In Hot Pursuit by Joanne Rock
(Harl Blaze #48, $4.50, R) ISBN 0-373-79052-X
Lexi Mansfield, fashion reviewer and popular magazine columnist, is indulging in a pity party at a charity event. A wannabe designer sent a rude letter to Lexi’s editor, decrying Lexi’s taste - and it was printed in the magazine. Now Lexi has been demoted from emcee of the event to mere jailer at the “Buy a Celebrity’s Freedom” bash. Her one friend leaves. Lexi just knows that everyone in the room is sneering at her and is her enemy. To top it off, somebody is sending her threatening notes.

Except, the first few people who actually talk to her are downright friendly, which makes Lexi look all the more whiny and self-pitying. Then there’s the handsome stranger with the diamond earring who looks like he might be fun to arrest. It turns out that he’s a cop, and Lexi blows his cover. She bails him out of the jail cell, then invites him back to her apartment for some hot, anonymous sex.

Detective Josh Winger is trying to track smugglers in the Garment District, not get caught by a sexy brunette wearing six-inch spike heels. But he just can’t resist sampling what she’s got. Josh and Lexi end up in bed, going at it like a couple of weasels on speed, in a torturously long scene that is more plastic than erotic. Face it - they met six hours earlier. How engaging is this going to be, other than as a sampling of body parts?

The next time Josh and Lexi meet up, it’s at the home of the wannabe designer who trashed her in print. Josh is looking for information. Said designer has her hand on Josh’s arm when Lexi walks in, whereupon Lexi lapses into a fit of jealousy and acts like a twelve-year-old in a snit, rudely huffing off. Faithless worm! He must have been just toying with her! Well, duh, Lexi, of course he was. You expect him to buy the cow if the milk is free?

Josh and Lexi discover that their best friends are marrying each other, so they will undoubtedly be thrown together at the wedding. Then somebody sets Lexi’s apartment on fire. Is it related to the crime Josh is trying to solve?

The biggest crime in this story isn’t smuggling, it’s the total lack of any kind of emotional bond between the leads. Josh thinks Lexi is hothothot, but I grew tired of reading about her petite curves and “ridiculously high heels”, not to mention her juvenile personality. When Josh tells her to keep her nose out of his investigation, she sulks and throws rude one-liners at him. And Lexi keeps three dogs in a Manhattan apartment, but leaves them alone all day and never takes them out for a walk. Maybe the place self-combusted.

Josh is a more credible hero, though no more likable. He makes no pretenses, at least - he’s initially out to get laid, then finds he’s fantasizing over the petite brunette and her sexy lingerie. But he’s afraid of commitment, blah, blah. He does his best to at least keep his investigation foremost in his mind for much of the story, whereas Lexi doesn’t seem to actually do much work.

I can’t help wondering if the strictures of the Blaze storyline end up painting authors into a corner. When the book apparently must have hot sex by page thirty, and at least ten pages of it, how much depth can either of the leads be given? And now that sex has become the focus of the novel, the author must try to move it onto a more romantic footing. From boinkfest to true love can be a mighty long leap, and this book just doesn’t make it convincing.

In Hot Pursuit left me in pursuit of a better romance. Approach this one with caution.

--Cathy Sova

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