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Swept Away by Candace Camp
(Mira, $5.99, R) ISBN 1-55166-508-5
****
Julia Armiger has set her sights on Deverel Grey, Lord Stonehaven. Her brother, Sir Selby, was accused of embezzling funds from a trust of which he was one of four trustees. He subsequently committed suicide although Julia adamantly insists it must have been an accidental death. Lord Stonehaven was another trustee and chief among Selby's accusers. Julia, Selby's widow, Phoebe, and Thomas, the beneficiary of the trust, know that Selby could not have been the embezzler. They conclude that Stonehaven is the likely true embezzler.

After attempts to abduct Stonehaven fail, Julia decides to attract Stonehaven's interest and encourage him to confess all. With the assistance of her cousin, Julia gains admittance to an exclusive gambling club. At first, things go much as she intends. Stonehaven is instantly attracted and intrigued by the beauty who appears to be part of the demimonde. He seems most willing to pursue Julia on her terms.

Julia's plan goes astray, however, when she finds herself as attracted to Stonehaven as he is to her. Her attempts to get him to reveal his dastardly deeds are overwhelmed by the passion that flares between the two of them. Julia conceives another scheme for abducting Stonehaven which succeeds. Julia is unfortunately short-sighted in her scheming, and things are soon spiraling out of her control.

In this Regency-era historical, the plot isn't the primary focus, but few readers will care. A large part of the fun of this well-paced story is that the reader knows things aren't going to go Julia's way for long.

Julia is a stock heroine: slightly older than most unmarried girls, daring, intrepid, loyal to a fault. She is also a little soft in the brain. It doesn't take much for the reader to figure out that Julia's scheme simply isn't going to work she's never going to get Stonehaven to confess. There is no way he is going to succumb to her wiles. Besides, it is obvious he's a hero he's no embezzler. In one of the more touching scenes, Julia finally comes to the realization that she cannot hold Stonehaven against his will.

Stonehaven is a stock hero: wealthy, titled, gorgeous, ethical to the tips of his fingers. There is little time devoted to his character development: he is a pillar of society and gets along well with his mother.

The whodunit is less obvious than in similar books. In a rare moment of humility (heroes like this don't have much to be humble about!), Stonehaven admits he was too accepting of the initial evidence and should have engaged in additional investigation. But the identity of the villain isn't as important as the process and the opportunity for the characters to interact.

What elevates this book beyond others employing the standard Big Misunderstanding device is the abundant sexual tension between Julia and Stonehaven. Other books have tried the I-hate-you-I-want-you formula, but it has rarely been used as successfully as in Swept Away. Given their mistaken impressions, it is understandable that Julia and Stonehaven aren't sharing all their thoughts and plans. Happily, the author doesn't string out the story until the inevitable moment when Julia tells all.

The sexual tension is sufficiently strong to sweep most readers along despite doubts about the believability of the plot or the depth of the characterization. The "R" rating isn't an indication that Julia and Stonehaven spend a lot of time between sheets. This book is hotter out of bed than in it.

For readers who have found many recent romances tepid, this book is going to be a welcome relief. When it comes to writing sexual tension, it doesn't get any better than this.

--Lesley Dunlap


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