"A Thorny Read on a Difficult Topic but Well Worth the Time"
Reviewed by Diana Troldahl
Posted January 21, 2012
Fiona MacAvery has moved to Salmon River, Virginia with her
10-year-old son, Sean. Sean is being bullied. Fiona wants
Sean to avoid violence, ALL violence, so she is less than
comfortable with her new neighbor who will be helping at the
local dojo. To her self-defense is just another form of
violence and she does not want her son to learn anything
from the dangerously strong man across the street, even to
help stop the bullying Sean is encountering from his
Dominic Payette has come to Salmon River Virgina to learn
how get his head on straight before fighting for a title in
mixed martial arts. He hasn't been the same since the blows
of his fists put an opponent into a coma during one of his
fights. He has lost three bouts since then and is in danger
of losing his sponsorship. His first teacher, Sensei Miwa
has a dojo in Salmon River, and he knows if anyone can help
him regain his fighting edge, it will be Miwa.
When Dom witness Sean being bullied on his way home from
school, he offers to teach Sean self defense but Fiona is
violently opposed. Fiona is emotionally bruised and damaged,
close-minded and unable to accept any others' advice
especially when it concerns her son Sean. Her ex-husband did
not abuse them physically, but was a very violent man, and
is in jail. She is doing her best to put her past behind
them, but her advice to Sean just isn't working. Fiona has
to learn not to let fear rule her life, Dom needs to learn
something too. Perhaps that fighting with the wrong attitude
makes him a bully as well?
I had a difficult time finding sympathy for Fiona until late
in the story, but as the story continued, both Fiona and Dom
learned and grew in somewhat unexpected ways and I ended up
being satisfied with the conclusion. Kudos to Essex for
taking on a difficult topic and giving us a heroine with
thorny unpleasant defenses. HER SON'S HERO was well worth
Fiercely protective single mom Fiona MacAvery would do
anything for her
ten-year-old son. They came to the small town of Salmon
River to escape the
disgrace of her ex-husband’s crimes and live a peaceful
life. More than
anything, Fiona hates violence; her ex was a brute, and
she just wants to
shield her son from any more pain.
Dominic “The Dominator” Payette’s life is all about
fighting and winning
the Unlimited Fighting Federation’s championship title.
But when he sees
the fear in Sean MacAvery's eyes—and the mistrust in
Fiona's—all he wants
to do is help this family.
When the two face off, it’s a sizzling, no-holds-barred
battle to protect
the interests of one little boy…and to win the ultimate
Excerpt“SEAN, SEAN, spawn of the con!”
Dominic Payette turned and watched from the porch as five
jeering boys pounded down the sidewalk in front of his
house, chasing a scrawny, sandy-haired boy. With his
bulging backpack weighing him down, the kid didn’t stand
a chance. The pack leader, a big guy with ruddy cheeks
and shocking red hair, grabbed the bag and yanked the kid
to a stop.
Dom set down the box he was carrying.
“You ignoring me, con?” The big guy shoved the whelp
hard. The other boys circled, penning the kid in. “Think
you’re better than us, little rich boy?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Or what? You gonna tell your mommy?” Another shove.
“Gimme your money, rich boy.”
“I don’t have any. You took it all at lunch!”
Dom gripped the banister hard. He had to give the kid a
chance to defend himself. He knew from all those years of
being picked on that bruises healed quickly, but pride
took much longer. Maybe it was tough love, but those were
He could see the tense line of the boy’s bony shoulders,
the wildness in his eyes. The kid mumbled something, head
bowed in resignation.
His tormentor’s lip lifted in a snarl. “Take his bag.”
The gang seized the boy by his sticklike arms while the
redhead punched him in the gut. The kid doubled over, and
his backpack was yanked off him.
But the bully didn’t stop there. He kicked him in the
Dom leaped over the railing off his porch, outraged by
the redhead’s viciousness and complete lack of honor. He
had the kid outmatched and outnumbered—it was hardly a
In a few long strides, Dom was on top of the pack, wading
into them like a lion into a pile of field mice. The boys
froze and stared up at him wide-eyed.
Dom knew he could be scary looking when he wanted to be.
