Captive Star by Nora Roberts
(Silhouette Intimate Moments 823, $3.99, PG) ISBN# 0-373-07823-4
****
Captive Star is the second book in the Stars of Mithra trilogy. This series revolves around three former college roommates: Bailey -- a gemologist, Grace -- a model, and M.J. -- a bar owner. As friends, they share a special bond of trust and love that asks no questions.

In Hidden Star, the first book of the trilogy, Bailey tries to save the three blue diamonds of the Stars of Mithra setting from theft. To do so, she splits them, keeping one herself, and couriering one each to M.J. and Grace. Bailey is now safely in hiding, and Captive Star follows the journey of the second blue diamond in M.J.'s possession.

Nora Roberts has certainly picked up the pace in this story. Exploding onto the scene is Jack Dakota, self-styled scholar and knight-errant. By choice, he is a skip tracer. A bail bondsman has hired Jack to bring in M.J. O'Leary, who has allegedly skipped out on a criminal court appearance.

This turns out to be no easy chore. M.J., well versed in the martial arts, gives him a real run for his money. Finally he subdues her having "handled himself with speed, strength and an admirable streak of mean." As he is congratulating himself, a very large thug roars into the room, gun in hand, demanding that Jack hand over M.J.

Since Jack is the type who does not takes instruction well, he resists and, with M.J.'s assistance, manages to knock out the thug. Realizing that he has been the victim of a set-up, Jack drags M.J. out of the apartment and they flee the scene.

Jack demands to know what there is about M.J. that caused the situation. And M.J. secretly fears the diamond that has just arrived may have something to do with their troubles. Having initiated their acquaintance with physical combat, Jack adds insult to injury by handcuffing M.J. to whatever is available in order to keep her from fleeing. It's not exactly the basis for a trusting relationship.

Roberts has created two very likable and fun characters who are exactly alike. This is not a yin and yang pairing. Jack and M.J. are good-looking, overeducated, vibrant, volatile individuals who must learn to work together both for their mutual safety and to find Bailey and learn the truth about what is happening.

The challenge in reviewing an author as prolific as Nora Roberts is finding something original to say. Every TRR reviewer has commented in past reviews about her interesting and often compelling characters who are usually placed in clever and unique situations. We have all marveled at her imagination as evidenced by her witty dialogue. All of this applies to Captive Star.

But I found something else as well. Structurally, the first two books of the Mithra Trilogy are far more complex than I first realized. In an unusual move, Nora Roberts has created a series in which all of the stories take place at the same time. Instead of a traditional sequential chronicling of events, Roberts is weaving a story of three people in three separate but interrelated books, each taking place in the same week. Each story protects one part of the whole, and each chapter fills out (and reinforces) the story a little more without conflicting with what has gone before.

This is done with an enviable and apparent effortlessness and with a bare minimum of back story. Does this book stand alone? I don't know, but since it's written by Nora Roberts, why would you want to stop at just one?

--Thea Davis


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