From the BLURB:
Her psychic gift drove away the man she loved— and years later has drawn him back to her...
As a teenager, Taige Branch hated her psychic gift. No one could understand—except for Cullen Morgan, the boy who stole her heart. He did his best to accept her, until his mother was brutally murdered—and he couldn't forgive Taige for not preventing it.
Now a widowed father, Cullen Morgan has never forgotten Taige. But what brings her back into his life is another tragedy. His beloved little girl has been kidnapped, and Taige is his only hope of finding her. Working together against the clock, Cullen and Taige can't help but wonder whether—if they find his daughter in time—it isn't too late for the overpowering love that still burns between them . . .
Sixteen-year-old Taige Branch is cursed. Her whole life Taige has been able to predict death and feel spirits. But her psychic ability is useless, because there are always those she cannot save . . . like her parents. Taige can’t control her visions, they come and go – occasionally leading her to an infant in need of help and other times just taking her to a dead body, too late to save.
Taige’s bible-thumping uncle, Leon, knows that Taige is cursed – though she’s not as convinced by his ‘devil-spawn’ label.
One night Taige’s vision lets her down, again, and she finds herself at the mercy of two drunken rednecks hell-bent on a good time . . . until she is saved, by Cullen Morgan. Cullen is a young man holidaying in Alabama with his parents. For weeks he has been watching Taige; noticing the way she moves with unleashed grace, and how she always seems to be around when missing or injured children are saved. So when he sees the stupid drunk on top of her, he’s more than happy to be her knight in shining armour.
That year sixteen-year-old Taige meets the man who will own her heart for the rest of her life. Cullen is the calm in Taige’s stormy life. He understands her ability, and sees it as a gift. And he loves Taige because he sees strength in her that she cannot feel in herself.
But when Cullen’s mother is brutally murdered, he cannot forgive Taige her unseeing vision. He hates her for not being able to help his mother.
Twelve years later and Cullen needs Taige, has never stopped needing her. When Cullen’s little girl, Jillian, is stranger-snatched he knows only his lost love can help him find his baby girl.
‘The Missing’ is a supernatural mystery novel by romance author, Shiloh Walker.
I have heard nothing but good things about Shiloh Walker. Her name is renowned around the romance book blogosphere, and many of her novels have been recommended to me. But ‘The Missing’ is the first book of hers that I've read – and it will be the first of many.
The first half of the novel concerns Cullen and Taige’s young romance between 1992 and 1996. Taige has had a terrible life, losing both parents to a drunk driver and living with her Bible-nut uncle who reminds her daily that she is demonic. Not to mention the nightmares and flashbacks of brutal foretelling that plague Taige on a daily basis. But when she meets Cullen, her life seems ready to change for the better. Their teenage love is intense and sweet; Cullen is the first person to convince Taige that her visions are a gift, and both of them are quietly convinced that they have found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. But when Cullen’s mother is murdered, he cannot forgive Taige her inability to foresee the brutal event. They part ways on angry words, with Taige’s heart irrevocably broken.
The book skips ahead twelve years – Cullen has turned into a bestselling fantasy author, with a little girl. Jillian’s mother died from complications in childbirth, and ever since it has been just the two of them. Meanwhile, Taige’s life has taken a more violent direction . . . she works for a special FBI task force, officially as a civilian consultant. In actuality, the FBI utilize Taige’s gift to help with child-related cases. She has helped find missing and kidnapped kids, assisted in exposing child-pornography rings and in locating dead bodies. Taige’s life is marred by heartbreak . . . the one light in her depressing existence is the dreams in which Cullen comes to her; fantasies in which he repents and begs forgiveness for turning his back on Taige years ago. Dreams in which he still loves her.
For twelve years Taige has been dreaming and missing Cullen, hoping he would walk back into her life. But when Cullen’s daughter is kidnapped, Taige cannot believe the way their paths cross once again.
‘The Missing’ is quite a dark book. It has to be, when Taige’s premonitions lead her to dead bodies and lets her see the dark heart of paedophiles. The first half of the novel is really a battering for Taige, and readers. Reading Cullen so callously walk out of her life, and then the many ways in which her life has hardened over twelve long years. . . . it’s a lot of sadness to heap upon readers. But Walker intercepts the sadness with glimpses of hope – like Taige and Cullen’s strange interlacing dreams in which they visit one another in mind and soul.
The novel does a fairly quick, romantic turn-around when Cullen seeks out Taige’s help to find his missing girl. His abrupt reappearance is softened by the fact that he has been keeping close tabs on Taige’s FBI-success, effectively stalking her from a distance, and constantly berating himself for his harsh treatment of her twelve years ago. When Cullen sees Taige again, he knows he won’t be walking out on her ever again . . . thus begins Cullen’s desperate bid to win Taige’s heart all over again.
His gaze dropped down, lingering on her mouth. “I don’t know that I'd want to change you.” His thumb stoked over her lower lip, and she felt an answering throb deep inside. “But I'd do damn near anything to change how much you’ve been hurt. From me, from this job of yours, from life.”Turning her head aside, Taige said in a flat, unhappy voice, “Life hurts, Cullen. That’s just a fact. Nobody can change it.”“But it shouldn’t hurt,” he whispered. His hand moved to her chin, bringing her face around so that their eyes met. “It’s going to, but there ought to be just as much pleasure as pain. How long has it been since you felt the pleasure of life, Taige?” He didn’t wait for an answer.Instead, he kissed her.
I appreciated Walker’s amped-up romance in the second half of the novel. I liked that Cullen was (rightfully) repentant and desperate to win back Taige’s heart and trust. But I did feel like Taige bit her tongue throughout a lot of her and Cullen’s rekindled scenes . . . I kept waiting for an explosion of pain and anger, just to get it out of her system. As the story unfolds we realize just how much hurt Cullen heaped upon her – and the more we learn, the more I wanted her to just blow up at him. Just once, I wanted Taige to unleash twelve years of pent-up hurt and feelings of abandonment. As it is, I never felt like Walker completely resolved their issues by the end of the book. . . but that’s my only complaint in an otherwise unblemished novel.
The romance is sublime. Walker writes heated and tender sex scenes that are lush and heartbreaking – especially for the way that Taige lets her guard down when she’s intimate with Cullen, despite still nursing her heartbreak over him.
I also really enjoyed the mystery-angle of this novel. Admittedly, ‘The Missing’ is more romance than anything else . . . but Walker’s deep, psychological thriller storyline was equally interesting, nicely balanced with Taige and Cullen’s tumultuous twelve-year love affair.
I loved this novel, and I really thought it could be the beginning of a new series. I would have liked to revisit Taige and Cullen in the future, or focus on Taige’s psychic friend, Dez. Alas, ‘The Missing’ was published in 2008, with no mention of a sequel. Although, Shiloh Walker has a Missing-themed short story coming out in the Sexy Capers anthology, ‘Hot in Handcuffs’ – due for release July 2012.
‘The Missing’ is my first Shiloh Walker read, but it won’t be my last. The book was dark and gritty, with a broken woman at its captivating centre and a complicated, broken relationship counterbalancing the disturbing mystery plot. Shiloh Walker writes tough; dark, complex characters with messy lives and hardened shells. But the turning point comes with a reformative love of utter tenderness and raw heat.