Five feet ten inches of solid muscle honed from years of
mixed martial arts training, a shorn scalp and the fading
bruises along the underside of his jaw would intimidate
anyone. He glowered down at the boys. “You guys got a
The bully whirled around to face him. He went so pale
even his freckles disappeared. “Let’s go! C’mon!”
The kids scattered, huge eyes still fixed on Dom. They
dropped the backpack as they raced away.
“Are you okay?” Dom asked.
The boy slowly got to his feet, cradling his midsection,
panting. His face was tomato-red, as if he was holding
“Hey, if it hurts, I find it’s better to shout it out.”
Dom didn’t need to bruise the boy’s ego any more by
telling him it was okay to cry like a girl. Boys at this
age were trying to be men. Dom got that the kid needed a
different outlet. “Just yell. I swear, most of the pain,
it’s in your mouth. Like this…” Dom’s booming bark
startled the kid.
But he didn’t say anything. He’d swallowed his pain,
forced it deep inside. Defeat dulled his soft gray eyes.
He picked up his pack and brushed himself off.
Dom grimaced. “Do you live around here?” he asked.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” the boy said
“I guess that makes you smarter than me.” He smiled. “My
name’s Dominic. I just moved here for the summer—in that
house right there.” He gestured to the two-story
Victorian behind him. Showing the boy he lived on his
route home from school might make him feel safer.
The kid glanced from the house to the U-Haul truck at the
curb. His eyes widened when he spotted the equipment
He inched closer, his caution melting away like snow in
the sun. “Are you, like, some kind of boxer?”
An easy misconception, since the most visible piece of
gym equipment in the truck was a punching bag. “I do some
boxing,” Dom said, “but I’m actually a mixed martial
artist. My specialty is karate, but I also have training
in wrestling, boxing, judo, Muay Thai and Brazilian
The kid gazed up at him in awe. “You’re not, like, in the
UFF, are you?”
“Actually, yeah.” Dom grinned, wondering if the boy would
recognize him. Dom was at the top of his league, poised
to win the welterweight Unlimited Fighting Federation
belt in September. “Are you a fan?”
“My mom doesn’t let me watch fights on TV. She says
they’re a bad influence.”
Dom’s lips quirked. Mixed martial arts wasn’t really for
children; people got hurt in the cage and bloodshed was
common. But the sport was misunderstood by many, and
criticized unfairly as being nothing more than a
glorified bar brawl.
The kid walked up to the edge of the truck. “Wow, look at
all that stuff. It’s like you have a whole gym in there.”
“I pretty much do. I train eight hours a day.”
“That’s so cool. My name’s Sean MacAvery.” He stuck out a
grubby hand. The defeated child from moments ago had
disappeared. Dom’s callused paw swallowed the boy’s hand
and the kid pumped it with more vigor than expected from
someone who’d just been kicked in the ribs. “I live
across the street, over there.” He pointed to where
almost identical houses lined the road. “Do you need help
moving your stuff in?”
Dom had to be careful. In his experience, people in small
towns could be suspicious of outsiders, and judging by
the way the neighbors kept flicking back their curtains
to watch him, he figured the inhabitants of Salmon River
hadn’t made their minds up about him yet. “You’d better
ask your dad first,” he said.
Sean looked away, reddening. “I don’t have a dad.”
Oh, boy. He’d sure stepped in that one. Dom struggled to
amend his faux pas. “I’d love some help. But you should
definitely ask at home, let them know where you are.”
Sean brightened. “Okay!” He started to run, but jerked to
a stop and turned. “You think you can teach me some
moves? I mean, those guys…”
Dom couldn’t say no to someone who so obviously needed a
boost to his confidence. “Yeah, I think I can show you
some techniques. But you gotta ask at home first.”
The kid’s grin stretched the length of the street. He
bounded down the sidewalk and waved as he walked up to a
two-story house with a tidy garden and a dark green door.
Sean might be scrawny, but he bounced back from a beating
quickly. Dom had to admire that. Rubbing the bruises on
his jaw, he wished he was half as resilient.
FIONA GLANCED AT THE CLOCK again. It was almost five.
Where was Sean? Her son was never this late getting home
from school, unless…
Her gut churned. A lot of things could happen to a ten-
year-old boy, even in this quiet little town. And Sean
was so small, nearly a head shorter than his classmates.
