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Golden Lies by Barbara Freethy
(Signet, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-21126-X
****
  Barbara Freethy’s books score high on that elusive quality known as “readability.” Her interesting characters and plots, combined with her smooth writing style, make it easy for me to sit down for several hours at a time with her 400-page novels even when I know I have chores calling me. Golden Lies, a romance wrapped in the mystery of an ancient Chinese curse, is another solid effort.  

Riley McAllister is humoring his grandmother when he accompanies her to an Antiques Roadshow-type event with a collection of junk found in her attic. But to his surprise, he finds that one object, a golden dragon statue, is extremely valuable. When Riley and Nan take the dragon to House of Hathaway, the distinguished San Francisco antique store, head buyer David Hathaway is extremely impressed by the dragon and insists Riley leave it with him overnight so he can have it appraised by a specialist. Riley doesn’t trust easily, but Paige Hathaway, David’s beautiful blonde daughter, assures him that the dragon will be safe in their care.  

But then David is attacked while on a mysterious visit to Chinatown and the dragon disappears. Riley is furious, Paige is worried, and they end up working together to discover the statue’s long-held secrets. Although they suspect that Paige’s father knew more about the dragon than he initially admitted, other clues reveal links to the alliances and betrayals of earlier generations.  

Freethy creates a hero and heroine from diverse worlds who both mature from their time spent together. Paige, the “Hathaway Heir,” has been shuffled into the role of event planner because she hasn’t figured out how to claim her role in the dynasty. Although she’s not spoiled, she’s naïve and directionless, the product of two self-absorbed parents who have never recovered from the tragic death of their first daughter 18 years ago. Paige’s gradual development from sheltered princess to a courageous vibrant woman is skillfully portrayed. Riley is a stereotypical “Mama left me so I don’t know how to love” hero. Thankfully, although he tries to keep Paige at a distance, he is never cruel, and of course love and trust win out in the end. A former Marine who is now owner of his grandfather’s security business, Riley’s ability to easily access confidential information would have been more impressive if Freethy had provided some details that indicated how he managed this convenient feat. Riley and Paige’s interactions sizzle with a blend of passion and humor, and despite their differences the romance is believable.  

Several secondary characters also have important roles to play, although divulging more would ruin the fun of reading the story. Some of the clues appear a little too conveniently – does everyone really have boxes stored in their attics that contain revealing photos and diaries? – but enough suspense is maintained to keep the reader engaged.  

Freethy isn’t yet on my auto-buy list, but she is an accomplished storyteller who consistently delivers well-plotted contemporary romance novels with strong, intelligent characters and intriguing family dynamics. If you decide to read Golden Lies, be sure you have cleared several hours from your schedule; it’s difficult to put down once you start.  

--Susan Scribner


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