Hot On His Heels
by Isabel Sharpe
(Harl. Tempt. #873, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-373-25973-5
***
Tracy Richards is bracing herself for another of her father’s insufferable society parties when she meets a stranger on the beach and experiences major tingles. Something unspoken happens between the two, but the hunk jogs off before she can compose herself. When her 3 best friends learn of the encounter, they practically dare Tracy to track the guy down. Thinking that the mission will likely prove futile, she accepts on one condition - when and if her friends share a similar jolt of awareness they must follow through as well. So begins Harlequin’s latest trip into Series-Land: Manhunting.

Finding the hunky jogger proves quite easy, as he quickly reappears and Tracy invites him into Daddy’s party. The hunk, Paul Sanders, while dressed like a beach bum, is anything but. He is actually CEO of his own advertising agency and was merely checking out the Richards’. Daddy Richards is CEO of 21st Century Produce, and is currently looking for someone to hawk his new genetically engineered tomato. The sudden and fierce attraction with daughter Tracy is an unexpected distraction.

The couple immediately gets off to a bad start when Paul gives a false name, and assumes that Tracy is some poor little rich girl who gets her kicks by seducing men of lesser means. When she learns what he truly thinks of her, she cuts him down to size with a verbal insult that had me rubbing my hands with glee. Unfortunately, she doesn’t learn her lesson. Imagine her surprise when the hunky beach bum shows up at 21st Century Produce vying for their ad campaign. Worse yet, she’s still wildly attracted to him.

This story has a multitude of problems - the most glaring being the hero. I wanted to shake Paul until his teeth rattled. He has a chip on his shoulder the size of a small European country, assumes the worst about Tracy, proceeds to lie to her, and concocts a half-baked revenge plan - all because she soundly insulted him and wounded his precious male ego.

Tracy fares slightly better as I found her charming and funny. The book’s best moments are told from her point of view, and I found several of her sarcastic comments giggle-inducing. However, she too begins to wear a little thin with her repeated resistance to her family’s relatively new money status. She looks to her friends and father for grounding and advice, but what she really needs is a shrink who can help her work through her fear of change.

So how did this book escape 2-heart territory? A couple of reasons actually, one being the humor, the other being Tracy’s friends. So often in romance the best friend is relegated to a crying on the shoulder session while the heroine relates her insecurities about the hero. Not here, as Sharpe keeps the friends on canvas throughout the book. While it smacks dangerously close to Sex and the City territory, it was still a nice element, and their conversations did have me chuckling often.

Even with behavior that originally set my teeth on edge, the couple did grow on me by the close of the last chapter. Paul morphs into something slightly human, and even with her fear of change, Tracy is still likeable. While Hot On His Heels never managed to rise above lukewarm on my scale, it may register higher marks among readers who find the Manhunting series premise appealing.

--Wendy Crutcher


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