Lone Rider

Slow Hands by Lauren Bach
(Warner, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-446-61115-8
I liked the title, but unfortunately it was the only original thing about this book - and as far as I could tell it had nothing to do with anything that happened inside.

Alec Dempsey is an ATF agent tapped by the FBI for an undercover operation in his hometown of Freedom, Arkansas. The Feds are after two million dollars and a cache of gold coins stolen by the Griggs brothers (the scum of Freedom’s pond) and the notorious mobster they stole it from. Two of the brothers died during a shootout with police following the heist. Now Ian Griggs has been granted an early release from prison and the theory is that he’ll head straight for Freedom to recover the loot.

Alec isn’t anxious to go home. He brushed the small-town dust off his shoes a long time ago and, in the process, abandoned Keira Morgan after asking her to marry him. The FBI wants him to return under the guise of resurrecting his romantic involvement with Keira. Alec says he’ll do it if they can get Keira to agree, pretty sure she’ll laugh in their faces and get him off the hook.

To his astonishment, Keira goes for it and Alec finds himself back in the small town he swore he’d left behind. Keira is now a successful businesswoman, with her own electrical contracting business and, of course, still single.

The return of Ian Griggs to Freedom is not good news for Keira. Griggs blames her for his brothers’ deaths and has sworn revenge.

My first issue is with the silly premise. Are you telling me that no one in the entire FBI could think of a more plausible excuse to plant an agent in Freedom to watch Griggs than a teenage love affair that’s been over for a decade? This kind of contrived nonsense only happens on the Romance Planet.

Keira's built up a successful business, so you’d think she was an intelligent woman, but this theory is unsubstantiated by her behaviour. She knows Alec’s cover is his relationship with her, but when she sees him she pretends she can’t remember his name. And, when Alec wants her to be more cautious (given that her life is in danger) she announces that she “won’t let fear dictate her life.” Well, okay, but a little common sense would have been out of the question? Knowing that a man who’s already beaten her up and tried to rape her is living a few blocks away, don’t you think she’d start locking the window that leads into her apartment from the fire escape? Or stop wandering off by herself?

Alec is no better. He’s supposed to be in town to reclaim Keira's heart, but every time we turn around he’s wandering off with Keira's local nemesis, a manipulative bimbo named Scarlet. He also can’t think of much to do to crack the case. He watches Griggs walk back and forth between the rooming house where he’s staying and the gas station where he works. When that proves fruitless, he watches Griggs’s roommate, assuming he’s doing the legwork Griggs can’t. Unfortunately Alec never seems to be watching the roommate when he’s terrorizing Keira. The guy’s useless.

Attempts to make the writing snappy and hip too frequently come off as merely coarse. It gave the humor a tone that was sometimes nasty instead of witty and the sex a sometimes crude edge that I couldn’t find either romantic or erotic. Once Keira and Alec admit they still want each other there’s lots of fairly explicit sex, but for some reason reading stuff like “Alex’s erection proved to be a fractious four-banger that they’d finally conquered in the shower” just didn’t make my heart go pitter-pat. Go figure.

While it is possible to create a compelling and enjoyable romance from a less than original premise, putting irritating characters in an implausible situation then ladling on ludicrously athletic sex isn’t a great way to go about it.

--Judi McKee

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