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The Unexpected Wife

Wise Moves by Mary Burton
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1426, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27496-3
Wise Moves is a witness-on-the-run story with predictable twists and turns and more than its share of improbabilities.

Elena Benito had agreed to testify against her drug lord brother, Antonio. After his men attacked her safe house and a police officer died trying to protect her, she decided to trust no one. Several months later, her hair dyed and her name changed, she is hiding out in a small Virginia town and working as a receptionist in a yoga studio.

Former FBI agent Dane Cambria vowed to revenge his sister, who lost her life defending the Benito witness. Now that legal means have failed, he is going for less orthodox ones. He is determined to find Elena and use her as bait to draw out Antonio. While waiting for confirmation that Kristen Rodale is the woman he wants, he gets to know her. Pretty soon, Dane begins to regret bargaining with Elena/ Kristen's life and to doubt whether he will choose revenge over love. Of course, once Elena finds out who Dane really is, things go bad.

The novel goes an extra mile to highlight its theme: never lose trust in your fellow human beings. The yoga studio owner gives Elena a chance; Elena takes in a stray adolescent and even after paying for the consequences doesn't relent her decision. And, of course, there's her relationship with Dane. Unfortunately, regardless of the theme, it doesn't ring true for someone on the lam.

Elena isn't entirely clueless and thinks something is strange about Dane (among other things, she believes he is living in his car). Yet, it never occurs to her that he might be connected to her former life. She doesn't think too much before initiating an affair with him. Given everything else about her, I found her reaction completely out of character.

With betrayal definitely on the horizon, there is a lot of build up towards the final show down. The outcome is nevertheless predictable. I don't want to go into details, but I did feel shortchanged with the final capture and remain concerned that credibility is sacrificed for character arc.

I stopped counting the annoying editorial oversights. Here are some big ones. Dane Cambia refers to the dead cop as his sister, but it turns out she is his foster sister. I get the fact that in both cases there's a close emotional tie and a long past history, but to casually elide over the differences is sloppy. Then, there's the problem with Kristen's make-believe boyfriend. To keep Dane off her back, she pretends she is serious about someone. Dane accepts the pretext, but once she kisses him, he never brings it up. He obviously knows the man doesn't exist (he has been following her, after all), but a good undercover agent should at least act as if he had bought into the story, shouldn't he?

Finally, the writing could do with tightening and cleaning. One telling example: during one of the love scenes, Dane "nips her with his white teeth." With what else would he do it? His biting tongue? His tobacco-stained incisors? Yeah, I'm quibbling here. Quite frankly, if either the plot or the characters had grabbed my interest, sentences like this one would have passed me by. Instead I point my accusing finger and suggest other readers think twice.

--Mary Benn

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