By Marcus S. Conrad, Guest blogger

Since the days of William Shakespeare, writers have been using every tool and contrivance imaginable to bring together two unlikely characters. A flicker of attraction builds to a healthy dose of white-hot passion, then inevitable conflict snaps to life and suddenly, the reader is teetering on the edge as the two struggle their way back to each other. For some, the most engaging part of the story is seeing how they conquer obstacles to find each other again … as we know they will. As we hope they will.

Some say they don’t read romance novels because the genre tends toward the formulaic and predictable. Malcolm Ivey’s second novel, With Arms Unbound, is not strictly of the romance genre, but it does have a romantic subplot which is anything but formulaic and predictable.

The two characters who become lovers meet in the most unlikely of places. From one comes suspicion and aversion, while the other fast-forwards directly to hatred. A thoughtless remark is followed by an unexpected apology, and the ice between them begins to thaw. He risks vulnerability and opens his soul to her, she listens gently and touches his cheek. The author describes the feeling of her touch as “gold dust swirling around in his mouth, down his throat, into his lungs.” This simple gesture is restorative, transformative, astonishing.

Their attraction is hungry and raw, their love fragile and forbidden. Discovery would be disastrous for both. Among the others, they must act like nothing has changed. They must walk through their day outwardly embracing their roles as adversaries, while inwardly carrying this heavy and wonderful gift they’ve given to each other.

Knowing he uses sign language to communicate discreetly with his peers, she decides to learn it as well. From across the room, he watches as her delicate fingers form the letters of words that convey her deepening affection, the electricity of their sweet secret. When she leaves work one afternoon, she knows he’s watching her walk to her car. She appears to be adjusting the shoulder strap of her purse, while signing the letters “I-L-Y” toward his window. Her message hits its mark and he soars into thrilling distraction.

In a private moment, he teaches her the Spanish phrase “Te adoro.” She signs the endearment to him when they are separated. He is nothing like anyone she’s known before; he feels as if every day of his life has been leading up to the day he met her.

But the obstacles are staggering. Eventually, she allows a pessimistic inner voice to cast doubt on the truth, while he languishes in a torturous hell.

The author clearly knows what it’s like to yearn, to crave, to need, to cherish. He reaches into the vast underground of his own soul to dredge up the pain of the past, as well as the buoyant excitement of new love, when delightfully obsessive thoughts of the other person crowd out all reason.

With his skillful pen, Malcolm Ivey takes you back to when you would have recklessly sacrificed anything for just a stolen moment with the one who seems too good to be true and you don’t even care. You can taste the abandonment of your better judgment because you’re floating so high that nothing can even nibble at the edges of your bliss. The author also knows what it’s like to tumble head-first into the despair of loss, the grinding agony of separation.

This tale of forbidden love comes to a logical and satisfying conclusion. The difficult path finally leads home in a most unexpected way. Malcolm Ivey weaves this romantic narrative into his characters’ lives with spot-on mastery, and we are drawn in to accompany them.