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Flash by Jayne Ann Krentz
(Pocket, $24.00, PG) ISBN 0-671-52308-2
****
Flash is a bubbly return to what Krentz does so well: a snappy contemporary romance with two independent main characters who are sure they need no one, until they meet each other and find out how wrong they are. And readers who have become a bit tired of the artsy-fartsy Pacific Northwest trendoids that pervaded some of her earlier works will take great delight (as I did) in seeing Krentz gently skewer the latte crowd. Her barbs are aimed with laser precision and give the book a great deal of humor.

Venture capitalist Jasper Sloan is taking a forced vacation on a small Hawaiian island before returning to Seattle to finish the sale of his company. His suspicions are aroused when he is nearly forced off a mountain road, but it seems to be an isolated incident. What does surprise him is finding that he now controls fifty-one percent of a specialty lighting company called Glow, Inc. upon the unexpected death of the owner. Jasper decides not to sell out. He'll step in and run the company.

Jasper has a bit of competition in Olivia Chandry, the niece of Glow's deceased owner and the possessor of the other forty-nine percent of the company. Olivia has her hands full running a successful event-planning business that specializes in large bashes. She also employs quite a few family members, as does Glow, Inc. Most of all, , she's indignant that a controlling interest in Glow, Inc. has fallen into the hands of a non-family-member. Trust Jasper? Not likely. No matter how many zings she gets when he's around.

Jasper and Olivia are immediately attracted to each other. When blackmail notes start showing up, first directed at members of Olivia's family and then at Olivia and Jasper, the two decide to present a united front and see if they can get to the bottom of this. And here I give the author plenty of credit. She's crafted a complex and convoluted storyline where red herrings abound. The ending was a fun surprise.

Krentz has a tendency to recycle her plots; nothing in this book will take readers by surprise. She does it in entertaining style, though, which gives it the flavor of a favorite entrée at a restaurant you don't go to very often. You know what it tastes like, and it doesn't stop you from ordering it and enjoying it anyway.

Speaking of food, the running gag in the story is Olivia's addiction to triple lattes. This gal swills caffeine morning, noon, and night and Jasper badgers her about it at every opportunity. Krentz gleefully presents us with a coffee machine in every office, all set to spew forth espresso on demand. All the while Jasper is pointing out that really, these people need to get a grip. It left me grinning, as did the descriptions of the over-the-top events that Olivia coordinates, much to Jasper's disbelief. Previous Krentz works have involved water themes and martial arts and such; I found the caffeine satire to be much more fun.

The romance between Jasper and Olivia felt natural; Krentz wisely doesn't throw them in the sack too soon. In fact, readers may be a bit disappointed that there is really only one love scene in the book. It's fairly short, and subsequent scenes are alluded to rather than presented in detail. But these are two people who become friends first, lovers second, and I had no worries that this would indeed be a lasting partnership.

Combine quality contemporary romance with a strong dose of humor and what you get is Jayne Ann Krentz in top form. Flash delivers. I recommend it.

--Cathy Sova


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