As Karen Drogin:

Perfect Partners

Simply Sinful by Carly Phillips
(Harl. Tempt. #775, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25875-5
Carly Phillips is one busy writer. She's now done three books for Temptation and using her own name of Karen Drogin, she's written three for Zebra Bouquet, all published in 1999 and 2000. It really doesn't matter what name she uses. Talent shines through, and this woman is one talented writer.

Simply Sinful is a study in complex characters. Kayla Luck is a beautiful woman who's always been bothered that most people aren't willing to look below the surface to see the intelligent, compassionate, vulnerable woman lurking below the surface. She's put her dreams on hold while her sister Catherine goes to culinary school. Kayla is going to be running her late aunt's business, Charmed!. When her aunt was alive, the school was an "old fashioned service offering ballroom dancing and dating etiquette." Now Kayla will concentrate on her language skills and offer classes to executives who'll be traveling overseas.

Detective Kane McDermott is a frustrated cop. He's been given an assignment which he considers fluff. He's been told to investigate Charmed! to see if it's a front for an escort service rather than a school for awkward businessmen. Meeting Kayla Luck, who is one sexy woman, does make him wonder.

What gives Simply Sinful its external conflict is a sinister character who attacks Kayla. At first it seems to be a random attack, but when the creep calls and begins to harass Kayla, we know that something more is about to happen.

Simply Sinful is much more an internal conflict book. Ms. Phillips is skilled enough to know that a plot with too much external and too much internal conflict could have been overkill, considering the page constraints of a category. She instead concentrates on the characters: their backgrounds, their motivations and their sometimes flawed reasoning. And let's not forget the dynamite sexual attraction.

Both have childhood baggage. Kayla's is credible but is not so destructive that it's robbed her of life's joys. Not so with Kane. While I won't reveal the source of his internal conflict, it's entirely believable that such an event, such a tragedy could cause a person to be wary of relationships and the everyday give and take compromises which are the framework of a normal relationship. Kayla, knowing the cause of Kane's reluctance to a committed relationship, intelligently sets out to make him realize that loving doesn't have to equate to losing.

Simply Sinful is a Blaze book, and it does the line proud. This is sexuality at its finest. Even though Kane professes interest in nothing more than a casual relationship with Kayla, his deep-rooted longing for affection shines through. He's attentive, inventive, adventurous...and that's just in the bedroom.

There's something that I'd like compliment Ms. Phillips on, something that may be a pattern. I noticed this same treatment in her wonderful book, Brazen. When Kayla finds out that Kane had initially considered her to be a prostitute, she doesn't blow up, have a snit or indulge in major histrionics. Sure, she's peeved, but that incident doesn't overshadow the rest of the book. There are some writers how could write a whole book around the "Poor, shocked me" syndrome, but Ms. Phillips has her characters behave realistically and more important, maturely. That adroit handling of her characters makes the whole book more enjoyable.

After you've finished Simply Sinful, you'll be glad to know that next month Catherine Luck's story will be told in Simply Scandalous (HT 779). It's another Blaze book, and from the blurb, it sounds like it's going to be a winner. Here's hoping that Cat is portrayed as intelligently, as savvy and as fully faceted as her sister Kayla. And if Cat's hero is in the same league as Kane, get ready for some great reading.

--Linda Mowery

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