Beauty Queen

The Dangerous Gentleman

The Devil's Love

Highlander in Love

The Ruthless Charmer

The Secret Lover

Wedding Survivor

Wicked Angel

Extreme Bachelor by Julia London
(Berkeley Sensation, $7.99, R) ISBN 0-425-20919-9
Five years ago, Leah Klein (or Kleinschmit as she used to be known) had a promising future as an actress and a boyfriend she believed was about to commit. Then, Michael Raney announced that they were over and that he was moving to Austria. Leah had a big breakdown and never really got her life back on track. She shares a shabby house in a shabby neighborhood with a shabby friend who, like her, only gets shabby roles. Her tiny part in a Hollywood feature film might be her last chance. So when she realizes Michael is one of the stunt coordinators, she is determined to keep her distance and not let him ruin her life a second time.

Michael Ranney still regrets the decision he made five years ago. Unbeknownst to Leah, he was actually a CIA operative about to go on an overseas mission. Though he could have shared his information with her and asked her to wait for him, the very idea of commitment gave him cold feet, and he preferred to leave. He is resolved not to botch his second chance with the only woman he has ever loved.

Needless to say all Michael's efforts at truth and reconciliation don't go very far. Leah does not believe he had a spy past, and has no compunction making a joke of his confession and turning him into a laughing stock for the entire cast and crew. When Michael buys her a carful of orchids, she divvies them up with the other actresses. And when she finally starts to warm up to him, she has to deal with his extreme bachelor reputation and with his former enemy now on the set in pursuit of revenge.

Leah and Michael sparkle the occasional moments they forget their grievances, and it is easy to see why they might have a future together. Unfortunately, they spend far too much time dragging their feet and rehashing the same old conflicts over and over again. What's worse, I fully sympathize with Leah's inability to forgive and forget. The guy ruined her life but shows very little signs of having paid for his bad decision. I was torn between my sense of indignant realism (were she a friend, I would urge her to walk away) and my desire for romantic fulfillment (she's the heroine and requires a happy-ever-after). The long and protracted reconciliation process didn't really produce a happy compromise, and I closed the book feeling that neither justice nor romance had been served.

Nor did I find the comic part of the romantic comedy equation all that humorous. I suppose there is something funny when a kidnapped couple gets relationship advice from a terrorist whose own wife cheated him, but watching he-men teach a bevy of babes how to fight just doesn't stoke my laughs. I found the masculine puzzlement about endless female babble annoying, and when the stunts men complained how their students were quarrelling over the latest in shoeware instead of maneuvering through white-water, my lips didn't even twitch. Then again, humor is fairly subjective, and others might find these scenes hysterical.

Michael is the second bachelor in the Thrillseekers Anonymous to get his story. I just hope the next adventure from this group of four friends who provide adventure service to the rich and famous won't be such an extreme frustration.

--Mary Benn

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