A somewhat puzzling story about the manner in which the pursuit of happiness blinds one to reality. Helen Patterson works for a successful interior design doyenne in a tony California town. Divorced (her husband, once a popular child actor, refuses to grow up), and struggling to communicate with her increasingly distant teenage son, Helen is more vulnerable than she realizes to the attention paid to her by the handsome, obviously wealthy, and mysterious Ray Richards. He claims to own the most extraordinary house on the coast, perched on a cliff above the Pacific. He seems to have a bottomless checking account. He also seems deeply interested in her opinions, and in her. He convinces her to work as his interior decorator, to redo the mansion on the cliff. Helen, lonely, guilty about the breakup of her marriage, and baffled by the distance that has come between her and her son, pursues Ray and quickly finds herself involved in a passionate affair. There are clues that Ray has hidden much from her, and evidence that her son Lang is deeply disturbed, exhibiting signs of both compulsive behavior and of anorexia. Helen tries to ignore them all, determined to secure a happy life. But the lies catch up with her: Ray, it turns out, is not only not independently wealthy, but doesn’t even own the house (it belongs to his father, a wealthy oilman). He’s been scheming to get to her, in part because of his growing obsession with Lang. There’s a violent (and unsurprising) showdown in a cave on the shoreline beneath the mansion. Ashour (Sweet Remedy, 1996, etc.) writes with vigor, and creates some nicely complex characters. But she can’t do much with such a threadbare (and largely predictable) plot, and the novel, which repeatedly veers close to the conceits of the romance genre, ends on a jarringly grim note. A talented writer, tangled here in a story that swings awkwardly from melodrama to serious fiction, never fully becoming either.