After Midnight

Call of Duty

The Captain's Woman

The Colonel's Daughter

The Harder They Fall

The Horse Soldier

Hot as Ice

The Mercenary
& the New Mom

The Officer's Bride

Return to Sender

River Rising

The Tiger's Bride

Undercover Groom

The First Mistake
by Merline Lovelace
(Mira, $6.99, R) 0-7783-2164-9
It would be remiss of me not to share the most memorable line from this book. The heroine, Cleo North, is referring to the almost-hero Jack Donovan:

He was the only man who’d ever made her pop her cork with just a few thrusts of his hips.

Ah, romance. Ain’t it grand?

Cleo North owns her own private security company. Her background in security and investigation is from training and experience she gained as a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. She chafed under military restrictions and returned to civilian life. On her first investigation with the OSI ten years ago her intuition sensed something was amiss with Sergeant Debra Smith, but she didn’t follow through. Soon afterwards Smith was shot to death by her lover Staff Sergeant Thomas Mitchell who committed suicide.

Major Jack Donovan approaches her on behalf of her former commander, General Barnes. Barnes wants her to rethink her refusal to provide security for high-profile Hollywood actress Marisa Conners. The actress has been invited to attend a Santa Fe film festival as a featured guest. Marisa plays the Virgin Mary in her most recent film which is set to open at the festival, and she has received threats from many ultra-conservative groups and individuals opposed to her portrayal. One of the officials overseeing the festival is retired Major General Alexander Sloan.

What neither Barnes nor Jack Donovan knows is that Cleo has arranged this situation so that she can investigate Sloan utilizing access to the OSI databases. A chance meeting at an airport gave Cleo a tip that linked Sloan to Debra Smith. Cleo still feels that she was partly responsible for Smith’s fate, and she is hoping to uncover the truth behind the crime.

Jack Donovan is assigned to act as liaison with Cleo. He and Barnes believe that Cleo’s capitulation into accepting the job heading Marisa’s personal security was suspiciously easy, but they don’t know what she’s up to. Cleo and Jack have a personal history, but their affair fell apart soon after it heated up when Jack was contacted by his alcoholic ex-wife.

Things turn dangerous when it appears that the threats against Marisa are very real. Also on the scene is Alex Sloan’s identical twin brother, Marcus Sloan, who is attracted to Cleo.

The First Mistake is the first installment in a Cleo North trilogy; the books are to be released in over three successive months. (My compliments to the publisher for this marketing strategy: too often the books in a trilogy are released so far apart that readers are doomed to forget more than they remember from one book to the next.) This series is designed as romantic suspense, but at least in this first episode the emphasis is on suspense with only minimal attention to romance. (The R-rating reflects the violence more than the level of sensuality.)

Cleo North is a definite kick-ass heroine with designer clothes and a take-charge attitude. Jack Donovan may want to believe that he’s running the show, but readers know otherwise. Cleo’s made a successful career for herself and doesn’t need a man to be complete. She’s a welcome change from the winsome heroine who requires a man to solve her problems.

While Cleo and Jack have a history and things seem to be set up for them to restart their romance, the presence of Marc Sloan and the continuing connection with the former Mrs. Donovan leave the eventual outcome in doubt.

Possibly the best aspect of The First Mistake is how the spoiled Marisa Conners turns out to have more depth of character than many similar fictional characters. In fact, the protect-Marisa subplot assumes dominance for a good part of the book, and the investigate-Alex plot only gets back on track as the book is nearing the end.

Its uneven plotting keeps The First Mistake from receiving more than a three-heart rating, but the series has potential. Readers may want to check it out.

--Lesley Dunlap

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