Cabin Fever

Father to Be

First Kiss

Getting Lucky

Heaven on Earth

The Horseman's Bride

More Than a Hero

Murphy's Law

Older, Wiser...Pregnant

One Stormy Night

The Princess & the Mercenary

Rogue's Reform

The Sheriff's Surrender

Some Enchanted Season

Somebody's Hero

Forbidden Stranger
by Marilyn Pappano
(SRS #1495, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0.373-27565-6
Rick Calloway and Amanda Nelson grew up in the same small Georgia town of Copper Lake. The Calloway family was the town’s largest employer, and Rick and his three brothers ruled the roost in the clichéd life of high school students. The Nelson family was from the other side of town, and the breadwinner had been paralyzed by an accident involving Calloway Industries. Treated poorly by the Calloways, Amanda’s mother was forced to work two or three jobs to support them.

The final summer the Nelsons lived there, Amanda had taken a job with the Calloways to help. Also employed there was Rick’s much younger brother Robbie. Quickly a friendship formed and Robbie tried very hard to get Amanda into his bed. She refused and in response he nicknamed her “Randy Mandy” virtually destroying her reputation by his boasts to his friends.

More than a decade later Robbie is now an attorney and Rick, the older and more responsible one, is with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He is working undercover as a bartender at Almost Heaven, a bar featuring exotic dancers and “special parties.” He and his partner Julia are there to investigate the disappearance of three exotic dancers. The owner claims they each had “better offers.” No one had heard from them since, and their cars have all ended up in chop shops.

Amanda works at Almost Heaven as an exotic dancer. She had taken the job to support herself, put herself through college, purchased a house and has only five weeks left to retirement. She has accepted a job as an instructor in English at the local college. Amanda recognizes Rick instantly when he comes to work, almost quits, but realizes he does not remember her.

Rick’s partner Julia has been ordered to become an exotic dancer by her employers, and Rick arranges with Amanda to teach Julia enough to get a job there. Julia is also posing as Rick’s significant other. Julia is uptight, focused, prissy and pretty much the opposite in all ways wrong for the job of exotic dancer.

Pappano develops great strong characters, both principal and secondary, and has the art of interaction perfected. Very skillfully, she humanizes the world of exotic dancing, spanning the gambit from the rigorous body conditioning to the variety of costumes needed.

Amanda is attracted to Rick and departs from her mantra of her working years, and reluctantly becomes involved with someone at work. Her very focused approach to getting her degree and teaching has left little time for even dating. And of course Rick is attracted to Amanda but realizes that getting involved with someone who might be involved in the possible crime they are investigating would be a real career ender.

The story moves quickly, the pacing is excellent and Pappano does her usual fine job of great dialog and taking the reader deep into the lives of her characters. The resolution is a bit iffy, but pitted against the fun of the read becomes OK. Fans have come to expect that Pappano will maintain her usual high standards in every offering, and as always, she delivers.

--Thea Davis

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