Cool Shade by Theresa Weir
(Harper, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-06-108462-X
****
I didn't think I was going to like Theresa Weir's Cool Shade. I am generally not too fond of dysfunctional and slightly self-destructive heroines. And I found it hard to imagine a hero who is agoraphobic and whose only human contact is with a retarded young man and an occasional whore. But when I finished the book at 2:00 a.m. last night, it was with a great deal of admiration for Weir's writing skill. She managed to make a compelling romance out of this seemingly unlikely material.

Maddie Smith has just lost another job as the novel begins. Although she is a talented and experienced disc jockey, she has never been able to hold a job. She lost her job in Tucson when she ignored the station's policy and actually played a song with words. Now she is basically broke, has to barter her prized electric guitar and amps to pay her rent, and has nowhere to go. When she receives a letter from her estranged sister's landlady informing her of Enid's disappearance, Maddie decides to head for Nebraska to see if she can find her sister. Enid maybe a thief and a user, but she's all that's left of the dysfunctional Smith family.

Maddie arrives in Chester, Nebraska, to discover that her sister's creepy landlady hasn't heard a word from Enid. But since the rent is current, there is no objection to Maddie's staying a while. A quick investigation of Enid's effects makes it clear that her sister has embraced the world's oldest profession, which isn't all that surprising. Maddie also finds evidence that Enid had become fascinated by one of her clients, the reclusive Eddie Berlin.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of her sister's disappearance, Maddie poses as a whore to gain access to the mysterious Eddie. When she meets him, she understands Enid's fascination. His soulful eyes, handsome face, and air of sad longing all attract Maddie. The sparks between them lead to. . . well, you know what they lead to!

Eddie was once the manager and much more for rock star Rick Beck. Indeed, he wrote the songs that made Beck the poet of his generation, though this was not widely known. He had also been there that night four years earlier when an insane fan shot Rick in the head in front of a shocked and appalled audience. Eddie, always too sensitive for his own good, withdrew from the world.

How these two wounded souls come to find and ultimately heal each other is the subject of this romance. I found myself liking Maddie more than I had thought possible. For all her apparent problems, she has an underlying honesty and strength. Eddie is the ultimate sensitive hero. He feels too much, but despite his pain and confusion, he does not come across as a weak person. The reader cheers him on as, strengthened by love, he finally confronts his disease.

There are secrets to uncover before the story is done, secrets that might threaten their love. And many of these secrets revolve around the last song Eddie ever wrote for Rick Beck, the never performed and never released "Cool Shade."

Ultimately, this is a book about the healing power of love. Weir made me care about her hero and heroine, made me root for them, and, ultimately, made me believe in their happily ever after. Her writing is evocative and her love scenes are both tender and hot. This is relatively short book, but its brevity contributes to its intensity. If you like contemporary romances with wounded heroes and heroines, you will like Cool Shade. But don't start it too late at night if you want a good night's sleep.

--Jean Mason


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