Just the Way You Are

A Knight To Remember

Lost in Your Arms

My Fair Temptress

My Favorite Bride

My Scandalous Bride

Once A Knight

Once Upon a Pillow

One Kiss From You

Rules of Attraction

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Surrender

The Runaway Princess

Scandalous Again

That Scandalous Evening

Scottish Brides

Someday My Prince

A Well Favored Gentleman

A Well Pleasured Lady

Trouble in High Heels
by Christina Dodd
(Signet, $7.99, R) ISBN 0-451-21912-0
Christina Dodd is one of the most successful writers in the field, with innumerable bestsellers, awards and accolades to prove it. She’s even figured in a Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. Think she can't possibly write a less than perfect book? Think again.

Brandi Michaels has just moved to Chicago to practice law and play house with her fiancé. Things would be great if said fiancé hadn't got his other girlfriend pregnant and hightailed it to Vegas with a marriage license in hand. Brandi's pretty upset, but she has a plan. She's not going to get mad, she's going to get some action. And who better to give it to her than Count Roberto Bartolini? Since he's obviously not from the neighborhood, he won't be around for the morning after. No expectations, no complications, no trouble. Right?

Wrong. Brandi has been so busy studying and unpacking and pawning her big, fat diamond ring that she hasn't read the newspapers. So she has no idea Roberto is more than just a foreign industrialist and aristocrat. He's also an international jewel thief who is standing trial. Guess whose firm is hired to defend him, and guess into whose custody he is remanded. Looks like Brandi and Roberto will have no trouble staying together, after all.

Brandi has a real hang-up about being called stupid. She refuses to become another has-been trophy wife like her mother and has spent her whole life trying to prove she's not the dimwit her father considers her. Her efforts have paid off: she has recently graduated magna cum laude, and a top Chicago law firm has snapped her up. So why does she let men blindside her? You'd think she'd have learned something from her ex-fiancé, but she doesn't see beyond the obvious where Roberto is concerned.

I get the need for revenge. I get the self-disgust at being used. I even get the frequent bouts of anger. Still, Brandi's a little too furious for my taste. The girl sure knows how to stomp in high heels. I would admire her for it, if I didn't find it so annoying. A little less rage and a little more reflection would have done her wonders. Instead she appears clueless about things that really matter like, say, how the legal system works and what Roberto is up to. Then again, tempted as I might be to echo Brandi's father, she has too many great lines to be stupid. And when she's not click-click- clicking her Jimmy Choos, she has quite a bit of charm.

Roberto’s Italian ancestry, aristocratic lineage, and criminal charm have real seductive potential (think Cary Grant with a big dollop of Marcello Mastroianni, and catch yourself before you swoon), but I would have liked to watch him pull off his burglary stunt. Unfortunately, the much-awaited scene takes place off stage, and we're left with the unappealing fall-out. Though Roberto is quick to proclaim his enduring love and has several ingenious romantic tricks up his tailored sleeves, I have my doubts about how long his relationship with Brandi will last.

The book really falls through with its villains, each and everyone cardboard cutouts from old Godfather movies. Comic caricatures and ethnic stereotypes may draw a couple of laughs, but get the old heartbeat racing? Not likely. No wonder I didn't buy the under-the- threat-of-death line and found it hard to sympathize with Brandi's and Roberto's dilemmas. The other secondary characters, including Brandi’s mother, work better for the humorous overtones.

Despite my issues with the characters, the novel is quite readable. The writing is polished, and the pacing well timed. It ends with what looks like a clever pretext for a series. Apparently, Roberto's father spread his sperm all over the land, leaving behind countless unacknowledged off-springs (birth control and safe sex, anyone?). Imagine how many sequels Dodd can milk out of that situation. Let's hope the heroines are more endearing and the plots more suspenseful, or she just might find herself with a very short-lived cash cow.

--Mary Benn

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