Carnal Gift

Ride the Fire


Sweet Release

Hard Evidence by Pamela Clare
(Berkley, $7.99, R) ISBN 0-425-21260-2
Clare’s latest romantic suspense novel features a page-turning suspense thread and an Alpha hero that made me go weak in the knees. Too bad I spent the whole novel wondering what the heck he saw in her.

Tessa Novak has fled her poverty riddled past to become a respected investigative reporter for the Denver Independent. One night, desperate for a caffeine fix, she lowers her standards enough to buy gas station coffee. While there, a young Mexican girl comes in begging for help in Spanish. The next thing Tessa knows, a car rolls up, she sees an arm clad in black leather, and the girl is gunned down in front of her. Visibly shaken, and feeling guilty for not helping the girl in time, Tessa begins to investigate.

Julian Darcangelo is an undercover FBI agent who has been toiling for years to bring in a sex trafficker. He’s on the verge of cracking the case when one of the girls runs and gets shot for her trouble. To make matters worse, a nosy reporter witnessed the whole thing and has written a first person account of the crime for one of the local papers. So not only does he still have to ferret out the bad guy, he has to save Tessa from her own stupidity.

Honestly, every time I read Tessa’s name I kept putting the words “Girl Reporter” after it. The girl really is that dumb. She just can’t understand why the cops are upset with her article. I mean, all she did was splash her name all over the newspaper, tell the whole city every minor detail about the crime scene, but she also basically took out a billboard that said, “Hey Bad Guys! I Witnessed That Shooting And My Name Is Tessa Novak And I’m A Girl Reporter!” Yeah, cops are funny sometimes, getting upset about stuff like that.

But wait, there’s more! She immediately decides that Julian is a killer when she spies him at the crime scene. Why? He’s wearing a black leather jacket. Makes you wonder if she would have died from shock if a biker gang had driven by. Not only that, when she is confronted by Julian, still thinking he’s a murderer mind you, he has to kiss her to shut her up. What does she do? Scream? Knee him in the groin? Push him away? Nope – she melts in his arms.

We won’t even discuss the fact that she’s the type of heroine who owns a gun, has a permit to carry it concealed, yet has no flipping clue how to use it. Julian has to teach her. Why he didn’t shoot her himself is the real suspenseful moment in this tale.

The story, if one can get past Tessa, is pretty good and the pages turn easily. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t give the reader a lot of options when it comes to identifying the bad guy – so part of the resolution is no surprise at all. Also, while the sex is hot stuff, the fact that it was unprotected most of the time is a major insult. One would think with both characters’ respective pasts they would be pretty anal retentive about using birth control.

Clare can write and this plot shows a lot of imagination. Unfortunately it is wasted on a heroine so annoyingly inept one wonders how she survived her childhood full of abuse and poverty. Julian is suitably Alpha and yummy until the lack of responsible sex knocks him down a couple of pegs, but ultimately I spent the whole time wondering what he could possibly see in Nitwit Girl. Oh yeah, the whole innocent, girly thing.

--Wendy Crutcher

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