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Hot Blooded

Lair of the Lion

Lover Beware

Wild Rain

Night Game by Christine Feehan
(Jove, $9.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13976-9
Night Game is third in Christine Feehan's Ghostwalker series about a group of men and women who have been psychically and physically enhanced by mad genius Peter Whitney in his attempt to build a new kind of army. No one has suffered the brunt of his inhumane experimentation as much as Iris "Flame" Johnson. To test his theories about gene enhancement, he injected her with an unusual form of cancer. Flame eventually escaped from his research center. Now Whitney is dead, but his daughter Lily, who shares his scientific mind but not his maniacal objectives, suspects Flame's cancer is returning. When she hears Raoul "Gator" Fontenot is heading for the Louisiana bayou where Flame is thought to be, she asks him to find her and bring her in for treatment.

Even though Gator volunteered for the enhancements, he knows first hand how dangerous Whitney's experiments were and how distressing their unforeseen consequences can be. He sympathizes with Flame's decision to cut all ties with the center, but because he trusts Lily, he agrees. When he finally runs into Flame, he is surprised to learn that she too is investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young woman.

As might be expected, the attraction between Flame and Gator is instantaneous and powerful. It is, in fact, so strong that Flame suspects it is yet another effect of Whitney's twisted mind. Because she doesn't believe he is dead and because she doesn't trust Lily, she refuses to return to the center. Gator thinks she is letting her past cloud her judgment until a mysterious attack leads him to conjecture that there is another squad of psychically enhanced soldiers. Someone - maybe even the allegedly dead Whitney - is controlling them. Yet, despite the evidence of a much larger conspiracy, Gator is not willing to give up on Flame's only chance to beat her cancer. He is determined to get her to Lily and treatment. First, however, they must find the missing woman.

Flame comes off nicely as fiercely independent, tough and completely unable to trust anyone. We are also given glimpses of her softer, gentler side in her interaction with the elderly. A psychic and a warrior, Gator is as alpha as they come, but he also has the much-touted Cajun charm and is smart enough to know that his relationship with Flame can't be just a struggle for domination and control. His perceptive response to her vulnerability makes their romance not just hot and steamy but also plausible, and even moving.

I liked the psychic traits Gator and Flame share, including the ability to do things with sound. I did, however, have a hard time believing that anyone, no matter their enhancements, can engage in sexual banter while sitting through a deadly ambush and then go on to survive a crocodile attack with nothing worse than a broken arm, kill another pursuer (despite the still unattended broken arm) and fight off vicious sexual sadists. The arm and other wounds are eventually looked into, and the hard day's work is followed by a night of hard sex. What happened to the good old times when all superheroes and superheroines had to do was leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Good thing there was the conspiracy plot (even if we have to wait for the next installment to know what is going on) because the villains in the missing woman story smell worse than the bayou. And while I enjoyed verbal banter between Gator and Flame, the novel could have done with a lot more editing. Perhaps the long-winded and overly descriptive action scenes are meant to showcase the characters' psychic abilities, but after the first two or so, I got the point. I confess to glossing over more than one.

Fun as long as you keep the pages turning and don't ask too many questions, Night Game is an acceptable but not particularly distinctive read. I, for one, will not be holding my breath for the next installment.

--Mary Benn

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