That Boss of Mine

Dr. Irresistible

First Comes Love

He Could Be the One

Her Man Friday

How to Trap a Tycoon

Just Like a Man

My Man Pendleton

The Secret Life of Connor Monahan

The Sheriff & the
Imposter Bride

Society Bride

Take Me, I'm Yours

The Temptation of Rory Monahan

Undercover With the MOB

 
Express Male by Elizabeth Bevarly
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77112-6
***
Elizabeth Bevarly returns to her world of the fictional Office for Political Unity and Security (OPUS) in her latest book and it's a wacky, if uneven, ride.

Marny Lundy works part-time selling underwear at a local department store and part-time teaching kids to play the piano. Her biggest excitement is dreaming of being a concert pianist. All that changes on evening when she leaves work late and is confronted by a strange old man who insists on giving her an important "manuscript" and calls her Lila. If this wasn't enough, a gorgeous man, who not only also thinks she's Lila but also hints that they've been lovers, accosts her immediately afterward. By the time a third man arrives to chase off the second, Marny isn't sure what's going on.

The third man is OPUS agent Noah Tennant, and he brings Marny to the agency's secret headquarters to find out what she knows about "The Philosopher" and "The Sorcerer." No matter how much Marny denies it, he is certain she's rogue OPUS agent, Lila Moreau. It isn't until after hours of interrogation and an inspection of Marny's home that Noah realizes his mistake. Despite the uncanny resemblance, Marny is not Lila and, as much as he hates to admit it, he finds himself attracted to this softer, sweeter version.

The Lila/Marny connection is sorted out in the expected manner that they are long lost twin sisters. With that knowledge, Noah enlists the aid of Marny to trap his arch-nemesis The Sorcerer, AKA Lila's ex-lover. Of course, over the intensive two-week training, Noah and Marny's mutual attraction turns to lust and then something more.

Although the idea that someone could be trained as a government agent and allowed to go on a dangerous assignment in two weeks is ridiculous, one must realize that the whole spy theme of this book is very tongue in cheek. Honestly, calling the head of the organization "The One Whose Name Nobody Dare Say " couldn't be anything but a good-hearted poke at intense spy shows like 24. That's part of the fun of Bevarly's writing. Dialogue is quick and witty and the characters can be sarcastic, and even goofy at times. There are many moments that made me chuckle out loud. That said, there are some instances where certain comical phrases are repeated to the point where they stop being funny, such as the fondness for "smokin' sex."

The secondary plot/romance between wannabe "kick ass spy" Ellie and her prime suspect Daniel is almost as interesting as the main romance. Ellie's complete ineptitude as a spy is by turns annoying and amusing. Really, her character is saved by her acceptance that she really doesn't have what it takes, although it does take her a while to get there. She and Daniel have seriously hot chemistry, and the awkwardness of their shifting relationship if very real. Though the idea of a super-hot nerd may seem unrealistic, Bevarly does give a plausible explanation for it.

For all its wits and charm, the book runs out of steam about two thirds of the way through. It's something of a combination of the humor wearing a bit thin and reliance on good old clichés like mistaken identity. Still, the story builds up enough good will in the beginning to soften the disappointment of the weak ending. Express Male makes a good beach read and is fun enough that one would consider picking up other installments of the OPUS series.

--Anne Bulin


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