has also reviewed:

Fire Hawk

Heart Of The Hawk

Wild Hawk

As Justine Davis:

Gage Butler's Reckoning

Dangerous Ground by Justine Dare
(Signet, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40765-2
Dangerous Ground readers who are familiar with Justine Dare's Silhouette Intimate Moments romances (written as Justine Davis) will feel as if they are reading a slightly longer version of the author's category romances. While that's always a guaranteed solid read, it's hardly a breakthrough. I'm a big fan of the author, but I think she's more interesting when allowed to be more creative with her plots, as in her futuristic novels and her Hawk series that featured a magical book. Without those added effects, it becomes apparent that she repeatedly recreates the same alpha hero in slightly different settings.

Jess Harper opens the newspaper and finds a secret, coded summons he never expected to see. It's been ten years since he retired from being the tracking expert for the Wolf Pack, a group of four covert, nonmilitary, non-government secret operatives who took on dangerous missions that no one else would touch. When he follows the clues to rendezvous with whoever called him out of retirement, he finds Beth Russell, the widow of the Wolf Pack's leader. Fifteen years ago, Jess convinced a young and innocent Beth that he was the wrong man for her, despite a powerfully mutual attraction. Beth turned to Jess' boss Ian, and lived contentedly as his wife for a few short years until Ian was killed during the Wolf Pack's last mission.

Now Beth desperately needs Jess' help. Her fifteen year old son, Jamie, is missing. The police are convinced the boy has run away from home and are reluctant to become involved. Jamie was recently caught shoplifting, but Beth knows he is not troubled enough to run away. She convinces Jess to help her find her son, but the boy's disappearance turns out to be the tip of something much bigger than a simple kidnapping.

Jess is a typical Dare/Davis hero an alpha male who has been abused, neglected or otherwise deprived enough to feel that he has no love inside and does not deserve love himself. He has controlled his emotions for so many years that he's not sure he has any left inside. He is brave, honorable and a bit on the humorless side. He pushed Beth away fifteen years ago and is determined not to get close to her again. It's up to Beth to make him realize that his actions speak the love he cannot bring himself to admit.

Because more than three-fourths of the novel is told from Jess' point of view, it's difficult to get much of a handle on Beth. She is a gentle but strong woman who has put her life together since her husband's death and raised her son single-handedly. Despite Jess' protectiveness, she is more than capable of handling the truth about the Wolf Pack's legacy. Because we see her primarily through Jess' eyes, she never fully comes alive, although we empathize with her fear for her son. Some of the novel's most poignant passages are written from Jamie's point of view, as he lies captive and fearful.

The author provides the reader with some very obvious clues about the factors behind Jamie's disappearance, so the novel's suspense is limited to discovering how quickly Jess and Beth will put the pieces together. There is surprisingly little action for a 350 page novel. The bulk of the narrative concerns Jess' inner turmoil as he anguishes over his need for Beth, his belief she will never love him, and his fear that he can never fully love her. As usual, Dare does a strong job at creating dramatic tension between her hero and heroine, but I couldn't help but feel that I had "been there, done that," from reading her category novels.

I understand that Dare's publisher rejected the idea of finishing the futuristic series she began with Lord of the Storm and The Skypirate, and perhaps she was cautioned away from continuing the saga of the magic book from the Hawk series (Wild Hawk, Heart of the Hawk and Fire Hawk) as well. That would be a shame, because there are too few good futuristic/fantasy romance authors out there and she is one of the strongest. There's nothing wrong with Dangerous Ground, but it breaks no new ground for the author or for the genre.

--Susan Scribne

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