The Man Behind the Badge
by Vickie Taylor
(Silh. Int. Mom. #916, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07916-8
Balance. In my opinion, this is the key to a good romantic suspense novel. Neither the love story nor the suspense must take over the book. Instead, they must be woven together so that the one enhances the other. New author Vickie Taylor understands this principle. The Man Behind the Badge is a very good example of romantic suspense done as it ought to be.

FBI Agent Jason Stateler has spent four months in deep cover investigating a ring of hijackers. These guys have been stealing and then reselling electronic equipment. As he approaches the warehouse where they do business, he discovers that two of the goons have found a woman snooping about and are about to dispose of her in a most unpleasant fashion. So he steps in, kisses the woman passionately and announces that she is his girlfriend who has come to meet him. He just hopes that his actions don't blow his cover.

Imagine his surprise when the woman he rescued pulls a gun on him and announces that he is under arrest. It turns out that she is Lane McCullough, a detective with the Atlanta police department who has been investigating the same hijackers.

Jason's and Lane's bosses decide that the two should team up in pursuit of the baddies. After all, the hijackers will expect to see the two together after Jason's action. Jason is very, very resistant. He doesn't like working with anybody and he doesn't like his response to that kiss. But orders are orders.

Both Jason and Lane have a lot of personal baggage. Jason feels responsible for the death of the last person who was his partner, the woman he loved. Lane feels responsible for the accident that killed her father and crippled her twin sister. Thrown together in difficult and dangerous circumstances just increases the immediate attraction they felt for each other.

While I usually prefer relationships to build over time rather than to instantly blaze up, I find that I can accept fast developing attractions when the hero and heroine face danger together. In such a situation, when the adrenaline is pumping, when everything but the need to survive is swept away, when all emotions are heightened, falling in love fast seems more probable. Taylor does a fine job of showing how and why Jason and Lane fall for each other so hard and so fast.

Taylor also does a fine job of sustaining the suspense. When a meeting turns into an ambush, Jason and Lane realize not only that their cover has been blown, but that someone has betrayed them, either someone in the FBI or someone in the police department. They have no one to trust but each other.

The suspense is palpable. I always know when an author has succeeded in sustaining the suspense when I find myself putting down the book as the tension grows. Not because I am uninvolved, but because I am too involved. I had to put this one down more than once and catch my breath. And even though I did figure out who the villain was just a tad before Jason did, Taylor did keep me guessing for quite a while.

Taylor does a fine job of creating her characters. Jason is a tough guy on the surface, but underneath, he is carrying lots of pain and guilt. That he tries to resist admitting his growing feelings for Lane is perfectly understandable. Lane is a contemporary heroine in every regard. She is brave, bright and good looking. She understands Jason's pain and wants to heal him. She doesn't fully realize that she needs healing as well.

The Man Behind the Badge is a most promising debut novel. Taylor has a real feel for romantic suspense and I look forward to her future books.

--Jean Mason

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