overall.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2010

    Challenging Read

    Originally posted at: www.longandshortreviews.blogspot.com ***** The depravity found in a cult isolated in Paradise, Arizona overrides all else in White Heat. Rachel and Nate's story dims in the light of Brenda Novak's descriptions of the cult's abhorrent actions. The highly emotional happenings in the cult and the tension between Nate and Rachel keep the reader engaged, even though the story has some slow spots.

    Rachel Jessop of Department Six is tough, knows how to role play, can handle a gun, and has a childhood background that makes her the right person for the secret mission to infiltrate the cult. However, she's not sure she knows how to protect her heart from the partner she must work with. His rejection of her love six months earlier left her bereft and vulnerable. Reared by a religious, fanatical father and deprived of normal teenage activities to learn how to handle herself with boy/girl encounters, she struggles with the sexual energy that crackles between her and Nate even after his rejection.

    Past experience makes Nate Ferrentine reject Rachel's offer of love. He wants her but denies himself and hurts her even though she is beautiful and tempting. He works at inconsequential chores in the white heat of the Arizona summer and does some rather thoughtless things to fight his need to make love with her in the broken-down mobile home they are staying in to do the dangerous job of bringing the cult's misdeeds to light.

    Psychopath Ethan Wycliff, founder of the Church of the Covenant cult, is educated, rich, and an admirer of Charles Manson. He likes Manson's belief that "women are where it's at". They can be brainwashed to yield and even to kill in order to please a strong leader. He appears to have no redeeming qualities. His closest disciple, Bartholomew, shares the trait of no redeeming qualities and loves the power he has. Together they create a terrifying environment for men, women, and children.

    The suffering and degradation of the cult members become more and more evident as the story progresses. When Rachel is chosen as the VESSEL, descriptions of the doings in the pit and of what is to happen in the open area of Paradise for all to see, as the ceremony takes place for the VESSEL, is horrific.

    White Heat touches on many issues brought to light in other cults like Manson's, Jim Jones's, and David Koresh's groups. The desire for power over others is an obsession that seems insatiable.

    Brenda Novak's White Heat is an intense, emotional story that finally reaches a happy-ever-after for Rachel and Nate, but the plight of many of the other characters lingers in the mind long after the story ends.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

    Best of 2010 Contender

    Tendrils of barely contained tension fight to escape the pages as Novak-an expert in romantic suspense-introduces readers to her newest trilogy in "White Heat". Building on the delicate balance of pressure, the layers seem to effortlessly slide into place creating the intricate balance required for excellence in suspense.

    The stage is set as Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino-private security contractors with Department 6-receive their risky assignment. Tasked with infiltrating a secretive and remote religious cult where one escapee claims to have been stoned and another is missing, the clear drawback for both is that they must go undercover as husband and wife. With their intimate past, the proposal is almost physically painful.

    With limited communication to the outside world, Paradise, Arizona is the ideal base of operations for the Church of the Covenant and its imposing leader, Ethan Wycliff. Leading his sheep of more than two hundred strong, his charismatic convictions coupled with sharp good looks have allowed him to present himself as the messiah and his followers don't dare question him. No deviance is out of bounds as long as the Alpha and Omega has commanded. Not fully prepared, Nate and Rachel don't realize that they are soon slated for the highest honor in Ethan's twisted world.

    Infusing her creation with distinctive characters and a nail biting plot, Novak's "White Heat" is flawless and easily a Best of 2010 contender.

    Reviewed by Shannon Raab with Suspense Magazine

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    fascinating romantic suspense

    Several college students from wealthy families formed The Church of the Covenant. Over the years their little sect has grown until there are two hundred members in the flock. Ethan Wycliff is the Holy One leader with twelve Spiritual Guides. The unholy thirteen use their flock for sex and drugs. They are also righteous murderers defending what they believe is their divine right.

    The Department 6 private security firm assigns Rachel Jessop and her supervisor Nate Ferrentino to go undercover as a married couple in order to infiltrate and expose this deadly cult. The pair, who shared a one night stand both never forgot, travels to Paradise, Arizona home of the Church of the Covenant with Rachel as a weak person seeking solace and Nate as her skeptical husband.

    This is a fascinating romantic suspense thriller with its intimate look at the Cult's activities especially sexual dominance and torture in the name of the Lord. Nate is euphoric with the assignment because he wanted a second to the nth trysts with the woman who seduced him that one time. On the other hand Rachel is much more complex, but too much so; she remains humiliated by what she did that one time and the Cult brings back better forgotten childhood memories of a strict by the bible rod using father. Readers will enjoy this glimpse into how few charismatic nasties can dictate in every sense over those in need desperate to belong to anyone.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 13, 2011

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    Posted March 15, 2011

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    Posted July 13, 2011

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