Megan's Mark

Dangerous Games
by Lora Leigh
(St Martin’s, $6.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-312-93992-2
One of my pet peeves with the romance industry is books which are billed as “romantic suspense” but which turn out to have little of either. Dangerous Games sells us short on suspense: no mystery, no thrills, no chair-gripping tension, just a lot of vague warnings and threatening proclamations. The romance does somewhat better, but it’s still not enough to carry the novel.

Morganna Chavez has been in love with her next door neighbor since, well, forever, but he has always rejected her advances. It’s not only that she’s seven years younger, his best friend’s little sister and his little sister’s best friend; it’s also that he can’t trust himself with her. He’s terrified he’ll turn out like his abusive father. So Clint keeps away. He thinks his temporary encounters with the Morganna-lookalikes he meets at Diva’s and other BDSM (bondage-domination-submission-masochism) clubs is enough.

Then one day, Morganna shows up at the club. She gave up waiting on Clint several years ago and decided she wanted to do something more useful than be an obedient housewife or a legal secretary. After graduating from a Law Enforcement Academy (how’s that for a vague cover-all institution?), she was hired by the DEA. Her first task as an undercover agent is to infiltrate Atlanta’s private sex clubs and find out who is behind the date-rape drugs that have resulted in several gruesome sexual assaults and deaths.

Clint’s first reaction is to go alpha dog on Morganna (truth be told, he is more dog than alpha). His second is to ask her to leave. His third is to agree to help the DEA but only if she is taken off the case. Before anything much can happen, someone attacks Morganna at her house. Suspecting that it may be a Columbian drug lord he helped bring down, Clint reluctantly agrees that his best strategy is to let Morganna continue undercover — as sub to his dom.

All this may sound as if there is some serious investigating, but, trust me, ninety percent of this newly-formed task force has nothing to do with either the date-drug or the drug lord and everything to do with sexual pleasures. By this time, Clint has set aside his scruples about Morganna and initiated her into new sensations. These scenes are hot, if what that means is that they don’t stop at or even begin with the standard missionary position. In fact, Morganna and Clint play with toys and body parts that definitely warrant an NC-17 rating. None of it, not even the BDSM parts, is offensive (on the contrary, Morganna’s reluctance to comply completely with her designated role is somewhat entertaining), but it frequently fades into a purplish hue and eventually all the writhing, thrashing and squealing get boring.

Dealing with Clint’s angst and issues countered what could have quickly become one set of gymnastics after another. While Morganna’s repeated attempts to bring comfort and sanity to their relationship were reassuring, Clint was too high-keyed, melodramatic and hysterical to earn my sympathy.

At least, this relationship drama made sense. Which is more than I can say for the alleged DEA undercover operation. It wasn’t even off the ground before it started to unravel. Nevertheless, Leigh and the men and women of her underground club threaten to be back. I seriously doubt that there will be any more substance to their stories. Nothing wrong with a quick, titillating read, but I do hope she and her publishers will think twice before using the “romantic suspense” label.

--Mary Benn

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