Hotbed Honey

The Red Diary

Something Wild

In Your Wildest Dreams
by Toni Blake
(Warner, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-446-61487-4
Stephanie Grant has left her safe, orderly world in Chicago and come to New Orleans. Her impetuous younger sister, Tina, has gone missing. Tina followed a boyfriend to the Big Easy, and after they broke up, took a job working as a high-priced escort. Then Tina’s phone calls home stopped. It’s been weeks, and Stephanie is worried sick. So she comes to New Orleans and with the help of an online connection, decides to pass herself off as a hooker and infiltrate the places where her sister may have worked.

Only a romance novel heroine would think this is a good plan.

When she enters the classy private bar of Sophia’s, she meets Jake Broussard, a former cop now working as a bartender. Jake is not a moron, so he knows immediately that Stephanie is no hooker. After confronting her, she spills her guts and begs for his help. But Jake isn’t up to helping anybody. He tried being a hero once and the whole thing blew up in a face. He’s much rather tend bar and look the other way. But there’s something about Stephanie, and he just can’t say no.

It’s only July, but Stephanie Grant is in serious contention for the Moronic Heroine Of The Year award. Supposedly a grown woman who is a successful advertising executive, she comes off in this story as a little girl playing dress-up. In fact, she’s in constant need of rescuing thanks to her own stupidity. While Blake does try to paint Stephanie’s search for her sister with the necessary desperation, any woman who would think it’s a smart idea to pretend to be a hooker who caters to wealthy, powerful and dangerous men is obviously not playing with a full deck.

It also doesn’t help that Stephanie is afraid of sex. Yeah, you read that right. She’s afraid of losing control, and there are several instances where she brings sexual encounters with Jake to a screeching halt. Yes, no does mean no – but Stephanie is a tease. Jake is hot, hunky and Cajun, with an impressive physique and a more impressive “Little Jake.” Yeah, I’d be terrified out of my mind too – not!

For Jake’s part he’s not that bad of a guy, except he falls for Stephanie, who constantly needs rescuing. So while he’s saving her from herself, he’s getting all hot and bothered by her innocent, never-had-good-sex-because-I’m-scared act. He has a tragic past, which helps a bit with his development, but he’s also Cajun – which means lots of peppered French in the dialogue. Readers will either think this is sexy as hell, or feel like they’re making love to Pepe Le Pew.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad if the suspense angle was credible, but by Chapter 6 we know what has happened to Tina. Even if the author didn’t make it clear from the beginning, it would be no stretch to believe Stephanie and Tina are sisters. These two obviously went swimming in the same shallow gene pool.

It’s not all bad though. Blake can write, and once I forced myself to pick up where I left off in the story, several chapters would fly by quickly. Also, the love scenes are pretty hot, but given that they involve dingbat Stephanie, they were a bit hard to enjoy. There is also an interesting secondary character, a teenage runaway who helps Jake analyze his feelings of hopelessness and grief. And while she’s a bit of a smart ass, she’s got a sweet side to her that makes her interesting.

Stephanie herself sums up the problems with In Your Wildest Dreams the best. While arguing with Jake she screams, “You’re only helping me because you think I’m a danger to myself, some stupid little waif playing private detective.” And she’s right, that’s exactly what she is. If you enjoy rescue fantasies involving a heroine more girl than woman, and a hero stupid enough to fall for that sort of drivel, have at it. This reviewer couldn’t help but be keenly disappointed.

--Wendy Crutcher

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