All the Queen's Men

A Bouquet of Babies

Cry No More

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Dying to Please

A Game of Chance

Killing Time

Kiss Me While I Sleep

Mr Perfect

Now You See Her

Open Season

Strangers of the Night

To Die For

Under the Boardwalk

Up Close and Dangerous
by Linda Howard
(Ballantine, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-345-48652-3
Up Close and Dangerous has two important things going for it: its very appealing two main characters and the tension that grabs and pulls to the very end.

Bailey Wingate married her much older boss shortly before he died. Jim Wingate and his late wife had a devoted marriage, but their two adult children, Seth and Tamzin, are spoiled and irresponsible. Wingate was convinced they were not capable of handling any inheritance so he set up trusts that Bailey manages. Bailey has the perks of a wealthy widow, but she endures frequent, vicious verbal abuse from her resentful stepchildren. In her last phone conversation with Seth before she is to leave on vacation, he threatens to kill her.

Cameron Justice owns and operates J&L Executive Air Limo with his partner Bret Larsen, a long-time buddy from the days when they were both cadets at the Air Force Academy and then pilots in the Air Force. J&L’s main client is Wingate Group. Cam dislikes both Wingate’s kids and “trophy wife” so Bret usually pilots the plane whenever family members utilize their services.

Bret is scheduled to fly Bailey from Seattle to Denver, but the morning of the flight he is obviously sick. Karen Kaminski, their office manager, and Cam insist Bret cannot fly. Cam will pilot the small Cessna.

Bailey will be meeting her brother and sister-in-law in Denver; they’re going white-water rafting for two weeks. Bailey packs for any and all eventualities so she’s bringing three heavy suitcases, another mark against her in Cam’s estimation.

When the plane is over the mountains of Idaho, the engine quits. Cam, the steely, by-the-seat-of-his-pants type of pilot, manages to glide the plane to a lower altitude where it crashes into the trees. Cam is more seriously injured than Bailey; he’s bleeding heavily from a gash on his forehead and is unconscious. It’s up to Bailey to get them both out of the wreckage.

They’re injured. They have doubts their distress call was received, and they’re isolated without any means of communication. It’s dangerously cold so high in the mountains; they have precious little to eat or drink. Their prospects look grim.

Meanwhile, back in the city, Seth and Tamzin are behaving badly at the likelihood of Bailey’s demise.

Right about now, you may be thinking that this is another of those tales where the brawny hero saves the delicate heroine from certain death in the wilds. Not to worry. In Up Close and Dangerous, the alpha male meets the alpha female and she saves him! And Bailey is no experienced, Outward Bound survivalist type either. As she exceeds her own abilities in the life-and-death situation, it’s impossible not to root for her every step of the way. Fortunately, Cam isn’t one of those Neanderthal-type heroes who clings to his preconceptions against all evidence. He quickly realizes that Bailey is one admirable, gutsy lady ... and even learns to appreciate the benefits of overpacking.

Romance between two such strong characters is credible. It’s not quite so credible how fast their relationship accelerates from antipathy to forever after. After what they’ve both just endured, it would make sense if they took their time to evaluate their feelings. On the other hand, Cam’s just not going to do any better than Bailey, and it’s good he recognizes this.

If you have any familiarity with romance fiction at all, you’ll have no doubts that Bailey and Cam are going to make it off the mountain. The thrust of the plot is how they’re going to make it.

I’ve been one of Linda Howard’s many fans for years. Compared to some of her earlier works such as Son of the Morning, Up Close and Dangerous has a relatively simple plot, and I miss the complexity. I also thought the ending was too abrupt, as though the author was running out of time in an exam and tried to wrap it up in the fewest possible pages. Whatever its shortcomings, however, I never considered giving it less than four hearts.

When I assign a rating, an important factor is whether I get thoroughly engaged in a book. I put down Up Close and Dangerous only twice and then with great reluctance and for the shortest possible time. I have to recommend a book that excels at the put down/pick up test. I’m sure that other readers will be just as riveted.

--Lesley Dunlap

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