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Naked Truth by Amy J. Fetzer
(Brava, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-1103-1
****
Amy J. Fetzer has written a variety of books over her career, but this reviewer would hazard to guess that she is best known for her work with Silhouette Desire. While I have enjoyed many of her categories, Naked Truth, her second book for steamy Kensington Brava, just about obliterates all of them. Military themed romance doesnít get much more exciting than this.

CIA operative Alexa Gavlin is used to working under deep cover. With no family, no friends, and no ties to the outside world, she has spent the last several months infiltrating Lucien Zarekís crime organization. It is believed Zarek is moving larger weapons, and itís Alexaís job to get the dirt. Unfortunately it has all gone terribly wrong.

Alexa wakes up naked and tied down in a Columbian sugar cane field. Next to her is the dead body of her main source, and her knife is conveniently stuck in his chest. Worse still, she cannot remember how she ended up in this predicament. She goes by procedure and heads to CIA headquarters in Columbia only to be shot at by her own people. However, itís not until she visits a contact that she learns the awful truth. Four weeks of her life are missing. Her memory as been chemically altered and now she has to figure out by whom and why.

In the meantime, the CIA Deputy Director is looking to bring Alexa in, dead or alive. She goes to see ex-Marine, Killian Moore, who now works as a retrieval expert. She essentially blackmails him into the job. Killian left the Marines in disgrace after a DEA bust went bad. The DD tells him it went bad because of Alexa. Killian doesnít trust the DD as far as he can throw her, but with the chance at getting some answers dangling in front at him he agrees to gather his team and head to Columbia.

It doesnít take long for Killian to realize that this whole job stinks. Determined to unravel the mess he finds Alexa and the two are soon setting off more sparks than July 4. Killian wants to help Alexa, but for that she has to learn to trust him. In her line of work, trust is a little hard to come by.

Military romances tend to be a hard sell for this reviewer mainly because of the types of heroines that tend to populate them. Nothing is worse than a supposedly strong heroine who morphs into a clueless damsel in distress. This is why Alexa is so refreshing. In fact, I would hazard a guess that some readers may find her too hard. This is not a heroine who needs the hero to rescue her. In fact, there are instances where she gets the jump on him! This is a woman who can kick butt, shoot a gun, break someoneís nose, survive torture and isnít afraid to do any of it.

This is a romance though, so we do need a hero. Whatís great about Killian is that he makes Alexa better Ė and he doesnít try to change her. All he does is try to earn her trust. Being a Marine meant a lot to him, and to have his reputation disgraced seriously sticks in his craw. What is nice here is that he is not blindly stubborn in his quest. He doesnít swallow everything the CIA tells him about Alexa, because he doesnít exactly trust the CIA. In fact, he begins to piece together that heís been had even before he catches up with Alexa in Columbia.

This story is so action packed that it wasnít until about ĺ of the way through the book that I noticed a flaw. The problem here is that Alexa and Killian do spend a lot of time apart. Since the CIA sent him to retrieve her, (dead or alive) sheís not real keen on trusting him. So she runs quite a bit. Killian chases after her, and there are several steamy encounters, but deep heart-to-heart soul searching isnít on the menu. These two have terrorists to catch, clear their names, and find out what Zarek has up his sleeve. Not a lot of room left for what one would call a traditional romance.

Naked Truth is ultimately the romance novel equivalent to a good action movie. It is a non-stop, action-packed, sexy, exciting, page-turning read. Fetzer gives readers a true kick-butt heroine, not some little girl playing dress-up, and matches her with a macho Alpha hero who isnít a pig-headed jerk. If that isnít high praise, Iím not sure what is. Fetzer has the chops, here is hoping she has more sexy single titles up her sleeve.

--Wendy Crutcher


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