Tease Me by Donna Kauffman
(Loveswept #896, $3.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-44698-3
****
Donna Kauffman's Tease Me is a sexy, funny, good-timing romp that nevertheless packs a few emotionally intense punches. It's a clever, mood-elevating book that rolls along at a page-turning pace, and doesn't sacrifice quality for laughs.

Madelaine "Lainey" Cooper lives and works in a senior retirement village, managing a café with her aunt Minerva. Lainey is about the only person within a ten-mile radius who's under the age of seventy, but that doesn't bother her. In fact, our thirty-four year old heroine is about as happy as she's ever been. After a failed marriage to an aristocratic mama's boy and a disastrous relationship with a shady tax accountant – both the results of Lainey's impulsive decision-making style – she has made a new life at Sunset Shores. A quiet life. A thoughtful life. A life that definitely does not involve leaping before looking. Unfortunately, when Tucker Morgan walks up to a massage table at Sunset Shores' salon and spa, Lainey's first impulse is to leap right on top of him.

Tucker Morgan is looking for his own version of a new life. He's just sold the international body-guarding business that he and his best friend had been building since their college days. Having spent years immersed in the company, and now mourning the unexpected death of his friend and business partner, Tucker wants a new career – one that leaves time for family and friends. Though he doesn't know exactly what he's looking for, he's got his eyes wide open. And then he gets an eyeful of Lainey Cooper.

This pair's first meeting is about as good as it gets. To help out his Aunt Lillian (who owns the beauty salon and spa at Sunset Shores), Tucker has agreed to pose as the spa's new masseuse. Aunt Lillian is worried that her best friend Minerva (Lainey's aunt) might be in some kind of trouble, and when she can't get any information by snooping, she enlists Tucker. By relaxing the residents of Sunset Shores with massages, she figures he can wheedle out their secrets. Imagine Tucker's surprise when he finds that his first client is nowhere near seventy years old. Imagine Lainey's surprise when she learns that the new masseuse is not only male, but gorgeous. This scene offers a knockout combination: a comic situation, hilarious internal dialogue, likable and sympathetic characters, and the first bright sparks of sexual tension that continue to sizzle through the entire book.

This scene sets the tone for the external conflict of the story, which is largely farcical and fun, but as for Tucker and Lainey's relationship, I was pleasantly surprised by some fairly strong emotional conflict – serious stuff, but not weighty or depressing. See, Tucker is a make-my-heart-throb kind of guy. He's funny, honest, confident, and direct – without being arrogant or invulnerable. When he sees something he wants, he goes after it without subterfuge or mind games, but not without a wee bit of trepidation. That's what makes him so human, so real, and so likable. So how, you might be asking, could Lainey possibly resist this guy?

Well, she has her reasons, and most of them involve her less-than-stellar history with men, as mentioned above. She's always acted on impulse, and at this point, the results haven't been so terrific. She doesn't trust her instincts anymore – they've let her down too many times. From now on, she has vowed, she'll be logical and reasonable. She'll think things through. She won't take stupid risks like falling for a fake masseuse who comes on strong but might not be around for long.

And so, Lainey and Tucker work together to investigate and solve Aunt Minerva's mystery, and Tucker pursues, and Lainey retreats, and both of them fight hard to resist the absolutely blistering sexual tension building between them. And I must mention how much I love mature, honest characters like these who actually communicate with each other, acknowledge their problems, and act like adults!

I really did enjoy reading this book. It wasn't easy to put it down at bedtime, and it was a pleasure to pick it up again the next day. I smiled, I blushed, and I had a good time. In fact, the only thing keeping me from giving this book a full five-heart recommendation is the high-speed wrap-up of the ending. This may be my problem, but short books often feel to me as if the author ran out of room for a truly satisfying ending. It's a bit of a race to the finish as all the loose ends are tied up within a few pages. Nevertheless, Tease Me and Donna Kauffman are both gems in my book, and I recommend them highly to you.

-- Ellen Hestand


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