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New Faces 8:
An interview with Michele Jerott

Absolute Trouble by Michele Jerott
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-80102-7
Absolute Trouble is an impressive debut for new author Michele Jerott. She has crafted a gritty contemporary romance with a unique premise and a thread of suspense, and the Louisiana bayou setting with its Cajun flavor adds a wonderful tone to the story.

Ex-cop Dulcinea Quinn is more than a bit irked when her former partner shows up on her houseboat with a murder witness in tow. He needs a place to stash the witness until the murderer, a local drug kingpin, can be picked up and brought to trial. Dulcie hesitates, but the drug lord involved is the one responsible for the beating that ended her police career and left her with a steel pin in her back, and she'll do anything to help see him in prison for good.

"Anything" includes hiding Julien Langlois on her boat. Julien is a male stripper who was dancing in a club the night of the murder. He's a taciturn Cajun who knows much more than he lets on and has an agenda of his own when it comes to the drug lord. The last thing he wants is to be baby-sat by some woman and a couple of cops, on a creaky little houseboat in the middle of a bayou backwater.

Julien decides to put the moves on Dulcie until she cracks and orders him off the boat. His sexual overtures leave them both stunned, however. Dulcie knows exactly what Julien is doing and why. She can't figure out why she likes it so much. Julien is attracted to this six-foot redhead who makes exquisite dolls and lives with the lingering pain of a broken back. As they grow closer, he finds himself wishing things were different, that he could divert from his avowed vengeance and make a real life for himself.

The story is fast-paced, all packed into the span of five days. I enjoyed the bayou setting, and the dialogue, laced with Cajun French, was a standout. The author did something clever with her characters, too, in that there are no surprises. Julien doesn't turn out to be a heart surgeon or a billionaire. He is what he is, as is Dulcie. The secondary characters also add to the story in small ways. We just might see them again.

The relationship between Dulcie and Julien seemed forced in some respects. Without giving away too much of the story, let me say that Dulcie's headlong plunge into an emotional entanglement is built on very shaky ground, indeed. She knows so little about this guy that her avowal of love appears to be based mostly on lust. She also makes some very silly assumptions about her health and her ability to get pregnant. Uh-huh. Anyone got a crystal ball? Julien fares better, simply because he refuses to allow himself the luxury of love. Sex, yes, love, no. His reactions actually seemed more honest.

Speaking of sex, there's plenty of it, and it's plenty hot. At times the suspense is little more than a footnote to the sex, in fact, which made the story a bit unbalanced. As did the addition of a puppy that seemed to serve no purpose other than to flesh out a single scene. The ending left quite a few threads dangling, too.

But despite some problems, this was a very enjoyable read. Absolute Trouble kept me parked in my chair for the better part of a Saturday afternoon. While I didn't always understand Dulcie and Julien, I was very glad to have met them. Michele Jerott is a welcome addition to the contemporary bookshelf.

And I hope the secondary lead gets his own story next time. I'll be waiting.

--Cathy Sova

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