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Dangerous Passions by Kat Martin
(St. Martins, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-96247-9
In the fall of 1808, during the Napoleon Wars, Elissa Tauber convinces her mother, the Countess von Langen, that she is the only one capable of investigating the murder of her brother. Karl had sent one last mysterious letter home before his death he was investigating a spy known as The Falcon. Elissa wants not only to avenge her brother's death, but to save her native homeland. So she goes off to battle in the ballrooms and saloons of Austria, masquerading as a widow, and attempts to get close to the men her brother had named as possible candidates.

Elissa is willing to sacrifice it all, even her virtue if necessary. She tries to concentrate on her mission, but is entirely distracted by Colonel Adrian Kingsland, a British advisor and one time uninvited guest in her bedroom. Elise fears that Adrian might be the spy, and must fight her attraction to him, while still trying to investigate him.

Her attraction is her undoing, and she finds herself falling deeply in love with him. I admired her astuteness, she saw through to the real man behind a carefully applied mask, and stood up to Adrian on more than one occasion. It was Elissa's courageous act of brutal truth telling that saved their relationship, just as it seemed to be ending.

At first, I was not too impressed with Colonel Adrian Kingsland his sole purpose in life seemed to bedding women, and soldiering. He rather reminded me of some lust driven hound dog "virile" is a mild word for this man! But as I came to know him better, to understand the forces in his bleak childhood and young adulthood that shaped him I could forgive his randiness. And on the plus side, he was a very intelligent man just a little confused.

Adrian's self-revelation when he realized that he did indeed love Elissa Tauber.... well, those pages were some of the strongest and most eloquently written passages that I have ever read. My heart ached for him, for his despair, for his fear, and for his inability to know what to do. How grateful I was for Elissa and her own innate sense of love and deep passionate caring for Adrian.

The author, Kat Martin, has spun a lyrical love story with an interesting and intriguing plot line. The historical aspects of the period were very well handled, and added rather than interfered with the main character's relationship. Martin includes a brief author's note at the end, on the historical aspects of the story, but quite frankly, the entire book was so well written I found that note to be superfluous. Her well constructed mystery of the identity of the spy kept me guessing until the very end. I smugly thought I knew who the traitor was... and breathlessly concentrated on the love story. The secondary cast of characters were entertaining, believable, and completely necessary for the plot development.

And yes, the lovemaking scenes between Elissa and Adrian, packed with sexual tension, are quite breathtaking! There was a bit of decadent sexuality, involving some of the various villains... but on the whole they were handled very well and added to the plot of treachery and deceit.

I have polished my own personal 5 heart book definition, and redefined it to now include that misty-eyed, half sob, half gasp as I read the last few sentences and close the book. Rarely do I actually get teary eyed when reading a tender moment especially an epilogue but this one was eloquent and moving.

While this book is definitely an historical novel with its 358 pages in length Dangerous Passions has a strongly developed hero and heroine, an interesting and believable plot line, and all the good glow and page turning passion of a strong category romance. I would highly recommend it to readers who do not normally stray from the shorter though no less skilled boundaries of a category. I was never bored, I never skimmed over a word. This book tangled up my emotions, I became very involved with the characters. This just doesn't happen very often.

--Julia S. Sandlin

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