All She Ever Wanted

Almost Home

Daniel's Gift

Golden Lies

Just the Way You Are

Love Will Find a Way

Summer Secrets

One True Love

Some Kind of Wonderful

The Sweetest Thing

Taken by Barbara Freethy
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21873-6
Barbara Freethy has a real interest in the long-reaching arm of the past. Her most recent novels all explore what happens when deeply buried secrets are suddenly brought to light. Taken follows this trend.

Kayla Sheridan marries Nick Granville after a whirlwind courtship. He disappears on their wedding night, leaving her to discover that he is not who he claimed. Kayla teams up with the real Nick Granville to catch the identify thief.

Nick knows why Evan impersonated him and stole all his savings. Several years ago, he sent his college roommate to prison for illicit activities and thereby put an end to his budding romance with Jenny, Nick's sister. Nick is more puzzled why Evan should go after Kayla. He suspects the answer lies with the antique pocket watch she gave him.

The trail leads to Kayla's grandmother and eventually reveals her Bad Girl past. In her youth, the respectable banker's wife worked as a stripper and hung out with hoodlums and bank robbers. The watch, it turns out, is one of several clues that may lead to stolen loot and explain the final outcome of an Alcatraz getaway. While Nick and Kayla chase after clue after clue, the attacks against their informants and themselves multiply. They soon realize that Evan may not be the only one pursuing the hidden treasure.

Freethy outdoes herself keeping up with the recent trend for face- paced stories and never-ending confrontations with danger. The characters go from one unexpected surprise to another, one life- threatening encounter to the next. As a result, they have very little time to react and reveal their emotional depth. When they do, their self-reflection and introspection revolve more around old family secrets than the romantic relationship. Consequently, the latter remains less convincing than Freethy's usual.

I closed the book feeling I didn't know Nick as well as I should and suspecting that Kayla acts out of character. Evan's deception must have been a blow to her ego, and yet, she falls into bed with Nick fairly quickly. This didn't bother me too much: their collaboration has brought them together faster than usual, and they aren't the first couple who turn to sex after a head-on collision with death. I was much more skeptical when she began to consider something long term early on. I would have thought she would exercise more caution after her last experience.

The puzzle and the mystery are well wrought. We are given a good dose of red herrings and several subtle but well placed clues. The nicely- timed twists lead the story in new directions. And even if some of the side trips aren't completely necessary, Freethy effectively uses local landmarks to add atmosphere and color. The story is also slightly over-populated. Then again, Nick and Kayla's aren't on a simple, one-directional treasure hunt. Their investigation unfolds a multi-layered mystery with a complicated network of family ties, friendships and betrayals.

The ending nevertheless frustrated me. Of course, the main mystery is solved; justice is served (more or less anyway); family deceptions are forgiven; and true love rules the day. But the name behind a pair of stiletto-clad legs is withheld, and Evan's part in a much larger conspiracy remains open for exploration in an upcoming sequel. The book is already on my to-buy list because Freethy has rarely disappointed me, but I do resent the maneuver. Her superb storytelling skills should place her above such manipulative marketing tricks.

--Mary Benn

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