Fever Dreams by Laura Leone
(Five Star, $26.95, PG) ISBN 1-59414-087-1
It’s a bit of hyperbole for this book’s cover to proclaim that Fever Dreams is a “classic” when Leone herself, in the author’s note, remembers that seven years ago it went out of print “even more quickly than most mid-list novels do.” But somehow in those intervening years, this romantic suspense novel gained the status of cult classic, as readers kept alive its memory on Internet message boards and in used book stores. With Leone’s RITA-nominated 2003 novel Fallen From Grace reestablishing her as a strong romance novel contender, it’s not surprising that Fever Dreams has been resurrected, revised and updated, this time hopefully to reach a wider audience.  

Fever Dreams combines two of my least favorite plots – the bodyguard’s reluctant client and the one-night stand turned true love – but somehow it still works, thanks to the strong chemistry and sparkling dialogue between hero and heroine. Three months ago, Madeleine Barrington, blue-blood heiress and businesswoman, had an unforgettable one-night affair when she was unavoidably detained in the tropical country of Montedora. More than a little drunk, and feeling overburdened by family responsibilities, Maddie impulsively agreed to anonymous sex with the handsome but dangerous looking man she met in a bar. But now she’s horrified to learn that her partner that night was Ransom, an employee of the Marino Security Agency – the very man her father has hired to accompany her back to Montedora to conclude the sale of her family’s property.  

Ransom was furious when the beautiful, wild woman he slept with did a disappearing act before he could learn her name, and now that he knows her true identity he is even more irate. He assumes she was engaging in a little temporary slumming, and is embarrassed now by his very presence because he’s far from her social equal. He’ll take the bodyguard job because he has an urgent need to get out of the country, but he sure as hell isn’t going to touch her again, ever.  

Maddie is embarrassed, but not because of Ransom’s social status. That one night in Montedora she experienced mind-blowing passion and a visceral reaction to Ransom, and she’s mortified that he saw her previously untapped uninhibited side. Despite her misgivings, she and Ransom travel to Montedora, where civil unrest and political revolution turn the business trip into something much more dangerous. And once the pair find their lives in peril, it seems pointless to deny that they are both still very much attracted to each other.  

It’s not easy to make the one-night stand plot work, because the reader has to find the initial encounter sensual but also romantic, not tawdry. Leone succeeds in establishing valid reasons why both Maddie and Ransom would behave out of character in their first unforgettable meeting, and during their adventure she lets them gradually learn enough about each other’s true personality so that the reader believes love can bloom despite that inauspicious beginning.  

The bodyguard plot can be a story’s downfall as well. The heroine usually does something stupid that puts herself at risk, requiring a rescue by the hero that would have been unnecessary if she had just followed his instructions in the first place. True to form, Maddie exhibits several episodes of noble but brainless behavior, although she redeems herself in the second half of the novel when she’s forced to take care of Ransom. Not that taking care of Ransom is such a hardship. He may be a tough ex-Secret Service agent who can dispatch bad guys with gun, knife or fist, but he has a tender heart underneath, devoid of that annoying “women are bitches like my ex-wife” trauma. And when Maddie finally comes clean about why she fled after their one-night stand, Ransom’s response is appropriately macho yet incredibly sweet and romantic.  

With suspenseful action and compelling storytelling that transcend the fairly pedestrian plot, Fever Dreams deserved to be a bigger success when it was originally released. Although Five Star is not a large publisher, perhaps there will be enough reader buzz to ensure stronger sales this time around.


--Susan Scribner

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