After Dark

As Good As Dead

Every Move She Makes

Her Secret Weapon

In the Arms of a Hero

The Last to Die
The Princess's Bodyguard

Ramirez's Woman

What She Doesn't Know

Penny Sue Got Lucky
by Beverly Barton
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1399, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27469-6
Some might say that Penny Sue Paine's luck begins when she is named guardian for Lucky, her aunt's dog and heir to her millions. Of course, with several greedy relatives trying to break the airtight will and one actually shooting the dog, you might not think so. But then, without Lucky and his unlucky threats, Penny Sue would never have hired a bodyguard, and she would never have met Vic Noble. And even if Vic doesn't seem to appreciate her non-stop prattle, her old-fashioned morals and her very feminine tastes, Penny Sue quickly decides he's the one for her.

Now working for the Dundee Private Security and Investigation Agency, Vic is a former CIA operative who resents his latest assignment. After tracking double-agents and terrorists, he has no place protecting a four-legged fluffball! Nor does he like the attraction he feels for a woman who can only want love and marriage. But since no one else is available, he does what any good professional would. He takes the threats seriously, and all the more so when a stuffed toy animal with a butcher's knife plunged through it lands on Penny Sue's doorstep. Despite Vic's vigilance, the attacks and threats don't stop. A pair of vicious pit bulls are released on her lawn; Lucky is kidnapped; and Vic and Penny Sue are shot at.

While trying to determine which of the belligerent relatives is behind these attacks, Penny Sue and Vic must sort out not just their attraction to each other, but also their differences. And they are pretty major ones. Ultra-feminine and girly-girly Penny Sue does everything that would lose a man in less than ten days - except unlike the Kate Hudson character in the film of that title, she is not doing it to win a bet. Apart from her endless babble and interminable digressions, she doesn't know how to take a compliment about her healthy appetite and punishes him for it by making him sit through two chick flicks. Vic doesn't mind if Penny Sue thinks he's a hero after he rescues Lucky and other pets from a fire, but does she have to organize a party for him?

These differences are adroitly and convincingly drawn, so much so that Penny Sue's exaggerated and clichéd femininity began irritating me as much as it does Vic. The difference is that, where I am concerned, her luscious curves and beautiful face don't make up for it. In fact, I wonder how long their relationship will last if sex appeal is the only thing they have going. Though I have no problem with opposites attracting each other, there must be some middle ground and, quite honestly, where Vic and Penny Sue are concerned, I don't see it. He doesn't even think she is capable of understanding the traumas in his past. How are they going to get through life's up and downs together?

With all this cutesiness going on, it was difficult to let the suspense carry me away. Nor were the solutions to the mysteries satisfying. Everything is brought to a halt in a climactic scene where, in the tradition of Murder, She Wrote, the whole family is reunited so that Vic can identify the numerous culprits. This might be in keeping with the one of the themes of the novel - the Southern family - but it also takes out a lot of the final punch. Worse, the clues were either so obvious or so absent that I felt completely left out.

Some readers might like the forced comedy that comes from the clash of different lifestyles. Some might smile sympathetically at a houseful of annoying relatives, while still others might be happy with a couple of cute animals and eccentric pet owners. But to give a full recommendation, I need something more.


--Mary Benn

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