Elusive Passion by Kathryn Smith
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-81610-5
As the years have gone by, I have come to realize that my love for fiction stems from my desire to escape my every day, ordinary existence. Kathryn Smith’s debut romance is not only a page-turning read, but wonderful escapist fun.

Miles Christian, the Marquess of Wynter, has just found out that his former mistress has been murdered. The news comes as quite a shock, doubly so since he’s informed of her demise at gunpoint. Abducted while walking the street, Miles’ captor accuses him of murdering Bella Mancini, and plans to shoot him for a crime he didn’t commit. But Miles gets the upper hand, and eludes his kidnapper.

Varya is a renowned concert pianist who is hungry for revenge. Discovering her best friend’s murdered corpse, she just knows that Miles Christian is the one responsible. The handsome man broke Bella’s heart, and Varya is sure of his guilt. So how does she go about proving it? By taking him from the street at gunpoint of course! Too bad the charming man managed to get away.

Miles and Varya meet again after one of her concerts, when her cover is blown sky high. The two don’t trust each other, but know that working together makes sense. However, while searching for clues Miles and Varya soon find themselves in a compromising position. If they want to continue their search of Bella’s killer, they’ll have to turn regency society on its ear, with Varya posing as Miles’ newest mistress.

Elusive Passion sports a likeable romantic couple, who actively engaged me in the story. Varya is a fetching mystery, one who doesn’t have a last name for the first half of the book. Russian by birth, she flees her homeland for a very compelling reason, making a living as the “Elusive Varya” and playing the concert circuit. She is reluctant to trust Miles with her secrets, and feels more than slightly disloyal when she finds herself attracted to her friend’s ex-lover.

Miles cared for Bella, but was unable to give her what she truly wanted. Married once before, his first union ended unhappily, causing Miles to vow never to marry again. However, meeting Varya seriously ruffles his feathers, and he finds that he can’t stay away from the compelling little baggage. She is unlike any woman he has known before, and the secrecy surrounding her past is more than a bit intriguing.

I liked Miles and Varya, but what makes Elusive Passion a solid recommendation is all the charming extras. First, this debut author can really turn a phrase. There are several instances where I was marking pages and rereading sections. Gems like, “The rich man’s disease - after gout - was boredom,” and “Come now, Miles. Weren’t you capable of making an ass of yourself long before you ever met me?” make for engaging dialogue with plenty of wit.

Smith also infuses the story with some wonderfully charming secondary characters in the form of Miles’ best friend, Carny, and his younger sister, Blythe. In fact, Blythe is so utterly fabulous, I’m hoping that the author has a sequel in the works. She’s too ingenious of a character to spend her whole existence in a secondary role.

An engaging story, an interesting mystery angle and nicely drawn characters make Elusive Passion a solid, entertaining read. A great way to unwind after a long day, it gets my stamp of approval for being good clean escapist fun. Kathryn Smith shows a lot of promise in her debut for Avon, and here’s hoping she has more delightful stories up her sleeve.

--Wendy Crutcher

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