Kept by Jami Alden
(Brava, $14, R) ISBN 978-0758225474
***
Though it had the makings of a great romantic suspense, the second book of Jami Alden's Gemini Men series gets off to a poor start and could just as easily have been a disaster. As it is, it landed somewhere in the middle; the suspense is there, the characters are there, but the individual scenes lack oomph - even the numerous sex scenes, the scores of which some may feel detract from the mystery.

Alyssa Miles is a Paris Hilton clone - or, at least, that's how the tabloids make it look.  Since her demanding mother developed cancer, Alyssa's done her best to straighten up her act and clean up her image, which means bowing to her father's whims.  The family's jewelry store chains have shown a marked improvement since Alyssa started modeling and hosting various charities; if not for the paparazzi, she's probably be enjoying life.

Breaking her new behavior patterns, Alyssa goes home with a man from the security detail at one of the events she is forced by responsibility to attend.  Not only is Derek Taggart strong, quiet, and sexy - he has no idea who she is. After the internet photo scandal (I know, could this get more cliché?), Alyssa was sure the entire world was well aware of EVERY aspect of her.

When she sneaks back into her father's house, however, Alyssa discovers the bloodied bodies of her father and stepmother, victims of an apparent murder/suicide.  Alyssa's disapproving uncle assumes the reins of Van Weldt Diamonds, and she's assigned a bodyguard of her own to make sure she behaves. To the costernation of both parties, the security guy is Derek Taggart.  He's determined to keep his professional distance, and when Alyssa begins showing signs of drug abuse, Derek reports her behavior to his boss.

Alyssa, despite medical tests to the contrary, is adamant that she has been clean since her last trip to rehab several years before.  As she's finally convincing Derek to believe her as well as set aside his morals and get involved with her, Alyssa starts getting messages from a crazy journalist declaring that he knows what really happened to her parents.  It seems even crazier to believe him at first (especially since some of the alleged conspirators in this blood diamond trade are people she knows), but suddenly Alyssa's very clearly a target.  Derek does his best to keep her safe, but when he gets fired and she's spirited away, he has to recruit his brothers to help retrieve her.

As mentioned earlier, the suspense in Kept definitely had possibilities ... which fell flat on their face due to lack of presence; Alden doesn't devote much time to that aspect of the story.  Most of the novel revolves around fairly lame interactions between the hero and heroine. Alden is successful in creating a likeable character out of Alyssa despite her bad press - much, I imagine, the same way as Derek's feeling evolve. Derek, however, jumps from one extreme to the next without much of a growing of his character.  It's also made clear that his family is important - logical, since the series is about the family-run security business - but little is made out of the brothers' relationships with one another, which would have added a softer and probably humorous edge to the book.  Overall, Kept is outstandingly bland; it probably won't fully satisfy or outright offend anyone.

--Sarrah Knight


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