Smoke & Mirrors by Laura Taylor
(Loveswept 903, $3.50, R) ISBN 0-553-44714-9
Bailey Kincaid is the owner of a well-drilling firm that operates in the Santa Barbara area of southern California. When a project is vandalized, she is stunned to find that the owner of the property is Patrick Sutton, her actor ex-husband's former agent and business manager. Patrick once tried to convince her to stay in a loveless marriage to a womanizer. Why did he have to turn up here?

So begins Smoke and Mirrors. The storyline was interesting enough, but I find that what I'll remember most is that the author and editors couldn't seem to get some basic math straight.

Patrick is a successful Hollywood agent with a son who is a senior in college. He remembers Bailey too well. Since her divorce five years ago, Patrick hasn't been able to get her out of his mind. He always wondered what happened to Bailey (why he didn't just give her a call was never explained) and now here she is, in the flesh. Maybe now Patrick can convince her he's not such a bad guy.

There isn't a lot of external conflict in this story, and the reader's acceptance of the internal conflict will depend on her acceptance of the old "I married a skunk and now I can't trust any man" scenario. Patrick does eventually break down Bailey's defenses, and the sex scenes are plenty hot. Readers who like that level of sensuality won't be disappointed.

But I was continually thrown off by the discordant timing of the backstory, which is presented in dribs and drabs. Patrick is 42 and has a son who is 22. His wife died in childbirth, and mention is made of Patrick caring for his son ever since, which would have been at the tender age of 20. But later in the story, we read that, after his graduation from Harvard, he'd been an officer in the Navy and a SEAL. Of course. But where was the baby? Stashed in the dorm? Parked belowdecks? This sort of nonsense is nothing if not distracting. Making the guy a former Navy SEAL added nothing to the story and made no sense, chronologically or otherwise. From Navy SEAL to Hollywood agent is a pretty far leap.

The suspense element of the story isn't much, mainly because readers with any kind of savvy will guess the culprit on page 26. There are more accidents and vandalism. Someone gets hurt. Bailey begins to trust Patrick. And of course, her old college roommate is a respected member of an international security firm and can help out.

I can rate this an acceptable read based on the character of Patrick. The author does a credible job of portraying him as a caring man who loves deeply and doesn't know how to get past the reserve of his ladylove, other than by patiently showing her he's a good guy. Over and over. Bailey came across as a stock character whose motivations didn't hold up to scrutiny. She distrusts Patrick because he once urged her not to abandon her lousy marriage, therefore he must be scum. She doesn't come right out and ask him about it, though, which left me impatient.

Smoke and Mirrors was an okay read for me. If plot contrivances and confusing chronology don't bother you, you may well have a more positive reaction than I did.

--Cathy Sova

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