Dangerous Deception
by Beverly Barton
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77067-7
**
Dangerous Deception is one of “The Protectors” series, but it stands on its own and does not require knowledge of persons or events in previous novels – which is a good thing, because this is not a series I plan to get into, going either forward or backward.

Our protector here is Domingo Shea, ex-Navy SEAL, current employee of Dundee Private Security and Investigation Agency; he has been assigned to find Audrey Perkins, daughter of wealthy businessman Edward Bedell. Audrey has either run away from her husband with her low-life boyfriend, been kidnapped, or checked into a spa somewhere and is lying low out of spite. Dom easily tracks her to a resort hotel in Palm Beach, then manages to enjoy quite a pleasant evening in her company without revealing his identity. He can’t believe that this is the rich, spoiled brat (not to mention slut) he’s been sent to find. She’s quiet, unassuming, almost sweet. In fact, once he informs her dad that she’s been found, he reckons it’s mission accomplished and he’s free to enjoy her fully, which he’s eager to do; he is more attracted to her than he has been to any other woman in his life.

Well, there’s a reason she doesn’t seem like the obnoxious rich woman he’s been sent to find – she isn’t Audrey Perkins. She is Lausanne Raney, and she had briefly been a receptionist at Bedell, Inc. It was there that she met Audrey, who hired her to play a little impersonation game. Lausanne got Audrey’s credit cards (no spending limit), an unlimited vacation, and $50,000 in cash. All Lausanne had to do was travel openly, spend limitlessly, and throw everyone off the trail while Audrey skipped town with her boyfriend (whose very name – Bobby Jack Cash – screams white trash). But after she spends this pleasant evening with Dom, someone attempts to kill her. Her reaction is to get Dom to take her “home” – he still doesn’t know who she really is – because she feels it’s necessary to let Edward Bedell know that Audrey might actually be in some danger.

Duh, does Dom feel stupid. Excellent investigative skills, Dom. But while all this lying shakes his faith in Lausanne, it doesn’t much impact his attraction to her. She, however, is fighting her attraction to him; she’s learned in the school of hard knocks that trusting men is a big mistake, one from which recovery is painful, if not impossible. Lausanne ran away from home at 16 and was knocked up by 17; she gave the baby up for adoption. A few years later she falls for a second man who turns out to be an even bigger mistake; she sat unknowing in the parking lot while he robbed a convenience store. Lausanne served five years in the state pen. She knows this makes her appear less than trustworthy, so it is in her interest to help find Audrey Bedell ASAP. As Dom is still employed by Ed Bedell, he’s on the case as well.

This was an interesting set-up, promising at first, but quickly falling into repetition, foolish decisions and bedrock confusion about character motivation and interests. The characters aren’t very appealing – Lausanne is such a sad sack loser, working as a waitress at the Chicken Coop (chicken any way you want it, and eggs, too). She’s filled with self-doubt and self-loathing, unwilling or unable to accept that Dom might really care for her and might be someone she could count on. Dom, on the other hand, is practically sainted: he is incredibly attracted to Lausanne but doesn’t press her for sex; he readily accepts that he is emotionally attached to her and wants a real relationship; he takes care of her physically and emotionally; he tells her he doesn’t ever want to hear her putting herself down, ever again. We’re reading St. Dom and the Loser.

The secondary characters, for the most part, weren’t fleshed out enough to be engaging, and the secondary “romance” is an unbelievable dud. An opening scene briefly introduces other agents at the Dundee Private Security and Investigation Agency, whom one can expect will have their own stories shortly; one can only hope these stories have more substance and deeper characters who are given less flimsy “mysteries” to solve.

--Laura Scott


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