Salsa Kiss

Sea Siren (La Sirena) by Consuelo Vazquez
(Pinnacle Encanto. $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-1098-3
Sea Siren opens on a quirky note. Tino Suarez, commercial fisherman, is surprised to look up from a drink in a bar one day to see a mermaid perched on a park fountain across the street, handing out flyers. When she spots him and waves, he's even more intrigued. And when a scruffy truckdriver attempts to make a very public pass at her, Tino decides to step in. Pretending to be her boyfriend, he's astonished when his mermaid throws her arms around him and gives him an enthusiastic kiss. All in the name of rescue, of course.

Kiki Figueroa, new owner of La Sirena Restaurant, can't believe her audacity in kissing a stranger, no matter how perfect his looks are on close inspection. Dressing in a mermaid costume and handing out flyers about the restaurant sounded like a good publicity stunt. And she can't deny that he made a great rescuer. But she'd first spotted him drinking in a bar -- and that alone is enough to rule him out in her books. Her ex-husband couldn't control his drinking, and it ruined their marriage. No way is she going to be attracted to Tino.

When Tino shows up at her restaurant, Kiki finds herself wanting to get to know him anyway. He's a gentleman. He even seems a bit shy. When he takes her out for a drink, she admits her reluctance to date someone who's into the bar scene -- and Tino understands. He wants to take her for a cruise on his boat, but Kiki is afraid of the water. Tino has a few fears of his own. His ex-fiancée left him for a wealthier man, one with more security than a man dependent on the sea for a living. Now he's gun-shy -- and this sexy mermaid is just toooo tempting.

Watching these two overcome their fears and learn to trust each other was an engrossing and touching experience, a story that (thankfully) featured two characters acting like adults. Kiki is straight with Tino about her background, and he returns the courtesy. They want each other, but are afraid of taking that first step into what may be an all-consuming passion. When Tino gently refuses to sleep with Kiki because he's about to leave on a fishing trip and is afraid of getting involved too fast, a turning point occurs. Kiki isn't about to let this catch get away, now that she's decided how terrific he is. Let's say that when he returns, Kiki takes matters into her own hands -- literally. And it's delightful.

The author's portrayal of Tino as reserved, unsure, but brimming with passion inside is as strong and sympathetic as any reader could wish. Kiki, more outgoing and initially willing to take a chance, is just right as she breaks down his walls. The secondary characters are less memorable, but function mostly as a sounding board for Kiki's thoughts. As such, they work.

Sea Siren is a different sort of contemporary romance, one whose lure is nearly as irresistible as the mermaid if its title. This one is definitely worth a read.

--Cathy Sova

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