Kiss and Tell by Cherry Adair
(Ivy, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-449-00683-2
****
I don't know about you, but personally I'm getting a little bit tired of romances featuring a hardened anti-terrorist alpha hero who gradually finds his inner beta, thanks to the love of a good woman. But if you're still game for that "spy who loved me" genre, you will be very happy with Cherry Adair's first single title novel, Kiss and Tell.

You know the basic plot. Rich, over-protected blonde Marnie Wright falls into the company of grouchy secret agent man Jake Dolan, who's trying to hide out from the rest of the world and figure out who double-crossed him. He thinks Marnie is annoying at best, and possibly dangerous at worst. After all, six years ago another blonde - a lover turned assassin - tried to separate his head from his body. Since then, he stays the hell away from blondes.

Marnie thinks Jake is delicious. Her four older brothers have chased away all but the dullest suitors for years, and Marnie is ready for a walk on the wild side. She's sure she can get past the tough guy facade to find the loving man underneath.

As the two hide out from the bad guys in Jake's secret underground compound, the tension builds, as Marnie advances and Jake retreats. Meanwhile, Marnie has neglected to tell Jake that she needs to get back to civilization soon - her health could depend on it.

Marnie Wright is the primary reason that Kiss and Tell is one step above hundreds of other romances with a similar plot. She's smart, brave, and surprisingly level-headed, not to mention quick-witted. She displays none of that annoying dumb-heroine behavior, such as following Jake when he tells her to stay behind and - oops! - ending up in trouble. Marnie accepts the fact that Jake is the expert, and she respects his orders. Well, more or less. She's not a puppet, after all. And although she takes the danger they're facing seriously, she also likes to bait Jake by calling him the "Spy King of the Universe."

Alpha heroes aren't usually my cup of tea, so I couldn't always understand why Marnie was bonkers over this grim ape. But, my goodness, how the sparks fly between the two of them! Marnie decides from their first meeting that she wants Jake's body, and by the time he gives in, the reader has been treated to enough sexual tension to melt the snow covering the North California wilderness they're trapped in.

The danger and adventure are top-notch, and giving Marnie a potentially serious health problem ups the ante one more notch. The body count is high, and the bad guys are basically faceless, but the last 75 pages provide a suspenseful rush.

I'm not sure if I'll look for Cherry Adair's next novel, but that's primarily because I've read one too many sexy spy romances. If you still find that genre enjoyable, pick up a copy of Kiss and Tell. Cherry Adair is a strong addition to the field.

--Susan Scribner


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