Wrap Me in Scarlet
by Debra Dawn Thomas
(Zebra Bouquet #7, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6276-1
***
Debra Dawn Thomas explores a theme that's not a common one, the world of the bullfighter. Other than Barbara Faith, I don't remember anyone writing about matadors. What is appealing about Wrap Me in Scarlet is that it doesn't gloss over the dangers of bullfighting while giving us an engaging account of a world class matador.

Reporter Stephanie Madison meets matador Miguel Rafael at her brother's home. She's mesmerized by his sexuality. He is a hunk and a half. The matador has traveled from Spain to California and is hiring Stephanie's brother to help with business investments. When Stephanie's editor finds out about the meeting, he tells her to get an interview with the elusive matador. It's not going to be that easy. Miguel shuns the press.

And Stephanie shuns men. After her disastrous marriage, she's decided that she'll be better off alone, with her two cats for company. However, when Miguel appears at her apartment at 2:30 in the morning with a bottle of tequila, they both may be changing their minds. Miguel admits he's intrigued because Stephanie seems to see him as a man and not just "the greatest bullfighter who has ever lived."

Before she's had time to analyze her feelings, Stephanie is on her way to Spain to cover Miguel's latest bullfight. As the story progresses, she learns that this is no ordinary bullfight, but one which is cloaked in superstition and intrigue, involving a grudge that's lasted more than ten years. She also learns that Miguel fears that this will be his last bullfight. What she doesn't realize is that he considers Stephanie to be his salvation, the woman who will protect him from the bull in his dreams and in the ring.

The action in Wrap Me in Scarlet is what kept me reading the story. Stephanie and Miguel are not strong characters. Both doubt in the other's love. Stephanie has been warned that Miguel has an agenda and will do whatever he can to stay on top. She even questions his integrity when she thinks that he'll announce his engagement to a local woman, manipulating the press in his favor. Miguel is one of those heroes who lets all his past experiences color his relationship, to the point where it's self-pitying.

Do these people really seem on the brink of happily-ever-after?

Stephanie also doubts that she'll be able to keep Miguel's interest. Here's her killingly accurate description of him. "Miguel was no simple man to just fill a need, not the low-maintenance type who would be happy with a sixer and a remote." She also verbalizes my dissatisfaction with the development of their relationship. "Serious relationships were not based on wild passions and two weeks in Spain."The speed in which they declare their love is off-putting. It just didn't seem based on anything other than lust.

And how long has it been since a hero smoked, and both characters drank to excess?

Perhaps if Stephanie had exhibited more faith in Miguel, I could have believe in this story. Her vacillation made it easy to doubt her love, indecision that lasted for most of the book. The bullfighting information really held my interest, but it wasn't enough for me to overlook the problems I had with their relationship. The information on bullfighting traditions was more interesting than the love story. That makes it hard to recommend Wrap Me in Scarlet.

--Linda Mowery


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