Dangerous Heat by Diane Escalera
(Encanto, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-7860-1169-6
Debut author Diane Escalera crafts a clever plot in Dangerous Heat. Mia Hartmann is a private investigator working as a secretary in a bank. Her boss, Emilio DeLeon, is under suspicion of embezzlement by the banks board of directors. Mia and her partner, John, have been hired to find out the truth.

Except Mr. DeLeon is not the staid, stuffy banker Mia anticipates. Instead, he’s a dark-haired charmer with laughing blue eyes. And the more Mia gets to know him, the less sure she is that he could have committed the crime.

Emilio, for his part, is astonished to find he’s attracted to his new secretary. What lies beneath the prim business suits? And why does she seem slightly … evasive?

But Emilio has more than Mia on his mind. His father has recently died of a heart attack, and before he died, Emilio discovered his father was broke. Where did his money go? Is it all related to the missing bank funds?

The plot twists and turns as Mia is drawn into a labyrinth of false clues, dead ends, and ties to Emilio’s late father. Who did steal the money? And how did Emilio end up as the patsy? The answer seems to lie at, of all places, a professional strip club.

I enjoyed the complexities of the plot. Mia and Emilio are both immensely likable and down to earth, and the secondary characters of Emilio’s best friend and his wife added depth to the story. Mia and Emilio steam up the pages, too, once they establish their relationship. My enjoyment was somewhat diminished, though, by the overly-descriptive writing. An opportunity never passes to remind the reader that Mia is one sexy babe or Emilio one hot stud. To wit:

“Brushing a hint of cocoa shadow on her lids, she traced a fine dark line under her bottom lashes, beautifully defining her rich brown eyes. Dipping the wand into the mascara bottle, she lightly stroked at her long lashes. She brushed a sheer layer of deep-rose blush over her naturally bronzed cheeks, and coated her voluminous lips with wine-colored lipstick.”

Okay, she’s a knockout, but that seems to lay it on a bit thick, as do the many descriptions of Mia's smooth skin, sexy navel, wavy hair, etc. After a while it becomes a bit repetitive and loses its impact.

But overall, Diane Escalera delivers a respectable first novel that combines a satisfying romance with an enjoyably suspenseful plot. Dangerous Heat will appeal to a wide audience of contemporary romance fans.

--Cathy Sova

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