Hotbed Honey by Toni Blake
(Harl. Tempt. #800, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25900-X
***
Toni Blake has started off her writing career with Harlequin as a whiz-bang winner. Hotbed Honey has intriguing characters, an imaginative plot line and more than enough heat to do the Temptation line proud.

Private Investigator Max Tate crashes his ex-boss' party with the explanation that he needs a woman. Yes, that conjures up all sorts of testosterone overload images, but Max needs a woman to masquerade as his wife. Max is trying to catch a smarmy thief who preys on wealthy women, ridding them of their jewelry and often having a quickie with them, too.

Who he gets is his old love, Kimberly Brandt. Three years before, when Kimberly and Max were working together on a case, trying to get the proof that a mother was stealing from her wealthy son, Kimberly botched the case. Or that's how Max views it, and he's never forgiven Kimberly, nor has he ever listened to her explanation, her reasoning.

They both lost their jobs, Max moved away to Las Vegas, and now he's back after a successful P.I. career there. But seeing Kimberly brings back all sorts of bad memories.

Max begrudgingly agrees to work with Kimberly. The plot at this point becomes more interesting, more textured. Max and Kim will pretend to be a wealthy couple in order to lure the jewel thief. She's going to be dripping with high-quality faux gems and will pretend to be interested in the criminal Casanova. Their plans include tantalizing the crook and then videotaping him as he absconds with the goodies.

Well, Robert Burns said something about best laid plans, a sentiment that fits in here nicely. Needless to say, their plans don't run as smoothly as they'd hoped. Not by a long shot.

And how those plans fall apart is what caused me to lower my rating from a solid four to a three. Evading the bad guys once is permissible, even required. But over and over? A cat may lose the mouse once, but not several times. In addition I had real problems wondering how anybody could be interested in Carlo, the cunning Casanova. Making a pass at a woman in front of a husband just seems too much like a plot line from a Grade B movie.

And I've got to wonder about the person who chose this title. What it does to promote romance would be on a level of a man's adventure story titled, "The Revenge of the One-Eyed Heat-Seeking Missile." Covers are easy to overlook and conceal, but it's hard to tell someone that you're reading Hotbed Honey while keeping a straight face, especially considering it's a generic title that doesn't do this story justice.

Those quibbles aside, Toni Blake has my vote as an author to watch. Her deft touch with the characters had them stepping off the pages and right into my imagination. And the person who named this book? How about a transfer to the men's adventure division, where this editor can mangle titles 'til the cows come home.

--Linda Mowery


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