Black Velvet

Smooth Moves by Carrie Alexander
(Harl. Tempt. #839, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25939-5
Ever met a fictitious hero that, if you had a magic wand, you'd want to step off the pages of a book? One that you'd like to take home to Mom or introduce to your daughter? Well, that's how I feel about Zack Brody, Carrie Alexander's gentle and superbly masculine hero. And unless I'm way off the mark, you'll be mesmerized, too.

Cathy Timmerman's Wednesday night calligraphy class consists of women who've loved and lost Zach Brody, affectionately dubbed ‘Heartbreak'. Zach is moving back to his hometown, and the women want revenge, particularly Zach's ex-fiancée who was left at the altar. Cathy has drawn the short straw, figuratively speaking. Zach's ex-girl friends are going to remake Cathy into a femme fatale. Their plan is for this newcomer to seduce Zach, bring him to his knees and then drop him like a used tissue. While she doesn't exactly agree to their machinations, she doesn't say no, either.

What they don't know is that Cathy isn't immune to Zach's charms. Years before, when they were children, Cathy was living temporarily with her grandparents while her father was on Naval duty. Zach befriended the new girl, one who was shy, overweight, yet special in his eyes even then. His friendship sustained her until she moved away. Cathy knows that Zach won't remember her or recognize her. Those twenty years have made a world of difference.

Cathy and Zach hit it off as well as Cinderella and Prince Charming. Their dates lack the usual awkwardness, and they're amazed at how well they mesh. The main fly in the ointment is Zach's ex-fiancée. Her plans for Zach's downfall are vicious and are far from a practical joke. We're given teasers about why the engagement broke up, but we have to wait until the end for all the pieces to fall into place.

What kept me reading with a huge grin on my face are all the one-liners, the zingers that had me rereading just to laugh some more. Here are a few choice ones. As the women begin Cathy's makeover, her comfortable wardrobe merits this comment. "First of all, you couldn't seduce a marine fresh off the ship in that gunnysack." I also found myself laughing when Zach meets all of his ex-fiancée's bridesmaids, all six of them. "Enough for a posse." And how about this comment when Cathy's friends see Zach. "My lord, that man has zippety-doo-dah to spare."

Two things bothered me about Smooth Moves. What surprised me is how much I enjoyed the prose, but occasionally the dialog between Zach and Cathy is stilted and sounds like it's written for a teen-aged Lothario. Tenderness and caring seem to have gone out the window. Silly innuendoes are the order of the day. Yes, it does end when Zach and Cathy become comfortable with each other, but it is disconcerting.

The second thing that worried me is ‘The Reckoning.' When will Zach find out about Cathy's involvement in the scheme to bring him down? Will he immediately think the worst of her? Will he walk away from her in disgust, without giving her a chance to explain. As soon as I found out what Cathy was supposed to do, I began to worry. It's much like reading the storyline about the publicity-shy hero and the undercover reporter or the suspected criminal and the undercover cop. Storylines where characters scheme, where they withhold their true identity or their true reasons bother me. Why? Because so often the characters react childishly and blow up, never giving the ‘guilty' party a chance to explain. And is my worry justified here? Sorry, that would be giving way too much away.

Smooth Moves is aptly named. Zach is a smooth operator, but he's one with a conscience and a good heart. He and Cathy are aptly matched, which makes this story fun to read. If you want a hero in the best sense of the word, then Zach's your man.

--Linda Mowery

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