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Perfect Timing by Olga Bicos
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-5947-7
*****
For readers who enjoy romantic suspense, Perfect Timing is just about perfect. Olga Bicos combines her own witty style with traces of Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon and Chris Carter. This book has got it all: alien abductees, synthetic metals, a possible government conspiracy, as well as a first-rate romance. Instead of X-files, this story has X-planes. So if you don't have a problem with a story line where romance shares equal time with "cloak and dagger," read on.

When a test plane crashes, Cherish Malone, public relations director for Marquis Aircraft, feels as if she is reliving a nightmare. Almost two years ago a similar incident occurred and Cherish was on board when the first-phase, prototype plane went down. Cherish was so frozen with fear she barely recalls the pilot, Conor Mitchell, carrying her to safety. With the exception of Cherish, the pilot and the copilot, everyone on board died.

After the crash, Cherish spends time visiting and comforting Conor and the copilot, Alex Porter. While the handsome and irresponsible Alex was falling in love with Cherish, Cherish was falling in love with his best friend, the responsible and oh-so, sexy Connor. After a whirlwind romance of six weeks Conor and Cherish decide to get married. But on the day of the wedding Conor doesn't show, and Cherish spends her supposed-to-be wedding night crying her eyes out while Alex holds her.

Now, a year and half later, Cherish still has nightmares about the crash, and she can't even think about boarding a plane without hyperventilating. Cherish is in therapy trying to get over the crash and Conor Mitchell. Cherish feels she has made progress in her efforts to get over Conor but she still writes him every week, spewing her anger and her innermost feelings to the man who broke her heart.

After the most recent crash, the memory of what occurred almost two years ago starts to resurface and so does Alex. Cherish receives a message from him informing her that someone is trying to kill him and that she needs to find Conor because he will know what to do.

No matter how she might feel about seeing Conor again, (actually, she's hoping he's gained weight and has lost all his hair) Cherish feels she owes it to Alex to make sure that Conor gets his message. And, as if the thought of seeing Conor again wasn't enough to set Cherish on edge, things at work are starting to get downright scary. There are rich and powerful men who seem to be pulling strings in order to lay the blame for this second "accident" at Marquis Aircraft's door.

Cherish Malone is one of the most fully developed characters I have ever encountered in a novel of romantic suspense, or anywhere else for that matter. She's smart-mouthed, funny, vulnerable and wonderfully human. Ms. Bicos' does an outstanding job of letting readers know exactly what makes Cherish tick and she doesn't skimp on Conor and what makes him tick, either. The average romance novel doesn't usually provide this detailed level of insight and background for its heroes and heroines, and it's extremely rare to find this kind of detail in the suspense genre.

Perfect Timing is a crossover: a book that should have been labeled fiction, or romantic suspense, instead of romance. I think the publisher made a mistake in labeling this tale as simply, "Contemporary Romance." There's too much cloak and dagger, and too much time spent on other characters in this tale for it to be considered a romance-romance. By labeling this book a romance the publisher risks alienating an audience that expects a romance-romance. And, the publisher is missing an audience that would very much enjoy this book but may never find it.

That's not to say that Perfect Timing doesn't provide some terrific romance, as well as suspense. When they are together, Cherish and Conor produce some powerful sparks, or in the author's own words these two are: "Hot. Vaporizing hot. Three thousand degrees hot." Ms. Bicos also provides the couple with some absolutely outstanding dialogue; Cherish, as the woman scorned, gets off a number of fast and funny zingers at Conor's expense. The serious Conor is a wonderful straight man for the humorous Cherish. And he's her best audience; Conor can't seem to stop smiling when he's around her.

While I thought the dialogue was outstanding, I do have a quibble with the amount of jargon and techno-speak I encountered in this story. I hate to appear as if I am complaining just because the author did some fine research on her subject and shared it with her readers. Then again, when she started discussing the "tensile test" and "strain gauges" that produce a "stress-strain curve," well, I admit I felt a little strained myself. I had to put the book down, disengage for a moment, and start again.

The techno-speak aside, Perfect Timing is first-class escapist fare: the ultimate beach book for this summer. Cherish and Conor are a lot of fun to be around, and this story has a hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat ending that's sensational. Readers who enjoy story lines with lots of fast-paced suspense, and a terrific romance, should add Perfect Timing to their summer reading list.

--Judith Flavell


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