Lt. Kent: Lone Wolf by Judith Lyons
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1398, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24398-7
***
If you read much romance, the title of this book will tell you most of what you need to know about the story. Although the writer has done a pretty good job in the telling, I found it too formulaic to be totally engaging.

Jason Kent is a former military man and mercenary. His final mission left him with a shattered knee and a disfiguring scar on one side of his face. (Have you noticed it’s always just one side of the face? I guess anything else would play havoc with the cover art.) His lack of mobility shames and embarrasses him, and he thinks the scar makes him too hideous to go out in public.

Fortunately, before the incident, he bought a12th century “gothic mansion” (brought from Europe and reassembled by the previous owner) on a private mountain in Montana and he’s lived there as a bitter (but rich) recluse for three years. He desperately wants a wife and children but “knows” that these are out of the question because women only love handsome men - the rest is just commerce. I guess plastic surgery to fix the scar would have interrupted the pity party.

Jason’s barricades are rudely breached (in the middle of a blizzard, naturally) by Angie Rose. Angie is a reporter sent to do a magazine article on the orphanage for hard-to-place children that Jason founded and supports. For undisclosed but heavily hinted-at reasons she cannot face all those needy kids, so she decides the mysterious benefactor would make a better story.

Angie manages to find the obscure road into Jason’s home but her car breaks down a couple of miles from the house, forcing her to walk the rest of the way. In the event that the useless car and the blizzard are insufficient to get her in the door, the author has also sent her out in Montana in winter wearing nothing but tennis shoes on her feet. Jason sees no alternative but to invite her in, even though she’ll be stuck there for days.

After the initial gasp and recoil, Angie realizes Jason’s scar isn’t all that bad. Maybe even kinda sexy. Jason is instantly attracted to the pretty reporter but her first shocked reaction to his face just reminds him of how unattainable women now are for him.

Do you feel like you’ve read this before? I’m not supposed to give away any more of the plot, although in this case I don’t think it’d make a lot of difference - anything unique about this book is in the window dressing, the fundamentals have been cut from a well-worn pattern.

Angie has a deep, dark secret of her own, something she “knows” prevents her from having a future with Jason or any man. She castigates Jason for hiding from life, but won’t even tell him what her problem is. Unfortunately for the reader, the “secret” is so glaringly obvious that all the coy mystery gets old really quickly.

In fact, it was really difficult for me to work up any sympathy for either of these characters because they’re so unrelentingly sorry for themselves.

The romance, however, is lovely. When Jason and Angie get together and open up a little they generate real heat and there are some imaginative moments that were captivating. I loved the little by-play with her painted toenails and Jason is written as a strong, tender and romantic lover who clearly has a lot to give the woman who can make him want to put down all that baggage.

On the other hand, while I want the romance to be appealing, what earns any novel four or five hearts is the feeling that you must read every word. Even in a familiar scenario it’s the sense of discovery, the need to know what surprise lies just over the page, that makes a story compelling. The rest of it can’t just be a placeholder to fill up the spaces in between kisses. Don’t misunderstand me. There are no big mis-steps in this book - it’s well structured and written by someone who can produce realistic description and dialogue - but I’d have happily sacrificed some of the competence for more originality.

--Judi McKee


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