Brazen by Carly Phillips
(Harl. Tempt. #736, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25836-4
Brazen is the finest example of a Blaze book that I read thus far. What sets it above the rest is simple; wonderful prose is combined with a sexuality that is accented with tenderness and emotional intimacy. It was satisfying from sultry beginning to tender end.

Samantha Reed has given herself one week to experience desire before she enters into a loveless marriage of convenience. Her father is in a financial bind, and Samantha has agreed to marry her boss, a man who is her father's country club buddy and will assimilate her father's debts. In return, Samantha's fiancÚ will be getting a trophy wife.

She's come to Arizona for a conference, arriving a week early from the East Coast to achieve her goal. On the way to the conference hotel, her rental car breaks down. The first place she spots, a bar colorfully named The Hungry Bear, will be her refuge in more ways than she ever imagined.

Ryan Mackenzie, Mac to his friends, recognizes almost immediately that this dirty, disheveled woman is far from the kind who flaunt their attributes in order to gain his attention. While he allows Samantha to think that he is just the replacement bartender filling in for the vacationing owner of The Hungry Bear, he's really a wealthy hotelier. He is so inundated by spa bunnies that he's charmed by this lady with the shy demeanor.

They both recognize that something very special is developing. Although Mac doesn't know the reasons for Samantha's apparent haste to jump his bones, he has other ideas. He wants more from this woman than to woo her into his bed. His genuine affection makes him want to satisfy her on many levels. And, mercy, is he successful!

Sam wants Mac. Yes, she's beginning to care for him, but has to squelch those emotions. He will be her fling before she marries Mr. Wrong. Not knowing that Mac is more than the bartender that he seems, she moves in with him for the week. What convinces Mac of her uniqueness is her willingness to pitch in as a waitress. He knows from her clothing that she's well-off, but she is helping without being asked, enjoying herself all the while.

Samantha is an enigma. She desires Mac, and he finds her shyness and modesty endearing. Her gaucheness and self-effacing qualities, so different from the avaricious women who only want him for his wallet, are more than his bachelor's heart can take. He's in love.

Samantha is in love, too, but knows that she has no choice. She is committed to helping her father. What happens when Samantha leaves Mac and goes to the convention at his hotel could have been heavy-handed or contrived, but instead has a natural feel. Yes, the lies of omission are discovered, with wrong conclusions being initially drawn. However, these two have spent an intense week together, revealing their true inner goodness. Could they really have misread the other that badly?

In less capable hands, the conclusion could have erupted into histrionics, name-calling and basic immaturity. Instead we're treated to a finale that is heartwarming, sensual and as intelligent and level-headed as these two have been. Actually, I would have been very surprised and disappointed if the ending had been handled any differently. These two stayed in character through the good times and the not-so-good times.

Brazen showcases two characters who epitomize the best in romance. Each recognizes the rightness of their relationship. It is a pleasure to recommend Brazen, with its unique combination of tenderness and sensuality blended with a carefree and lighthearted feel.

Brazen is more than a 'red-hot read.' There is a refreshing rightness that makes it easy to recommend.

--Linda Mowery

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