The Damaron Mark: The Lovers
by Fayrene Preston
(Loveswept #908, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-44535-9
**
Note to authors: the possession of fabulous wealth does not automatically make for sympathetic or interesting characters.

Fayrene Preston's The Damaron Mark: The Lovers makes a big deal out of fabulous wealth. The brand names "Armani" and "Gucci" are dropped at opportune moments. The characters wear silk and cashmere a lot. They drive Porsches and Jaguars and live in penthouse suites. Am I supposed to be impressed?

I'd have been a lot more impressed by admirable characters I could identify with. Or an interesting plotline that's not completely predictable. Too bad for me.

This book opens with the reunion of two former friends. In fact, Kylie Damaron (of the fabulously wealthy Damarons) and David Galado (the livin'-on-the-edge operative of a secret government agency) have known each other since Kylie was five and David was fifteen. At that time, Kylie's parents, along with several of her aunts and uncles, were killed when a bomb exploded on a plane they were all traveling in. The troubled five-year-old had run to David, a family friend, for comfort, and he became a big-brother kind of protector for her from then on.

Well, at least until the night of Kylie's twenty-first birthday, when their decidedly un-sibling-like feelings took over. After a night of unbridled passion wherein Kylie lost her virginity and David felt the obligatory manly pride and possessiveness over that fact, things went a little sour. See, being a top-secret agent has its downside. The very next morning, David got called away on an urgent mission before he could do more than leave a goodbye note. Eight months later (and that's eight months with no letter or phone call, because secret missions don't allow for those luxuries), he comes waltzing back ready to pick up where he left off. Understandably, Kylie doesn't exactly have the same inclination or maybe she does, but she's too proud and hurt and angry to admit it.

But wait a minute that's not the reunion I mentioned that opens the book. That reunion comes seven years later. For some reason, it's taken seven years for these people to decide to talk about what happened. David's excuse for not acting sooner goes something like this: "well, I guess she has a right to be mad, and maybe it's for the best, and I suppose I'll just console myself by plunging into my secret agent missions with a new fervor." Right. He's a real fighter, our David. But now, after all these years, he's come home to win her back, presumably since he found out she was seeing another man.

As for Kylie, she just wants to leave what happened in the past. If she could be honest with herself, she'd admit she's never really gotten over him, but it doesn't matter anyway because he obviously doesn't care and he's never around. Besides, if she ever got involved with him, she'd always be worried about whether he'd survive each new mission, and after the trauma of losing her parents, she can't handle that.

So David pursues, Kylie retreats, and in the middle of it all, someone tries to kill one or both of them. This immediate danger forces them to confront their feelings for each other, and if they can only survive, they might have a shot at a new relationship.

A big problem with this book is that, as you can probably tell, a lot of the story has already happened. David and Kylie have such a long history that we don't get to experience most of it with them. Instead, we get expository dialogue where they conveniently tell each other things they already know, such as:

I was only five and Jo was fifteen. The boys were a little older. Yasmine was able to stay at home with Lion and their maternal grandmother, but it was decided that Jo and I would live with Abigail until we finished school.

(By the way, the above excerpt also lets you in on a few of the ridiculous names in this book. Yes, it really does say "Lion." There are also characters named "Rio" and "Sin." A minor complaint, sure, but irritating in a major way.)

Preston's alternative to expository dialogue is long flashback scenes, which completely drag the story down, since it's pretty boring to read about things that have already happened. Readers want to live in the moment with the characters, but that doesn't happen enough here because so much of the present story depends on what's happened in the past. It made me feel like I had stepped into the middle of their relationship, and I never did completely catch up.

So, between the backstory fill-ins and the suspense plot, there's not a whole lot of room left to get to know these characters. It's really hard to care about characters you don't know very well, particularly when they live in a glamorized, ultra-rich world that's like an alien planet compared to my own life.

And as if all that weren't enough, the author had to throw in a repugnant scene wherein David demands that Kylie tell him she hasn't been with another man since her one night with him. Cripes, come on! It's been seven years! I'm sure you can guess her answer, but it made me wonder what he'd have done if she hadn't been quite as pure as he'd unreasonably expected. I can just imagine how celibate he'd been in all those years.

Anyway, I advise you to think twice about this book. It's not the worst I've ever read, but it's definitely predictable, forgettable, and devoid of heart.

-- Ellen Hestand


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