Girls Night

Hearts

Honey

Hooked

The Runaway Heiress

 
Undressed by Stef Ann Holm
(Mira, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-730-4
****
Undressed is an interesting story about a wanna-be policewoman whom everyone feels the need to protect, and a burned out domestic unit cop looking for something. The story has a homey feel with a secondary romance that is just as satisfying as the primary one. The title does not refer to constant sex, so don’t let that put you off.

Melanie “Lanie” Prescott is a deputy for the Majestic, Colorado, police department. But in this small group of just five officers, she is given the mundane and always safe jobs of crossing guard and issuing parking tickets. She wants to be a real deputy, and decides to leave her home and strike out in another town nearby.

The Chief, Herb “Dutch” Deutsch, likes Lanie and is aware she tries hard. But he has a genuine belief that woman should be protected, not the protector. Add to that the fact that Lanie’s father, who was the previous chief, was killed in the line of duty, and everyone feels protective of Lanie.

Dutch hires a Miami police detective to replace Lanie on the force. Paul Cabrera has been on the force for 15 years, most of it spent working in the domestic crime area. He is burnt out. He once visited Majestic as a child and thinks the mountains and quiet area away from big city crime will help him regain his perspective.

On the night he arrives, the town is holding a going-away party for Lanie. The bad thing is that just before the party, Lanie received a phone call that her new job is on hold due to a legal challenge from the policeman she is replacing. She is feeling low and drinks a little too much. She pours her heart out to a stranger at the bar, only to discover he is not the ski instructor she thought he was…he is her replacement. Embarrassed, she leaves the bar, only to discover someone breaking into her car. She gives chase but the combination of high heels, the last drink and soggy grass is her undoing. She breaks her leg.

Paul and Lanie hit it off immediately. Sexual sparks fly, but there is also a connection of the spirit. Despite the fact that Paul is her replacement, Lanie finds herself attracted to him. Paul likes how Lanie makes him feel. Their relationship develops gradually from tentative friendship to active enjoyment. The fire ignites slowly and the tension builds nicely.

Lanie must rebuild her self-esteem and look for another job, while recuperating from her injury. Paul learns his way around town and realizes there is more to life than just being on the job all the time.

Lanie’s mother Lucille is still trying to cope with the facts around her husband’s death and at the same time, come to grips with Lanie’s need to be a police officer. She is helped along by Dutch, and their unlikely romance is a bright spot in the story. Although I started off disliking Dutch because of his treatment of Lanie, I enjoyed getting to know him. He is a multi-dimensional character and actually is open to learning about himself and changing. His turnabout is believable.

Holm has written a story of genuine caring and affection among people. Yet, she doesn’t succumb to the cliché that small town life is ideal. The characters have strengths and flaws. The town is shown with its good side and bad. The routines people follow are both reassuring and stifling. The contrasts are balanced, making the story feel real.

Lanie is portrayed as a woman who knows what she wants, but is fighting her demons along the way. Just when she starts getting too self-pitying, she pulls herself up and moves on. Paul is also a character with secrets and torments, but he handles them with the right amount of vulnerability, angst and perseverance.

The only downside to the tale is the pacing. Because the story is built and carried on the backs of the characters, there are times when the pace slows to a crawl. There are other times when there is a lot happening and the pace picks up. It is this unevenness that keeps it from being a keeper. In the early part of the story, I had to convince myself to pick the book back up. Towards the end, I really had a difficult time putting it down.

Undressed is my first Stef Ann Holm book. Fans will enjoy this story. I recommend it especially to those who are looking to discover new authors because it makes me want to read some of her previous stories to enjoy the world she creates with her characters.

--Shirley Lyons


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