Body Language

Everyday, Average Jones

Forbidden

Freedom's Price

Harvard's Education

Heartthrob

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Kiss and Tell

Love With the Proper Stranger

Time Enough for Love

 
Bodyguard by Suzanne Brockmann
(Fawcett, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-449-00256-X
****
Some of my fellow reviewers gauge how good a book is by whether or not they are able to put it down. I have a different, but sure-fire method of determining when I've found a 4- or 5-heart book -- I start "sneak-reading." I sneak read a few minutes at the office before the boss comes in. I sneak a few pages in the school parking lot before the kids are dismissed from school. I sneak a few pages in the lady's room at work. I sneak-read whenever the urge to keep reading a book overcomes my duty to be a responsible adult. Bodyguard rated very high on the sneak-read meter. It's a pleasure to recommend this intelligent, well-developed contemporary romance.

The plot isn't anything terribly original, but the characters and dialogue shine. Harry O'Dell is an FBI agent assigned to protect Alessandra Lamont, who is the target of Michael Trotta, a brutal mob boss. Alessandra's ex-husband had ties to the mob, and the word on the street is that, before he died, he stole a million dollars from Trotta. Harry assumes that the blonde ex-trophy wife knew about her husband's underworld dealings and that she knows where the money is hidden. He doesn't tell her that although she is allegedly being protected by the FBI, she's also being used as bait to catch Trotta.

Alessandra isn't exactly a dumb bunny, but she has always relied on her looks. She's surprised to find that she has quite a few other resources, and she's pleased to realize how much she wants to make a new, different life for herself. However, she's dismayed to find herself attracted to Harry -- he's rumpled, he's shorter than she is, and he looks like he's "one of the top ten most-wanted fugitives on the run from the fashion police."

She quickly learns that Harry's not exactly a great bet in the relationship department, either. Two years ago, his ex-wife and his favorite son were killed when a mob warning turned deadly. He's abandoned his two remaining children to his stepsister and devoted his entire life to bringing down Michael Trotta to avenge the death of his loved ones. So even when Harry realizes that "Allie" isn't a bimbo, their future looks uncertain.

Suzanne Brockmann is one of the few romance authors I've encountered who creates male characters that think and behave like real men -- and yet are romance heroes anyway. Harry is foul-mouthed and thick-headed, but he's brave and honest (to a point), and it's easy to see why Alessandra falls for him. His point of view make this first kiss scene witty and original:

She lifted her face to look up at him, laughing tremulously through her tears - and that was it. He was toast. Completely. Utterly. Charred to a crisp. It was the red nose that did him in. Must've been some wonderful yet long-forgotten childhood incident with a clown that had put its stamp upon him forever. Whatever its origin, he couldn't stop himself from leaning forward and covering her mouth with his own.

Several interesting subplots add depth and richness to the novel. One subplot concerns Harry's surviving son, 14-year old Shaun, who tries to survive the jungle of middle school despite his father's absence and Shaun's passion for dancing -- a passion that earns him only taunts from his peers. The other subplot is a bittersweet triangle between Harry's partner George, his exotic-dancer girlfriend, and his ex-wife, who is now his FBI supervisor. The triangle is left somewhat unresolved, leaving me to wonder if Brockman has plans for a sequel.

I can only hope so. I know there are a lot of romance readers who are fans of Brockman's "Tall Dark and Dangerous" category romances, but they've never been my cup of tea. I hope she'll devote more time to her burgeoning single title contemporary romance career -- as long as she keeps writing strong novels like Bodyguard, I'll be hiding out in the ladies' room, furtively sneak-reading.

--Susan Scribner


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