Breathless by Kimberly Raye
(Harl. Tempt. #728, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25828-3
***
Tack Brandon has returned home to Inspiration, Texas, for the first time in ten years. He's missed his father's funeral by a few hours and is getting drunk in the local honky-tonk. Correction – he's getting plastered. Annie Divine, the girl that Tack loved and left, decides that he needs help before he makes a fool of himself or gets into trouble. She takes him back to his motel and, just as though he hadn't been gone for ten years, makes wild love to him. The next morning he awakens and wonders if he's imagined it all. When he finds her panties, he realizes that his dreams did come true.

Tack and Annie share a strange past. On the night that Tack's mother died, ten years ago, his father had been with Annie's mother, wild Cherry Divine. It was also the night that Tack took Annie's virginity. Later that night, when he found out about his mother's death, he left town for good. He's done well as a top money-winning motocross racer. He's only home for long enough to sell his father's ranch, property that he always felt meant more to his dad than his own family did. He's unsettled when he realizes that it may be more difficult to surrender his family's land than he'd originally thought.

After Tack left, Annie stayed in Inspiration to nurse her mother, dying of cancer. During that time, she was able to do something that Tack hadn't achieved. She forgave his father. Now Annie is a professional photographer who wants to leave Inspiration and head to the big city. She's sent out résumés, just as Tack is returning. Ah, cross-purposes.

Annie's editor and good friend Deb is the comic relief. She rarely appears without her trademark coffee cup with its saying de jour. I'd love to know where to buy cups which read 100% Bitch or Ballbuster and Proud of It. Deb and a local rancher are dancing around each other, while they alternately provoke the other or engage in high-class lust. It was great fun to see how they played off each other.

Blaze books, known for their sensuality, aren't always consistent. Breathless seemed to force the issue of sexuality. When Tack visits Annie the day after their memorable evening, he pulls her panties from his pocket . . . in front of her coworkers. That kind of braggadocio stunt might seem clever to horny teenagers, but for a grown man to pull such a stunt seems classless, a poor white trash approach to winning his lady love. Is that something that we're supposed to find sexy?

Another example of the forced sexuality occurs when Annie is doing some outdoor photography and spies on Tack as he eats a peach. Tack is aware that Annie is spying on him, but is so nonchalant that Annie's convinced that he isn't aware of her presence. He's so aware that he's preening, eating the peach, sucking it and licking the juice as it runs down his body. Many of you might be too young to remember the wonderfully exaggerated dinner scene in Tom Jones, but food that's sticky or greasy isn't sexy to me. Smearing something like honey (or peach juice) on body parts just makes me itchy, not for sensual reasons, but because I don't think that being sticky is sexy.

Tack and Annie have deep, important issues that they need to resolve. Tack learns more about his father and his father's relationship with Annie's mother. The ending is wrapped up neatly, too neatly, in that big red bow approach. So many stories have O. Henry's Gift of the Magi theme, sacrificing all for love. It happens here, and it's not too convincing for either character.

Parts of Breathless were easy to read. Small towns can be sweet and lively, with everybody knowing everybody else's business, in a gentle, caring way. Other parts of the story, the parts that were meant to be sexy, but seemed forced, made this a less than recommended read. I liked Breathless, but I would have liked it more had the intimacy been more natural and less juvenile.

--Linda Mowery


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