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Love Me If You Dare
by Carly Phillips
(HQN, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0373-77470-8
What starts out as a tense drama ends up as a quirky little romance with some suspense and a great deal of depth around the antics of two people who canít state their feelings outright. Love Me If You Dare is a good way to spend a few hours.

Rafe Mancuso and Sara Rios were partners on the NYPD and were good together, even if they were as different as night and day. Rafe is from a large close family and has always wanted that in his life. Yet he left upstate New York just to get some breathing room and make his way in the world. He became a hostage negotiator and is good at what he does. With one failed engagement, he hasnít given up on love. When he started feeling a major sense of attraction to Sara, he left their partnership so as not to ruin their friendship.

Sara grew up in a family of cops and has always known this was her destiny. Her mother left when she was little because she could not handle it, and Sara grew up with her steady influence being her heartbroken father, although he was a man who never made another commitment to a woman. The divorce was just another example to Sara that long-term just doesnít work for cops, for her family and definitely not for her.

Thrown together at a gala function working security, they thwart a thief, with Sara and Rafe both getting hurt in the bargain. Rafe escapes to upstate to see his family and Sara follows him, needing him for protection. She is the only eyewitness is a case that will put a mob guy away and word on the street is he wants Sara to reconsider her testimonyÖwhatever that takes.

The story follows Sara and Rafe as they struggle with their feelings and fight their sense of need. They must figure out whether Sara will hurt Rafe because she canít do long-term relationships, or whether Rafe will be hurt because he canít understand her lack of willingness to commit. Along the way, they spend lots of time around Rafeís family. He learns that he does love them and sometimes they need him. She learns what it is like to have a large family who accepts you for who you are, not what you have done. The romance develops at a good pace and one can see how these two shift their focus, recognize their strengths and their weaknesses and fall in love.

There are lots of homey scenes about life in small town America and there are plenty of messages of how wonderful family is, how enjoyable living in a community can be and of course, how families interfere out of love. The story of Rafeís brother Nick and his wife Angel added to the story and distracted the reader from worrying about the mobster. There were cute touches, sad moments and those that warmed the heart.

The suspense builds when Rafeís Uncle Pirro seems to have fallen into a crowd of drug dealers inadvertently. His tale of how he came to sell Viagra and engage in illegal smuggling is a hoot and fully engaged me in this section despite being a tad far-fetched. There were plenty of guesses as to the outcome and I liked this plotline as it was funny, warm and silly all rolled into one.

Sara and Rafe are characters that the reader can enjoy. They are equal matches in intelligence, wits, lust, love and best of all in finally recognizing that what they have is special. There were times that Sara was a bit too stubborn or when Rafe got his back up and did the exact wrong thing. But even during those times, the essence of the story came through and the reader always knew the character would think it out and respond more rationally and therefore more like an adult.

Love Me if You Dare is an adult story and it is one that will keep you smiling, guessing at times and wholly engaged in Rafe and Saraís happy ever after.

--Shirley Lyons

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