Cherish

 
Masquerade
by Crystal Wilson-Harris
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-085-9
***
Federal drug agent Clint Santiago has a personal score to settle with "Cortez." Clint holds the South American drug lord responsible for his younger sister's death as a result of an overdose. He has Cortez's South Florida home under surveillance waiting for a chance to make his move.

Madison Greer has recently been outplaced from her job as a computer security specialist in Minneapolis. On a whim, Madison decides to pursue a summer house sitting position she found on the Internet. House sitting for fun and profit in Florida will give her an opportunity to escape Minnesota and explore her career options.

In exchange for taking care of a menagerie of cats, parrots and an iguana, Madison has the run of a mansion, use of a fleet of luxury cars and a $150 weekly food allowance for the entire summer. She has been screened and retained by a house sitting service. Madison has never met the owner nor does she know what he does for a living.

But who cares? It's summer and Madison is "living large" for the next ninety days. She decides to shed her Minneapolis mannerisms for a new persona more in synch with her new surroundings. It is Madison's trendy new address that puts her in direct contact with Clint who assumes she is Cortez's high-maintenance mistress.

Guess who's coming to dinner? Clint decides to use Madison to infiltrate the house and get the goods on Cortez. The agent creates a bit of subterfuge of his own. Clint devises a high profile identity to meet Madison and win her confidence.

For Madison and Clint, absolutely nothing is as it seems. Clint is determined to put Cortez and his operation out of business. As he discovers his growing attraction to Madison, he also becomes determined to save her from her relationship with Cortez.

Masquerade is a predictable romance that will immediately remind readers of a "Miami Vice" episode, with Phillip Michael Thomas in the role of undercover drug agent Clint Santiago. Masquerade is a story of multiple misunderstandings that twist and turn through South Florida and Columbia until it ends exactly where the reader expects it. And, while the chemistry between Clint and Madison is believable, I found Madison's naiveté daunting. There were too many questions she should have asked early on. In addition, the good guys, bad guys and other secondary characters are so clichéd, they add nothing to the mix.

There is mention of Michael Foster, a Charlotte, North Carolina, restaurateur and secondary character in Wilson-Harris' 1998 romance, Cherish. Maybe he will get his own story soon. In the meantime, The Art of Love, a quirky romance about intercultural differences between a stuffy corporate attorney and a free-spirited artist, is still my favorite by this author. It is still available and is worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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