All I Want
For Christmas


Caught in the Act

Duets 23



In Too Deep


Little Miss Innocent



Sex Appeal


Too Much Temptation

Treat Her Right

Say No to Joe? By Lori Foster
(Zebra, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7512-X


5 Hearts This story by Lori Foster has it all – a heroine who stands up for herself, a macho hero who is not afraid to admit tender feelings, a couple of wounded kids who heal with love, and a suspense story that twists and turns. The best thing is that the suspense supports the romance, not the other way around.

Joe Winston is an ex-cop, ex-bounty hunter turned bodyguard who let his guard slip and has been beaten up by a bad guy named Bruno, who has a grudge against him. Luna Clark is a friend of his cousin’s wife, who Joe met several years ago. He tried to get her out on a date, and she said no. He has never really forgotten her nor she him.

Now Luna has a problem and needs Joe’s help. She has just inherited two children, ages 15 and 9. Willow and Austin are orphans, and have been passed around from family member to family member since their mother died. Their father’s identity is unknown. Luna has gotten the call that she is now their guardian. And she has been alerted that the kids have trouble for middle names. She comes to Joe to ask him to go with her to “protect” the kids from some ruffians in the town where they live. Joe agrees.

There are several subplots going and without giving anything away here are the basics. Willow and Austin are being set up as terrible kids and many people wish they’d leave town. However, their mother has left them a nice piece of property with a home and a lake on it. Joe is being followed. Lots of little things keep happening like nasty words being painted on the shed and truck and Joe keeps glimpsing a car tailing him. How it is all related is neatly sewn up in the last chapters.

During all this, Willow and Austin are trying to adjust to yet another guardian and trying to decide if these two adults can be trusted. Luna falls for the kids immediately and is determined to make this work. Joe realizes that he can get into this “family thing” and be more comfortable than he ever thought possible. Of course, they both realize they love each other. Lust is evident first, followed by love. It is a nicely progressing romance that seems realistic.

Foster is a master at writing foreplay, which lasts for a good portion of the book. Both are a little in love before they actually hit the sack. The humor and innuendo are well-written and had me smiling and even laughing out loud. Foster also knows how to tug the old heartstrings. And she does so in the right places with the right timing so as not to be melodramatic or sappy.

Joe is a hero with the right amount of machismo mixed with genuine nice guy. He is open and talks to Luna about life, while still trying to seduce her. Luna is a self-confident woman, who is confident enough to worry and feel some uncertainties. She talks to Joe and is willing to let him help while demanding he not treat her like a weak-kneed angel. Joe is man enough to admire her and let her be herself.

If I have any misgivings it is that the some of the characters are a little too much of a caricature. The aunt who had the kids before is uncaring and the housekeeper is a witch. However, the depth given to Luna and Joe made up for it and I was too wrapped up in their tale to quibble.

Treat yourself to Say No to Joe? without hesitation.

--Shirley Lyons

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