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Guardian Groom by Shelley Cooper
(Silh. Int. Mom. #942, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07942-7
Guardian Groom is only Shelley Cooper's second published book. She writes with an authority, a confidence that speaks of much more experience. Get ready for a gripping story that combines a strong mystery, one that would please many mystery afficionados, with a first rate romance.

Syndicated columnist Kate Garibaldi writes a column intended to provoke. However, she's never intended to anger someone to the point of trying to kill her. Nevertheless, it looks as though that's what she's done. When someone whispers in her ear, "You're dead," and pushes her into the path of an oncoming bus, she knows that she's in over her head. She needs protection. The first person she thinks of is her ex-husband Steve.

Steve Gallagher never expected to see his ex-wife again. A former undercover cop who owns his own security business, he's immediately concerned when Kate asks for his help. His ex-wife prided herself on her independence, so much so that he frequently felt unnecessary in her life. Kate explains about the bus incident and shows Steve some threatening letters from a person who calls himself "Your Greatest Fan."

Trying to maintain a business relationship is all but impossible, Steve soon discovers. He doesn't trust anyone else to be her bodyguard, so they're going to have to accept enforced proximity. Several times the headstrong Kate and the resolute Steve butt heads. Kate is having a hard time accepting that someone really wants to kill her and will occasionally act impulsively.

Their enforced togetherness is eye-opening for both of them. Both have emotional baggage. Having six older, very protective brothers has taken its toll on Kate. She resents being coddled and protected and values her independence. She always resented the way that Steve wouldn't argue with her. His refusal to talk about his past and his refusal to be involved in any kind of confrontation became too much.

Now that they're together, they begin to learn things about each other that may allow them to have a second chance at reviving their relationship. They're able to talk about issues a bit more comfortably and with a candor that was lacking before.

They suffer starts and stops as the relationship begins to heal and grow. Ever present is the stalker, who becomes more daring with each attempt on Kate's life.

Ms. Cooper has crafted a good blend of suspense and romance. She gives us enough insight into what drives Kate and Steve that it's easy to empathize with each. Their problems aren't so insurmountable that love and communication won't solve them.

The only part of the story that gave me pause was when Kate's Number One Fan appears. I had to double back into the story to determine the person's significance. Other than that, I enjoyed seeing Steve and Kate begin to understand and anticipate each other's needs.

Guardian Groom doesn't keep us waiting until the last page for our HEA. It starts on page one and progresses at a pace guaranteed to keep our interest. Not a bad deal at all.

--Linda Mowery

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