A Perfect Hero
by Paula Detmer Riggs
(Silh. Int. Mom. #889, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07889-7
****
Paula Detmer Riggs' most recent story for Silhouette, A Perfect Hero, is a great read. She has created a nearly perfect hero and paired him with one of the more nearly perfect heroines to grace the pages of a category romance in a long time. In the words of the Immortals, a.k.a. Alice Spann and Morris Diamond, my high-school English and Latin teachers, there is no such thing as "perfect," rather one should speak of "nearly perfect," "more nearly perfect" or "most nearly perfect." With that in mind, A Perfect Hero is the most nearly perfect rendition of a secret-baby plot I have ever read.

Ian MacDougall meets Marca Kenworth when he hears a dog barking and a woman screaming on a nearly deserted beach in San Diego. Though slightly drunk and on leave from his job at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, his auto-reflexes propel him to the scene. Attempting to rescue an injured dog from some teenagers, Marca has become the focus of their attack. Dispensing with the bullies is no problem for the experienced ATF agent; becoming involved with Marca is much less his style.

A trip to a veterinarian, replacement of Marca's vandalized rental car, and some conversation are followed by a memorable night of "protected" sex. Marca runs public relations for a small college in Oregon. She is celebrating her fortieth birthday, has a philandering ex-husband and no expectations of marriage or family. At forty-four, Ian is trying to forget that his undercover work with a neo-Nazi group led to the recent deaths of his ex-wife and twin six-year old daughters in a car bombing.

The protection failed. After discovering her pregnancy, Marca tries unsuccessfully to find Ian. She delights in her sons and proceeds to create a healthy home for them with the help of her best friends, Carly and Mitch Scanlon.

Ian spends his year away from ATF trying to drink himself to death. The leader of the terrorist group was acquitted and has vanished. At the end of the year, Ian thinks about Marca, decides he's not worthy of a relationship with such a classy woman, throws her business card in the trash and heads for an assignment in Florida. He hopes the ATF will lead him to Hutch Renfrew and the revenge he seeks.

Twenty-two months later, Ian is successfully carrying out ATF operations, but hating the heat, humidity and insects in Florida. Real heroes get mosquito bites! A lead from a fellow agent shows Renfrew possibly connected to a college in Oregon, and despite some misgivings, Ian's boss allows him to follow up and try to find his nemesis.

Thus, two-and-a-half years after their one-night stand, well aware of Marca's connection to the targeted school, Ian walks back into her life.

Paula Detmer Riggs has written other books using this secret-baby or surprise-baby plot with varying results. The formula works in this case, due to the strong main characters and interesting secondary characters.

Marca is resourceful, independent and intelligent. Ian is a character who grows on you. Any man who tries to avoid attachment by refusing to name his dog, but foregoes his "smokes" so Mutt can stay in a motel room rather than sleeping in the car, has possibilities. He is genuinely interested in trying to create a good relationship with Marca but so scarred by the terrorism which led to the deaths of his daughters that he tries to avoid becoming attached to his sons. There are some fascinating parallels between the inherently good Ian and inherently evil Hutch.

The three toddlers shown on the cover are important to the story. They are adorable though never sappy, and are secondary characters who are more "seen" than "heard." The rescued dog is another detail adding humor and warmth to the story. Terrorist activity and hate-group psychology are necessary to the storyline, so, be prepared for some grim moments in this suspenseful book.

A Perfect Hero is the story of a man who grows to be nearly perfect with the help of a woman who believes in him. I recommend it, and I plan to check through the list of books by Paula Detmer Riggs in A Perfect Hero to track down the story of Carly and Mitch at my local bookstore.

--Sue Klock


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