Drive Me Wild by Julie Ortolon
(Dell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-440-23618-5
****
Contemporary romance lovers will be closing the covers of Drive Me Wild with a big smile on their faces. Julie Ortolon's debut book is a delight from start to finish.

Television Anchor Brent Michaels is startled to get a phone call from his Texas hometown. Will he come back home and be the star attraction in a version of The Dating Game, all in the name of charity? His first instinct is to say no, but he can't refuse an old friend -- and the voice on the other end of the line belongs to Laura Morgan, the only person in Beason's Ferry he ever cared about. Before he can examine his motives too closely, Brent agrees to be the celebrity bachelor.

Laura Beth Morgan can hardly believe what she's done. After years of a pallid existence under her widowed father's roof, she's managed to do something outrageous -- drag Brent Michael Zartlich back home. He was the boy she loved as a teenager, but the man is someone she doesn't know. Could he possibly see her as anything but the gawky girl he left behind fifteen years ago?

When Brent deliberately picks Laura from the Dating Game lineup, events are set in motion that will bring these two close once again. Laura grabs this chance to let loose and their dinner date moves from stuffy country club to poolhall to drag race on a backroad. Brent is astonished to discover a side of Laura he never knew as a boy, one that is as fascinating as it is irresistible. Their instant attraction flares up in the front seat of his car, of all places, and when Brent pulls back and out of her life, Laura decides to go after him. Time to leave Beason's Ferry for Houston and a taste of the city. Complete with Brent Michaels.

What ensues is an affair hot enough to scorch the pages, as Brent finds he can't live without Laura, and Laura tries to make him see what they could have together.

Ortolon's writing style is reminiscent of Jennifer Crusie and Rachel Gibson in some aspects. Certainly the dialogue is a standout. Laura Beth, for all that she's been somewhat trapped in Beason's Ferry, is no shrinking violet when it comes to her attraction to Brent. As she throws off her father's disapproval and sets out to try a different life for herself, readers will find themselves responding with a mental "Yes!"

In fact, her father's immersion in grief for twenty years, and the subsequent explanation at the end, were the only things in the story that didn't quite ring true. I was glad to see that the father didn't occupy a major role.

Brent, for all that he's wrapped himself in a cloak of "love 'em and leave 'em", is surprisingly sweet. This is a man who truly believes he cannot love, that all the good feelings he has toward Laura are only temporary in nature, and beneath all that there is a longing for the real thing. If he'd only recognize it. Is this a real love? Or will it, too, become just another passing fancy? How can he trust himself to know? All he knows for certain is that he cannot seem to live without the happiness that Laura Beth Morgan brings to his life, and he'll do just about anything to keep her in it.

Readers who like their stories with some sensual spice will not be disappointed. Ortolon proves that she can write a steamy love scene with the best of them. This romance sizzles.

Hats off to a bright new voice in the contemporary romance field. Drive Me Wild is going to do just that to a lot of romance readers!

--Cathy Sova


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