As Michele Jerott:

Absolute Trouble

All Night Long

A Great Catch

Her Bodyguard

Getting Her Man by Michele Albert
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-380-82055-2
Pity the poor midlist author. She is at the mercy of her publisher for so much, all of it beyond her control. If her publisher doesnít promote her books, there is nothing she can do. If the art department gives her the dullest, ugliest covers - covers so drab that no casual reader would pick up the book - she can only watch her numbers drop from book to book. If, as a result, the distributors decide that they wonít order very many of her next release because the previous one didnít sell that well, her numbers will drop still more. It doesnít matter that her books are well written, that her plots are imaginative, that her characters are unusual, that she has developed a loyal readership that admires her work. Her career may be a short one.

Or, if she is lucky and if her editor both likes her books and understands that she has been victimized by bad decisions, she may emerge with a new identity and find herself with the kind of cover and, hopefully, the kind of promotion that may allow her to save her career. This is the fate of Michele Albert, nee Jerrott. Let us hope that the ploy works and that Getting Her Man finds the readership it deserves. This is a most entertaining contemporary romance.

Diana Belmaine is a private investigator with an unusual specialty. She tracks down missing artwork, antiques and antiquities. Two years earlier she had left New York when she discovered that her lover was using her to identify potential targets for thefts and came to New Orleans. She has reestablished herself and has a thriving practice.

Diana is hired by a wealthy gallery owner Steven Carmichael to investigate the disappearance of a priceless Egyptian antiquity - a piece from King Tutís tomb. It had been stolen from his private office during a gallery opening. Diana begins her investigation by interviewing those who were present that night. One of her first interviewees is Dr. Jack Austin.

Jack Austin is an archeologist with a specialty in Mayan culture. At a young age, he discovered the lost city of Tikukul, one of the most significant discoveries of the past decade. Handsome and sexy, he has become a celebrity, appearing on television and being named one of Americaís most eligible bachelors by People magazine. Steve Carmichael provides the funding for Austinís expeditions. Surely he would have no reason to steal from his benefactor.

However, Diana is an extremely astute observer of human behavior and she realizes from the outset that Jack is lying to her. When she discovers that he was in fact in Carmichaelís office during the opening, she knows that he is her man. But can she get him? And why does she, knowing what she knows, feel this inexplicable attraction to this man who not only stole the Egyptian piece but who has apparently been systematically stealing Mayan artifacts for months? Why ever would Jack do such a thing?

Obviously, discovering the why is key to the story and key to the romance as well. Diana and Jack are a well-matched pair. Both are intelligent, strong-willed, determined and sharp. The attraction between them sizzles, but they certainly have issues.

Diana is the kind of contemporary heroine I prefer. In her mid-thirties, she has enjoyed success, seen her world collapse, and fought her way back. If she is troubled by her feelings for Jack, she has good reasons for her doubts. Jack is likewise an interesting creation. In many ways, he is the prototypical romantic hero - handsome, successful, sexy. Yet his risky behavior suggests a strange kind of vulnerability. Diana could bring his world tumbling down, but still he falls in love with her.

Getting Her Man reminds me of The Thomas Crown Affair. But Jack is no amoral Steve McQueen. He is, after all, the hero of a romance. If he flies away at the end, he must take the heroine with him. That Albert has taken this plot and created a most entertaining romance speaks to her talent. Letís hope that Michele Albert achieves the success that Michele Jerrott deserved.

--Jean Mason

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