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Heart of the Night

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The Bride's Protector
by Gayle Wilson
(Harl. Intrigue #509, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-22509-1
****
I picked up Gayle Wilson's latest Harlequin Intrigue because I enjoy her Regency historicals so much. Wilson's historicals are intense and compelling books which paint an unremitting and accurate picture of a bygone era. I wondered what her take on the contemporary world would be. The world of spies and murder and bureaucratic betrayal is certainly unremitting. I only hope it isn't equally accurate.

Tyler Stewart, an aging but still lovely supermodel, is about to get married. All her friends insist that she has made the catch of the century when Prince Amir al-Ahmad fell in love with her and swept her off her feet. Tracy is not quite so certain. She recognizes that Amir came into her life at a very trying time, just after her agent died leaving her more or less penniless. With the wedding only a short time away, Tracy decides she needs to talk to Amir, to express her doubts. When she walks into his room in the hotel where they are staying, instead of her prince she sees an assassination. She flees in panic.

Tracy seeks refuge from her pursuers in the room of another hotel guest. Lucas Hawkins greets his unwelcome guest with pistol in hand. But when the assassins' confederates try to search his room, he protects the fleeing bride. And when she asks him to help her escape the hotel, he agrees, in an unaccustomed spirit of knight errantry.

However, his generous act gets him into very deep trouble. Hawk is no ordinary traveler. He is the member of a select team of CIA operatives who have been charged with doing the dangerous dirty work of a great power in a dangerous world. But times change, and the new people in power want to disband the "External Security Team." Their task is made easier because several months earlier, the respected head of the operation was killed in a terrorist bomb attack on CIA headquarters.

In fact, Hawk has just returned from an unauthorized mission to take out the man responsible for his friend and mentor's death. When his picture shows up on the hotel security cameras, the agency decides that this is the perfect opportunity to get rid of an unwanted operative. Twenty years of devoted service counts for naught in the face of expediency. Hawk knows that his only chance to survive is to find the woman who witnessed the real assassin.

I liked both the heroine and the hero. Tyler has had her whole world collapse around her, but she remains brave and determined and willing to do the right thing. Hawk is a loner who at first distrusted Tyler, but comes to appreciate her for her essential goodness as well as her beauty. She thinks he is a hero come to rescue her. He knows he is really trying to save his own skin. That passion should ignite between these two lonely and embattled souls seems absolutely inevitable.

Which brings me to Wilson's take on the contemporary scene. Is it not a telling commentary on current attitudes that the government officials in this book are duplicitous, arrogant, selfish, manipulative, and foolish? That they are totally uninterested in what is right but only in what is expedient? That they have no loyalty to those who have served them well and no thought to the well being of those innocently caught up in their games? Is Wilson's portrayal of the United States in the late 20th century as accurate as her description of Regency England? A sobering thought.

I rate books by the seat of my pants. If a book keeps me turning the pages, if it keeps me up late, if it stays with me after I have finished the last page, then I recommend said book. The Bride's Protector met my criteria. Compelling? Yes. Intense? Definitely. I look forward to the rest of her "Men of Mystery" series when she tells the stories of the other former members of the External Security Team.

--Jean Mason


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