The doctor insisted he was due for a growth spurt any
day; he was just—
The front door banged open and her son bounded in. Right
away, Fiona spotted the mussed clothes, the brightness of
his eyes and cheeks, a fresh scrape on his knee. He’d
been in another fight.
“Oh, no, not again.” She hurried to him, checked him
over. “Are you all right? What happened?”
“Mom, there’s a UFF fighter moving in down the street!”
“A what?” Her mind was too clouded with concern to really
understand what Sean was saying.
“I’m gonna help him move in, okay? Please?”
“Slow down, Sean. Tell me what happened to you. Who beat
“It’s nothing, Mom.”
She touched the scrape on his cheek. “It’s not nothing.
Was it Rene again?”
“I’m fine.” Sean tugged out of her embrace. “Just leave
“You have to tell me if people are hurting you,” Fiona
said sternly. “I’ll go to the principal—”
“You did that before and it didn’t stop them.” The color
of his cheeks deepened. “They just hurt me more.”
She knew it. That bully, Rene Kirkpatrick, and his little
gang of hoodlums were always giving Sean a hard time.
She’d have to settle this with Denise Kirkpatrick
directly; obviously the school couldn’t protect her son.
“Did you do all the things I taught you?” she asked in
earnest. “Did you tell them to stop? Did you walk away?”
Sean glowered at her. “That doesn’t work, Mom.” His
shoulders hunched up defensively. “It doesn’t matter what
I do. They all hate me.”
“I’ll start picking you up from school,” Fiona declared
“I’ll meet you at four o’clock.” It would mean she’d have
to make arrangements at work to leave early, but it was
worth her son’s safety.
“I don’t want a ride home.” Sean jerked back. “I’m old
enough to walk by myself.”
“Don’t argue with me, Sean. This is for your own good.”
His face turned scarlet. He scrunched up his nose and
flung down his backpack. “You always say that! You said
that when we moved here and I had to leave Grandma and
Grandpa and all my friends! I hate you! I hate it here!”
He dashed up the stairs to his room and slammed the door.
Fiona sank into a chair, counting to ten. She knew her
son had been having a hard time fitting in—they both had.
But she hadn’t thought Sean hated Salmon River. She
hadn’t thought her sweet-natured son capable of hating
anything…much less her.
She supposed she should have guessed it, though. Since
moving into the house her aunt Penelope had willed to
her, Sean had grown quiet and sullen and increasingly
more reserved. Her neighbor Gail, who often babysat for
her, said it was perfectly normal for a boy his age. “And
mind you, he doesn’t have a father to look up to,” the
woman, who’d been a good friend to Penelope, had added
without rancor. “Boys need male role models.”
Not that Mitch Farrell had ever been much of a role model
or a loving father or husband.
In her experience, the best way to deal with her son’s
temper tantrums was to leave him alone for a while. Sean
would probably hide out in his room to cool off. She’d do
some laundry and by the time she’d made a snack, he would
have calmed down.
But when she did go up to his room an hour later, he
“Sean?” She went through the house, checked the backyard.
He was nowhere to be found.
Had he run away? He was getting to that rebellious age
when he would do anything for attention. But lately,
attention was the one thing Sean didn’t want from her….
What if he’d been snatched? What if he’d been hit by a
car, or was hurt, unconscious, unable to call for her—
Calm down. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly,
going over all the places he might be.
Wait, hadn’t he said something about a new neighbor?
She grabbed her keys and headed out the door.
SEAN MACAVERY WAS surprisingly helpful for someone so
tiny. They’d moved the bulk of the boxes in, chatting
amiably about mixed martial arts—MMA—and Sean’s school
and life in Salmon River. But when he got to the box
bearing the pads he used for training, Dom decided to
reward the boy with a few lessons.
“Try again,” he instructed, holding up one large
rectangular pad. “Step forward as you strike. That way,
you put more energy into your hit. And breathe out. Shout
if you have to.”
“Ha!” Sean’s tiny fist impacted on the pad.
“Good. Think you can do both fists? One-two, right-left.”
“Ha! Ha!” The punches came harder this time, and Dom was
surprised when he rocked back on his heels. He hadn’t
expected the short, sharp blow to move him.
Underestimating your opponent. Just how soft are you
Dom smirked to himself. “Good work, Sean. Next thing you
want to do—”
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” a woman
shrieked behind him.
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