The Dominant Blonde
by Alisa Kwitney
(Avon, $13.95, R) ISBN 0-60-008329-8
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When is a romance novel not a romance novel? When it’s shelved with fiction rather than romance? The reason for this question is that, having heard good things about The Dominant Blonde on one of my lists and being highly suggestible, I headed out to find the book. I perused the shelves in my usual stamping grounds, but under the “k’s,” there was no Kwitney. I was about to give up when I decided to check the fiction section and there it was.

Why did my usually astute booksellers shelve what is frankly a pretty straightforward romance in the “wrong place?” I can only assume that the publisher and the author decided that this novel has something that sets it apart from all those other romances, that it deserved the more “prestigious” category of “general fiction.” Which is a shame, both because of what the decision says about the attitude toward romance and because the book might well not find the audience it deserves. This is a delighfully witty and well written contemporary romance.

Lydia Gold has not been lucky in love. A romantic at heart, she has not found her happy ever after. Nor, at thirty-one has she found her career. Sure, she is a stylist at her parents’ upscale salon, but she never settled on a major in college and she quit her graduate program in social work before finishing. But maybe now her luck has changed. Her new boyfriend, Abe Bohemius seems completely smitten and has invited her on a scuba diving vacation on the tiny Caribbean island of Epiphany.

Lydia may not love Abe wildly, but she loves that he loves her. When she finds a beautiful blue ring in his suitcase, she concludes that he is going to pop the question. When he comes back to the room before she can return the ring, she hurries him out of the room and to their first diving experience.

Liam MacNally owns a small, struggling diving company that services the local resort’s customers. Lydia is a novice diver but Abe has experience. When he disobeys the rules and goes off on his own, Liam is upset. When Abe disappears, it seems that his bravado has gotten him into trouble. It seems that Lydia has lost her prospective fiancé before he had the chance to propose. At least she has the ring. And this inexplicable attraction to Liam.

But of course things are not what they seem. A frantic call from her father discloses that Abe has absconded with the family fortune. Is he really dead? Where is the money? And why is everyone interested in that ring? Before it’s over, Lydia and Liam find themselves facing the Russian mob.

Lydia is a delight. She is a bundle of insecurities, based on her track record in love and her past failures. She has lost weight and dyed her hair blond but she doesn’t understand how lovely she is. Faced with a crisis, she rises to the occasion.

Liam is a complex and attractive hero. Once a New York policeman on the diving team, he gave it all up to try to find contentment on a tropical isle. He has a past which explains his failed marriage and his inability to commit - to anyone. But he has grown tired of meaningless relationships. Somehow, he connects with Lydia and she with him, but both are understandably leery about love. Kwitney succeeds in creating a relationship between the hero and heroine that begins with a strong physical attraction, but develops quickly and believably into something more.

The Dominant Blonde also has a fine set of secondary characters: Abe himself and his “sister” Kira; Liam’s mentor and friend Fish; his antagonist, the resort owner Martin; Lydia’s domineering father and her younger brother; the Russian gangster; and the amusing denizens of Epiphany.

Kwitney’s novel combines romance, humor, and suspense in an entertaining mix. Yet there is no doubt that the romance is the centerpiece of the story. So if you are looking for an entertaining contemporary romance, search out The Dominant Blonde, wherever it is shelved.

--Jean Mason


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