Runaway Mistress by Robyn Carr
(Mira, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2174-6
I bought Runaway Mistress because the cover art and back cover blurb persuaded me that this was a tongue-in-cheek light-hearted romp, the kind of story that Susan Andersen and Rachel Gibson might create, and that really fit my mood. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is the cover art and blurb are misleading. The good news is that this is a very pleasant tale and I don’t regret buying it at all.

Jennifer Chaise is a real estate tycoon’s mistress. She is employed by a property management firm, but she enjoys the little luxuries and the high life that come with being Nick Noble’s arm candy. Nick is not her first attachment, just the most recent. Her gentleman are mostly undemanding and very, very generous.

Nick and Jennifer fly by private jet from Florida to Las Vegas. Nick is a high-stakes gambler, the type that gets the royal treatment at Vegas casinos. While Nick gambles, Jennifer spends her time at the pool, the spa, and the shops. Returning to their hotel suite, Jennifer hears loud voices. She realizes that Nick’s wife Barbara has arrived and they are having a furious argument. Jennifer slips out again.

The next time she enters the suite, she discovers Barbara’s body. Nick has murdered his wife! Jennifer overhears Nick speaking to one of his henchman about her; he wants to know where the “bimbo” is, something will have to be done about her.

Jennifer hightails it out of there. She lays a false trail but ends up in Boulder City, an outlying Las Vegas suburb. There she reads in a newspaper that she has been reported missing and a reward is being offered for information. She knows she has to disappear.

She shaves her head and remakes her image from glamorous to plain. A chance stop at a local diner develops into a job as a waitress; she gives her name as Doris Bailey. Over the coming days and weeks she will become acquainted with several local residents including a sweet old lady who’s a retired college professor, a former Vegas stripper, their neighbor a police detective, and an overburdened high school teenager.

Jennifer starts to reevaluate her life. Nick, however, has not given up on locating her. How long can she remain anonymous?

Runaway Mistress is a variation on the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold theme. Jennifer really does provide companionship and sexual services in return for a luxurious lifestyle and a fat stock portfolio. I confess that I was expecting a heroine who wasn’t quite so morally compromised, but the title does reflect the reality. Oh, Jennifer is monogamous while she’s involved with a particular man and she’s an avid reader so she can’t be too dumb, but the fact is she puts out for bucks ... and fancy clothes... and a boob job.

By the end of the book, Jennifer has been mostly redeemed. Her unstable childhood has contributed to her bad choices, and her change of circumstances allows her to redirect her life. The underlying theme is that she never had a chance until the good people of Boulder City offered her one. She wasn’t a bad girl, just a little misguided. With caring friends, an honest job, and a good man, her life is transformed. The low-key romance is only part of the healing process.

Boulder City is another of those perfect burgs where goodness and wholesomeness reign supreme (as opposed to the Big Bad City). Everyone is so sweet; no one is rude or mean. There’s no trash on the streets; life is squeaky clean. Neighbors will do anything for each other without asking; crime happens elsewhere. Emotional healing is inevitable.

And that’s why I can’t give Runaway Mistress more than three hearts. I can recommend it as an enjoyable way to wile away a lazy summer afternoon, but it’s too far removed from real life to be believable. Nevertheless, I quickly got caught up in the story and had a good time in Boulder City while I was there. For those who would enjoy a fictional visit to a kinder, gentler place, this could be a good choice.

--Lesley Lawrence

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