Knock Me Off My Feet
by Susan Donovan
(St. Martins, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-312-98374-3
****
Susan Donovan’s debut romance, Knock Me Off My Feet, is a sexy, funny, fast-paced charmer of a tale that you’ll probably read in one sitting, if you’re lucky enough to have the time. One thing is sure: you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sweeter hero than Detective Stacey Quinn. Who could resist a bagpipe-playing Irish cop who knows how to correctly accessorize a kilt at just the right moment?

Autumn Adams is Chicago’s “Homey Helen”, a Hints-from-Heloise clone who got stuck with the job when her mother died. Audie is no domestic goddess. She can’t cook, rarely cleans, and prefers playing soccer and attending Cubs games. But she’s also been receiving threatening mail and ugly gifts, such as dead roses. It’s getting worse, and she has finally reported it to the police.

Enter Detective Quinn. Audie, who thought “Stacey” was a woman, is taken aback. Quinn is mesmerized by his first sight of Audie, in a pretty pink blazer, seated behind a desk, demurely talking about water spots on stemware. When she switches off her mike and stands up, Quinn sees she’s wearing soccer shorts and cleats. This is Homey Helen, whose columns he’s clipped and saved?

Quinn is off-duty at the moment, and agrees to accompany Audie to her soccer game and then to a Cubs game. While sitting in the stands at Wrigley Field, he’s hit with a brainwave. Of course! Audie must be sending the letters to herself, in order to rationalize getting out of a job she obviously hates. His suspicions enrage Audie, who storms out of the ballpark, leaving Quinn to chase after her and, in a fit of impulsiveness, kiss her.

That’s it. Fate sealed.

Quinn comes from a large, loving Irish family; Audie has only memories of her long-deceased father and her coldly efficient mother. Their relationship heats up quickly, and Susan Donovan can write a wonderfully warm, tender, erotic scene like a seasoned veteran. The R rating on this review is well deserved. Audie gets glimpses of the large family she’s always dreamed of, but here it’s the heroine who doesn’t think she knows how to love. It will be up to Quinn to show her differently, and he does - masterfully.

The villain of the suspense thread isn’t kept a big secret, and savvy readers may figure it out in the first chapter. The villain’s motivation has a definite twist of the unexpected, however.

But readers should pick up this book for the romance, not the suspense. Both Audie and Quinn are so, so likeable. Audie, who initially didn’t impress me with her over-the-top portrayal as a tomboyish klutz, finally settled down and began to emerge as a warmhearted, insecure, smart woman, someone who deserved a shot at a great guy. Once the physical comedy was left behind, she had room to grow into a realistic character. Quinn, to his own surprise, picks up on this almost immediately and wants nothing more than to show Audie how wrong she is. To Audie, sex is sometimes pleasant, but more often disappointing. Quinn is out to show her it’s fun, when the right people are involved. And make no doubt, he’s the right guy for Audie, and she’s the right woman for him. Now all he has to do is get her to admit it, too.

Quinn has a quirk to his personality, one that is used to delightful effect. He’s a piper with the Garda Pipe and Drum band, the Chicago Police Department’s official pipe band. This plays a part in the story in several ways. It’s a nifty twist.

Knock Me Off My Feet darn near did just that. Susan Donovan’s debut is sassy, polished, and hopefully a precursor of things to come from this talented new voice. Readers of contemporary romance, better schedule an uninterrupted afternoon for this one.

--Cathy Sova


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