Silken Betrayal by Francis Ray
(Pinnacle, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-0426-6
Silken Betrayal opens with the arrival in Shreveport of Jordan Hamilton, CEO of Crescent Communications. He's there to negotiate a possible business deal with Scott Resources, a carefully chosen target. For owner Benjamin Scott has an executive secretary named Lauren Bennett. And Lauren may be the key to revenge on the man who was responsible for the death of Jordan's father.

Lauren has a few ghosts of her own. A single mother, she lives in quiet anonymity with her little boy, Joshua. Joshua's father died before Josh was born, in a mysterious auto accident that also claimed the life of Lauren's mother. Joshua's grandparents ran Lauren out of town. She wants nothing more than to stay out of their way.

So why would this reserved widow attract the attentions of a hotshot like Jordan? Lauren can't figure it out, and she's determined to hold him at arm's length. Jordan, for his part, isn't prepared for the attraction he feels for pretty Lauren. After all, he's wined and dined far more beautiful women. Why should this one, the one he needs to complete his revenge scheme, tie him up in knots so?

Francis Ray has crafted a pleasant story about two confused and essentially lonely people. The plot isn't anything new, but at least she makes the instrument-of-revenge-turned-lover idea work here. And the secondary characters are lots of fun. There's Jordan's hulking cousin, Drake, whose football-player body hides a brilliant mind. And especially there is Sonja, the plump, wisecracking neighbor who urges Lauren to put the past behind her and reach out for a future. I thought she was wonderful.

My biggest reservation was that there didn't seem to be enough conflict to sustain the length of the book. Lauren is attracted to Jordan. Then she pushes him away. Then they get closer, then she orders him out of her life, again. Over and over. It grew tiresome and eventually had the effect of making Lauren appear immature and not very introspective. She wasn't willing to face up to her growing feelings, let alone deal with them. Since she's initially presented as a capable single mother, making her way in the world, it was jarring.

And the ending seemed rushed and a little too pat, given the supposed nastiness of the villain.

But overall, this is a decent read. Pinnacle's Arabesque line has enjoyed growing popularity with readers of multicultural romance, and Silken Betrayal will no doubt add to that success. Francis Ray has a clean style and a sure touch with contemporary dialogue. I know we'll be seeing more of her efforts in the future.

--Cathy Sova

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